TAKE THE FIRST STEP
Information for migrant women experiencing family violence in Victoria
This information has been developed by Northern Community Legal Centre (NCLC) to ensure that every woman residing in Victoria understands her rights, and how the law can provide protection for her and any children she may have.
Family violence in Australia
Family violence, also known as domestic violence, is a pattern of behaviour where one person (a family member or partner) tries to dominate and control another.
If you are experiencing family violence, you are not alone. One in four Australian women has experienced violence and abuse by a current or former partner. While family violence is common across families from all different backgrounds, women who have migrated to Australia may be particularly vulnerable due to language barriers and isolation, or because they’re not aware of the laws and services that can assist and protect them. They may also have worries about what will happen to their visa if they leave the relationship.
What are my rights in Victoria?
If you are on a partner visa and experiencing family violence, you and your children may still be able to stay in Australia, even if you leave the relationship.
In Victoria, you and your children have the right to live free from all types of violence, including:
Physical abuse (hitting, pushing, choking, using weapons or not letting you sleep, eat or take medication);
Sexual violence (sexual acts which you do not want or agree to);
Threats (telling you that you will lose the children if you leave, or threatening to harm a pet or other person if you do not comply);
Not having control of your money, being forced into debt, not having enough money for essential things, or in some cultures being forced to pay more dowry;
Not being allowed to see friends or family;
Being constantly verbally abused or bullied; and
Being made to feel afraid for your safety, or your children’s safety, in any way.
You cannot be forced into a relationship or marriage that you do not want to be in and you have the right to make your own decisions about birth control, having or not having a child, and accessing the medical support of your choosing.
Family violence may be directed at you, your children, your pets or your property. It may be committed by any family member including a partner, ex-partner or other family member, such as an in-law. Family violence is unacceptable in all its forms, regardless of who is committing the violence.
What are the effects of family violence?
When living with violence you might be feeling constant anxiety, never being sure of what will happen next. You may find yourself trying to manage your partner’s behaviour as it swings from anger and abuse to guilty promises and regret. Over time, the constant worry that comes from living with their controlling behaviours can impact upon self-esteem and confidence, as well as physical health, relationships with family and friends, financial health, employment and parenting.
Sometimes, reaching out for help can become harder over time as you become less confident in your ability to act and live independently. You might blame yourself for the situation or ignore the abuse in the hope that things will change. It is common to feel trapped by shame and a sense that no one will understand your situation.
Children are also affected by family violence, whether they experience it directly or see or hear it expressed against a parent or sibling. This can influence their future relationships, their capacity to trust adults and their own ways of dealing with conflict. Family violence leaves children feeling confused, angry, sad and frightened. How this is expressed depends upon the age of the child and their stage of development.
Legal Services and Family Violence Services can help you and your children access support and recover from your experiences of abuse. Many women do not want the relationship to end – they just want the violence to stop. Whether you choose to stay in the relationship or leave it, there are steps that can be taken to improve safety.
How can a lawyer assist?
Finding out about the law and how a lawyer can assist you is the first step in creating a safer home for you and your children. NCLC lawyers understand that talking about family violence is very brave and sometimes also risky. They also understand that you may not be ready to decide what you want to do – and that is okay. The most important thing is that you have all the information you need to help inform your decision-making now, and in the future.
You can make an appointment to see a lawyer just to discuss your situation and to find out what could be done. Everything you tell the lawyer is confidential; they will not talk to any other person about your situation without your permission. They will also not pressure you to make any changes until you are ready.
Who else can assist?
Victoria police should be contacted in a crisis situation where you are worried about the immediate safety of yourself, your children or another family member.
There are specific rules about how the police should help, including:
They should use an interpreter if needed;
They should listen to everyone involved about what has happened;
They should talk to you privately without the abusive person hearing to learn about your concerns and what has happened in the past;
If required, they may issue a safety notice for the person of concern to stay away until the court decides what is needed to keep you safe (see information about family violence intervention orders);
They may arrest the person if they think a crime has been committed, such as physical or sexual violence; and
They may give you information about family violence services that can provide additional assistance.
If you contact the police and are not happy with their response, an NCLC lawyer can help you make a complaint, or advocate for the police to take the required actions.
To contact the police, dial 000.
Family violence services
A family violence service may provide a range of services, including:
Emergency accommodation and assistance to access longer-term housing;
Referral to counselling;
Access to financial assistance packages;
Mental health support for children; and
Access to food and essential items.
If you are staying in a relationship where your partner is abusive, a family violence service will also help you develop a safety plan. A safety plan involves thinking in advance about what you will need and what steps to take the next time you are in danger, to keep yourself and any children safe from harm.
To contact family violence service The Orange Door, visit www.orangedoor.vic.gov.au/contact
Programs for men who use violence
The most significant step that can be taken to enhance your safety is for the abusive person to change their behavior and stop using violence. This requires commitment to a program, which can be included in a family violence intervention order.
The aims of the Men’s Behaviour Change Program are to get men to:
Stop using abusive, violent and controlling behaviour;
Accept full responsibility for their behaviour;
Manage their intense feelings safely; and
Develop and maintain nurturing and caring relationships with women and children.
To contact Men’s Referral Service, dial 1300 766 491.