Fact sheet 4 - Family violence and the law
Fact sheet 4 - Family violence and the law
Physical violence, threats of violence, sexual assault and stalking are all against the law. Everyone, regardless of their age, ability, ethnicity, sexuality, religion or culture, has the right to live free from abuse, and to legal protection.
How the police can help
For urgent attendance by the police, call 000.
To report a crime that has happened in the past, call the local police station.
When police attend a family violence incident, they will:
- Ensure that everyone present is safe.
- Interview the parties to the incident separately.
- Investigate the incident to establish whether a crime has been committed (even if the victim does not wish to make a statement).
- Collect evidence if a crime has been committed and take appropriate action.
The Police Code of Practice outlines a number of options for action in response to family violence. These include:
- Criminal options – charging someone with an offence, arresting and/or holding them. Police must lay criminal charges when there is sufficient evidence to do so.
- Civil options – issuing a Family Violence Safety Notice and/or applying for an intervention order to protect the victim(s). Police will take this action if they believe someone is at risk of harm in the future. A Family Violence Safety Notice prohibits a perpetrator of abuse from contacting a protected person for a period of time, usually 2-4 days, until a Magistrates’ Court can decide whether further protection is required.
- Referring the family members to women’s domestic violence outreach services and/or men’s behaviour change programs, and notifying Child Protection of children who require protection. These options are not exclusive. For example, police may take all three options in response to one incident.
Victoria police response
The police have a Code of Practice for the Investigation of Family Violence that guides their response to cases of domestic and family violence.
Victoria Police monitor their response to family violence and promote accountability to their Code of Practice through an internal reporting structure of positions that are also responsible for liaising with the community.
To query or better understand the response of police to an incident, contact the Police Family Violence Liaison Officer (FVLO) at the nearest 24-hour police station. The FVLO is responsible for:
- Monitoring and reporting on adherence by police members in their area to the Code of Practice.
- Being a point of contact for local agencies.
- Providing assistance in some cases to those affected by family violence.
There is also a Police Family Violence Advisor in each region in Victoria. Among other things, they are responsible for consultation with community agencies, identifying and reporting on local issues and trends in their region, and developing strategies to address them.
The Family Violence Advisors report to Family Violence Managers who in turn report to police and external committees.
Some areas of Victoria have Family Violence Units – groups of dedicated police members who work with services to help families that have been subject to repeated reports of domestic and family violence.
Intervention orders are civil orders that offer protection from family violence.
How to apply
An individual can apply for an intervention order if family violence has happened to them in the past and they believe it is likely to happen again.
Applications can be made at a Magistrates’ Court or the police can apply on a person’s behalf as part of a response to a report of family violence.
Though Magistrates’ Courts can make an intervention order on an urgent basis, it is a good idea to phone the court beforehand and make an appointment if possible.
How does an intervention order work?
An intervention order prohibits someone from using violence against another person, and their children if they also need protection.
The court can make an intervention order that stops someone from having contact with a protected person, or one that allows contact but prohibits violence.
An applicant can ask the court to include conditions on the order that suit their particular needs for protection (e.g. stopping someone from visiting a place where they regularly go).
An intervention order is not included in a person’s criminal record. However, if they breach the conditions of the order (e.g. are violent or make contact with a protected person when this is forbidden), they can be charged with a breach of the order, which is a crime.
For more information contact your local Magistrates’ Court.
Sexual assault and the law
All sexual assault survivors also have the right to report their experience to the police and receive legal protection.
Victoria Police has dedicated units to respond to sexual assault cases. The Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams are staffed by experienced and qualified police officers who are trained to respond to and investigate sexual assault and child abuse.
When responding to sexual assault, police officers are guided by a set of guidelines known as the Victoria Police Code of Practice for the Investigation of Sexual Assault.