Domestic Violence, Child Abuse and Neglect

What are Domestic Violence, Child Abuse and Neglect?

Domestic violence is violence, threatening or other behaviour by a family, ex or household member which intimidates or controls you or makes you afraid. Examples of domestic violence include:

  • hitting or pushing you;
  • throwing things at or near you to scare you;
  • forcing you to have sex when you do not want to;
  • repeatedly calling you bad names and putting you down;
  • making threats to you such as ‘I will hurt you if you leave’ or ‘if you go you will never see your children again’;                     or
  • following or monitoring you or controlling who you can see or where you can go e.g. stopping you from seeing family or friends.

Everybody has a right to feel safe from violence. If you or your children are being affected by violence, even if it involves threats to hurt you by phone, text or online, it is not OK and you can stop it. You should immediately contact the Police on 131 444. In an emergency call 000.

A range of services are available to help people experiencing Domestic Violence : See Smartsafe to find the best service near you

One way to stop domestic violence is to get a Domestic Violence Order (DVO). For more information about DVOs see the brochure entitled ‘Domestic Violence Orders – Information for people in need of protection’ which is available from the Department of Children and Families. 

A DVO is specific for the Northern Territory but each state has a similar type of order with different names. They may be called restraining orders, intervention orders, protection orders or apprehended violence orders . Under the Family Law Act, all these orders are called ‘family violence orders’ regardless of which state they were made in.

Parenting orders and domestic violence, child abuse and neglect

When the court is asked to make orders about children in a family law case, it must balance the benefits of children having a meaningful relationship with each parent against the need to protect the child from harm, both physical and mental, from being the victim of or seeing abuse, neglect or domestic violence.

What happens if the conditions of a parenting order and a domestic violence order are different? 

See here for information from the Family Court of Australia 

Child Abuse includes

  • assaulting or involving a child in any sort of sexual activity;
  • causing a child to suffer mental harm which includes a child seeing or hearing domestic violence, comforting a family member who has been a victim of domestic violence, or seeing the police arrive after domestic violence has happened.

If you apply to the court for orders about your children, you must tell the court if you believe that you or your children have been or are at risk of being abused or exposed to domestic violence.

It is important that you do this because the Family Law Act says that when making orders about children, the court must consider:

  • any domestic violence involving the child or a member of the child’s family; and
  • any domestic violence order that applies to the child or a member of the child’s family.

A court can make an order about children which conflicts  with a Domestic Violence Order but if it does, it must make sure it will not expose you or your children to domestic violence. It could do this by ordering for example that changeovers take place at a children’s contact changeover centre or that a person’s time with a child is supervised. The Court can also make orders that one or both parents should attend counselling for domestic violence.

You can tell the court about any child abuse or domestic violence or risk of these when you lodge your application. All applications in matters involving children are now required to include a Notice of Risk. 

Any abuse or risk of abuse must also be outlined in a statement called an Affidavit where you set out the facts about any child abuse or domestic violence or why you think there is a risk of them happening.

When you file the Notice of risk the court must take certain steps, including:

  1. Notifying the appropriate state child protection authority (which in the Northern Territory is the Department of Children and Families) who may do an investigation or prepare a report to the court; and
  2. taking steps to ensure your safety when you come to court or attend any court related events such as conferences.

The court has developed some guidelines called “Family Violence Best Practice Principles” which are to be used to help all people (judges, court staff, lawyers and self represented parties) involved in court proceedings where the court is being asked to make orders about children.

If you are concerned about domestic violence and how it will affect you and your family, get legal advice.

If I believe that a child is being or is at risk of being abused or neglected do I have to tell anybody?

Yes. Any person over 18 years of age who believes, on reasonable grounds, that

  • a child has been or is likely to suffer harm or exploitation;        or
  • a child under 14 is having sex;                                                                      or
  • a person under 18 is having sex with a person who has a special care relationship with them such as a parent, step-parent, teacher, coach or priest.

You must, as soon as possible, report it to the police or the Department of Families and Children on 1800 700 250 (24 hours) and tell them why you think the child is at risk.

If I think a family member or friend is at risk of being or is the victim of domestic violence, do I have to tell someone?

Yes in the following situations. In the Northern Territory, everybody over the age of 18 must report to the NT Police if they believe, on reasonable grounds, that:

  • A person has caused or is likely to cause serious physical harm to a member of their family; or
  • the life or safety of a person is under serious or imminent threat due to domestic violence.

See here for information on reporting domestic violence.

You do not need to report the domestic violence if you reasonably believe:

  • that somebody else has already reported the situation;           or
  • steps are being taken to stop the domestic violence, for example the person has gone to a safe house;                                                  or
  • if you reasonably think that if you report it, the person maybe at serious risk of serious threats to their life or safety.

If you do not report the abuse or domestic violence it is a crime.

If you make a report and it is done out of genuine concerns for that child or person, then you cannot get into trouble. Your details will be kept confidential unless a court says otherwise.

If you get legal advice, your lawyer is usually not allowed to tell anybody else what you have told them without your permission.

There is an exception to this. If you tell your lawyer about a situation that fits the definition of domestic violence and you do nothing about it, your lawyer may need to make a report to the NT Police. This same rule applies to any person living in the NT.

If you tell your lawyer about a situation where children are experiencing or at risk of serious harm due to child abuse or neglect your lawyer will need to make a report to the NT Police or the Department of Children & Families. The same rule applies to all people in the NT.

For more legal information call Legal Aid Helpline on 1800 019 343.

For 24 hour information and support call National Sexual Assault Domestic Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732.  www.1800respect.org.au

See the Contacts section for more places that can help.