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What is family violence? What does the law say?

The law defines family violence as behaviour by a family member that creates fear and control over their partner, ex-partner or other family members.

These behaviours can include:

  • physical assault (eg. hitting, pushing, burning or choking, rough or neglectful care giving)
  • sexual violence (eg. being forced to perform sexual acts)
  • financial abuse (eg. withholding money, food, medicine, property damage, or dowry related abuse)
  • psychological and/or verbal abuse (such as threats, repeated put downs, name calling, sexist, racist, ageist, ablest or homophobic abuse)
  • causing a child to hear, see or be aware of violent acts (for example by hearing fights, seeing injuries or damage)

Children are negatively affected by family violence and can be legally protected.

What is a family?

The law defines family broadly to include:

  • intimate partners (eg. husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, de factos, same sex partners)
  • ex-partners
  • children, siblings, adult children
  • step family (eg. mother's new partner or father's new partner or their children)
  • a relative or extended family such as a grandparent, father-in-law or mother-in-law, aunt, uncle, blended or cultural family member
  • a carer who is like a family member

If you consider someone to be part of your family and their actions are making you, or other family members, fearful – ask for advice and help.

The Magistrates Court has a series of films about family violence

For people who are deaf or communicate using Auslan, 1800 Respect (a national telephone support line for sexual assault and family violence) has a film with information on family violence how to get support.

Freedom from violence is a human right

Everyone has the right to be free of violence or the fear of violence. Everyone deserves to feel safe and respected in their family and relationships. Family violence occurs in all communities, cultures and socio-economic groups.

Family violence is not considered acceptable in any part of any culture.

In Australia, family violence is against the law.

Victoria Police is here to help people in need and to uphold the law.

How can police help?

Victoria Police will act to protect people harmed by family violence, and to prohibit any more violent actions or behaviour from the person who has harmed their partner and/or family.

The Code of Practice for the Investigation of Family Violence directs how Victoria Police responds to family violence.

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In an emergency call Triple Zero (000)

An emergency includes:

  • when someone has been, or is about to be, injured
  • property damage or threatened property damage
  • or any other criminal acts
  • that need a response now

If English is not your first language, call Triple Zero (000) tell them your language, they will connect an interpreter.

The National Relay Service is an Australia-wide phone service for people who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment. You can click the orange button at the top or bottom of each page to go to their home page or go to their emergency call pages

Reporting family violence to police

Victoria Police will act to protect people from family violence

Family violence is against the law. Victoria Police will act to protect people harmed by family violence.

Police will prohibit any more violent actions or behaviour from the person who has harmed their partner and/or family.

You can report family violence by:

  • calling Triple Zero (000) in an emergency
  • going to a police station

Police can receive reports of family violence from:

  • someone experiencing violence,
  • concerned friends or family or
  • neighbours or services

Police may also discover family violence when conducting other duties or responding to a Triple Zero (000) emergency call. An emergency includes:

  • when someone has been, or is about to be, injured
  • property damage
  • or other criminal acts
  • that need a response now

If English is not your first language, call Triple Zero (000) tell them your language, they will connect an interpreter.

If you have a hearing impairment or have difficulty being understood verbally, the National Relay Service web site explains how they can assist with an emergency call

What do police do at a family violence incident?

Police will assess risk and work out what protection is needed by:

  • asking if everyone is safe
  • speaking to each person on their own and they may speak to children
  • asking what has been happening now and in the past
  • checking if, due to the violence, anyone needs medical attention and
  • taking note of any damage
  • making referrals for each individual

Police are required to ask if anyone, including children, identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can indicate if they prefer mainstream or Aboriginal services.

Police may also ask if anyone has a disability, or any medical or other needs, that they are happy to disclose, that are relevant to safety or the police response.

Please tell police your communication needs. If you have difficulty speaking or understanding English, police can seek an interpreter.

Police will make an assessment of risk, considering past family violence and any recorded criminal history.

They will identify who is being harmed most (the victim or affected family member) and who is the main person harming others (the primary aggressor or 'other party').

Safety is the highest priority

Depending on the circumstances, there are a range of actions police can take.

If a crime has been committed police will investigate and may pursue charges.

Investigation and prosecution can take time so immediate safety for people who have been harmed or who are at risk must be the priority.

Immediate civil (ie. non-criminal) actions to manage risk and increase safety that police can take are to:

  • issue a Family Violence Safety Notice on the spot and/or
  • apply to the court for a Family Violence Intervention Order, or
  • change an existing Intervention Order to increase protection

In an emergency call Triple Zero (000)

For more information see:

Reviewed 18 March 2019

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