There are refuges and shelters that assist women and children who are escaping violence. They provide free, safe and secure short-term accommodation, advice and counselling, legal assistance, help in applying for Centrelink benefits, and assistance in seeking work. Women’s refuges are available to all women in need (e.g. regardless of their financial situation, or whether they are married, or whether they have children). Refuges and shelters can be contacted through the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (see “Contacts and useful links”).
Unfortunately, demand for refuges exceeds supply. Women can also seek priority housing through the Department of Health and Human Services or through their local council or community centres.
There are also counselling and support services available for violent men. The Men’s Referral Service operates a free, confidential information and referral service Victoria-wide (see “Contacts and useful links”).
Whether pursuing relief from family violence under civil and/or criminal law, it is important that the family member experiencing violence keeps a record of all incidents (as this written record can form the basis of an application or complaint). This record should include times and places, photographs of injuries, any witnesses, any medical attention received, and any contact with the police.
If you need immediate assistance in a family violence situation, call the police on 000 anytime. They will attend and provide advice and assistance. It is important to insist that the police take a formal statement of complaint. If it is an emergency, the police may issue a family violence safety notice that can include an exclusion condition, and they can detain a person to allow you time to apply for an intervention order, or for the police to apply for an intervention order on your behalf (see “How do I get a family violence intervention order?”).
Often the police will apply for a intervention order for you. Sometimes they will ask you to go to the local Magistrates’ Court to obtain an intervention order on your own behalf. They will also complete a Family Violence Incident Report for their records. If there is a problem with the police, all districts have a Family Violence Adviser, and there is a Family Violence Liaison Officer in all 24-hour police stations.
If the police believe it is a serious case of family violence, they can charge the perpetrator with criminal charges. If there is a safety notice or intervention order already in place, police can also charge the perpetrator with breaching that notice or order.
If emergency accommodation or support is needed, call Safe Steps – Family Violence Response Centre (see “Contacts and useful links”).
If you want help for family violence that has occurred in the past, but you are not in need of immediate help, a similar procedure should be followed. You can call the police or approach the local Magistrates’ Court to seek an intervention order in person. It is, however, best to obtain legal advice before doing so, in order to consider all options and the possibility of obtaining other family law orders, such as care of any children or property settlement.
If orders already exist regarding, for example, spending time (formerly, contact or access) with children, the court has power to vary existing orders so as not to conflict with an intervention order (e.g. where children are to be collected or dropped off). If an order for spending time with children is inconsistent with an intervention order, then the “spending time with” order prevails and the intervention order is invalid to the extent of the inconsistency.
As a person who has experienced family violence, you should also obtain medical help and, if you have no independent income, you should contact Centrelink to enquire about benefits available.
For further information about any sexual offences that may be associated with acts of family violence; see Sexual offences.