Is domestic violence a criminal offence in Australia?

Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence or family and domestic violence, describes the behaviour between current or former intimate partners – where one partner tries to exert power and control over the other, usually through fear. This can be implemented through physical, psychological, sexual, social and spiritual abuse.

Read more on the 5 types of abuse here.

Domestic violence is often suffered behind closed doors, away from the eyes of friends and family, the public and our laws and as such can be hard to prove, particularly when it is one person’s word against the other

However, in recent years the commonwealth, state and territory governments of Australia have taken steps to deter violence and take legislative measures that hold perpetrators accountable to the law, as well as lawfully protecting those experiencing domestic abuse.


Is domestic abuse a crime? Yes.


Behaviours expressed through domestic abuse are considered criminal offences and are therefore punishable by law. These include assault, sexual assault, making threats about a person’s safety or life of their children, animals and loved ones, stalking, financial abuse, stealing or damaging of property and breaching restraining orders.

Any action taken by one person that would otherwise be deemed as a criminal offence is still considered punishable regardless of your relationship with the perpetrator.


How to report domestic abuse.


Keeping a record of abuse is an important step to making sure the perpetrator is accountable to the full extent of the law, however most survivors don’t make reports against their abusive partners.

“I didn’t realise it was domestic abuse, even when he had his hands around my neck choking me. I thought calling the police was only for criminals.”

Keeping a diary with dates and events, taking photos of injuries or damage to property or copies of financial records can be the first step in providing solid evidence of the abuse – even if these are kept with a friend or family member for safe keeping until you are ready to leave,

Learn more about documenting abuse and evidence collection in section 1D.


How does the law protect people facing domestic abuse?


In an emergency: If you’re experiencing domestic abuse and it’s threatening your life, you are encouraged to call 000 and ask for police assistance.

When the police respond to a call from 000 and believe there is a risk of family violence occurring, or exposing a child to family violence, they can issue a ‘police order’.

This provides immediate protection to the person experiencing domestic abuse, and places a temporary restraining order on the perpetrator once they have been served a copy of the order (within 24 hours).

The police order can include stopping the person from:

  • Coming to your place of work or home
  • Being at or near a certain place relevant to you
  • Coming within a certain distance of you
  • Trying to communicate or contact you

The police order does not go on the criminal record of the offender but is held for future court proceedings if required.

The order is designed to give the person experiencing domestic abuse time to place a more permanent restraining order or find safety elsewhere.


Family Violence Restraining Orders (FVRO):


If you, your family, your pets or your property are threatened, harassed or intimidated you can apply to have a Family Violence Restraining Order (FVRO) taken out against the person. This prevents the perpetrator from behaving in a manner that is intimidating or offensive and protects you and your property.

Once an FVRO is issued, the Police know to put any calls you make to them as a priority. If an abusive partner fails to comply with either FVRO or a Police order, they risk facing jail time.

“Going in front of a judge and telling my story for the FVRO was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I was in tears for most of it. As hard as it was it though, it was also the best thing I ever did. It gave me and my son time and space away from the manipulation and control of my ex-husband and we finally started to heal.” Sam, FDV Survivor

Find out more about FVRO’s in section 1g.

The Australian federal and state and territory laws have adapted to protect and compensate those facing family and domestic violence. It’s important if you wish to take the first step to change your situation that you safely contact legal aid and begin to understand what your options are.

Find more tips on accessing legal services in section 3f.