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Key trends in domestic and family violence

Cultural factors, coercive control, victim blaming, and financial abuse have been revealed to be key trends within domestic and family violence, which these family law professionals said is cause for mandatory training moving forward.

user iconLauren Croft 27 July 2023 SME Law
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As recently revealed in the Smokeball and FamilyProperty State of Family Law Series webinar, family violence is on the rise in Australia, with 68 per cent of the 2,000 Australian family law professionals who attended the webinar confirming that most of their family law cases contain allegations of family violence.

Forty-one per cent of the delegates said that most of their cases involve coercive control, with 34 per cent of those cases also involving mental health and substance abuse issues. Eighty-seven per cent of cases include culturally linked resistance to identifying with family violence.

Following this, Smokeball global family law evangelist Fiona Kirkman said it’s now continually important for family lawyers to stay abreast of regularly published family violence statistics and projects and programs that assist in the management of family violence cases.


“As family law professionals, we are also more aware of the different types of family violence, such as coercive control and financial abuse issues, and the long-term impact of harm on survivors, children and society. Family violence often intersects with mental health and substance abuse issues, often increasing the risk factors in family law matters,” she added.

“Cultural factors also play a significant role in family violence, as cultural norms and deep-rooted issues can contribute to women suffering in silence across all communities. Recognising this, it is crucial to educate and empower women from diverse cultural backgrounds to identify and address family violence, fostering an environment where they feel supported and equipped to break the cycle of silence and seek help.”

There are a number of rising trends in this space – and a number of ways family lawyers can stay on top of them – explained GDA Lawyers principal Ghania Dib.

“In my experience, some trends may be culture, socioeconomic, or region-specific. In Sydney, I have seen a rising trend of victim blaming and interrogation. This generally involves a male perpetrator (P) of family violence creating a situation that forces their female victim (V) to retaliate. Once the foreshadowed retaliation takes place, P then calls the police and reports V. V is understandably distressed and, in many cases, V has been isolated from family and social support. In far too many instances, V is arrested, taken back to the local police station and interrogated about her violence towards P. An AVO is usually issued in protection of P.

“In the Islamic community, for many years now, we have seen a trend that has been dubbed the limping marriage. This is where parties obtain a legal divorce instigated by the wife; however, the religious marriage remains intact due to the husband refusing to make the religious divorce declaration or consent to a mutual religious divorce. This refusal is a form of control, often intended to pressure the wife to seek a unilateral divorce which has negative implications on any dowry she has received or is entitled to receive,” she outlined.

“Often, we become aware of these trends during our practice or by speaking with other family law practitioners. Keeping the dialogue flowing is an important educational tool. I also find that observing (usually anonymous) complaints in social media groups will give you an insight into what is happening in various social or cultural groups. I would also recommend being genuinely curious, in a respectful manner, when meeting with a new client and asking them if there are any cultural or religious issues that they would like to share with you.”

Joplin Lawyers managing director Joplin Higgins agreed with the notion of open communication – and said this could help protect victims from being charged as perpetrators.

“Sadly, a trend that is emerging is that victims are being charged as perpetrators after isolated and situational incidents. This is due to police not being properly trained and resourced to spend time with both parties to ascertain the subtleties of family violence and understand who the primary victim is and the primary perpetrator.

“This then becomes a difficulty in family law matters where the victim is alleging significant and persistent abuse during the duration of the relationship, yet they have not turned to the police for assistance and, in fact, have a conviction and/or subject to an ADVO. This is a tool that perpetrators are weaponising against victims because, at the end of the day, they have no fear in the relationship, so they easily use police and their powers as a tool against the primary victim,” she explained.

“Family lawyers need to be aware of the trends that are emerging with their clients and each individual case. Usually, the behaviours in family violence are obvious, but sometimes, they are so subtle that this can only really be understood by taking the time to really listen to our clients. Family lawyers should and must be connectors between their clients and services. Usually, our clients have experienced trauma and require guidance as to the resources within the community.”

To properly address these trends, family lawyers should be undertaking continued professional development in family violence training, which Ms Kirkman said should be one hour a year “at a minimum”.

“This training should be required for every lawyer, not just family lawyers, given its potential impact on every area of law and the prevalence of family violence in our society. There are several family violence training courses on offer, for example, the Safe & Together Institute training,” she added.

“Best practice management of family violence cases will involve family law professionals trained in family violence, mental health and cultural awareness and having an individual and workplace plan in place to best approach matters when acting for the survivor and perpetrator both in family mediation and court matters.

All lawyers should undertake “mandatory family violence training each year”, agreed Ms Higgins, who added that there are a number of tools available to assist family lawyers too.

“Family violence victims and perpetrators are not isolated to criminal and family violence lawyers, contrary to popular belief within the profession. Banking lawyers, contractual lawyers, administrative lawyers, estate planning lawyers, and the list goes on. If they listened really hard, knew what to look for, would identify family violence and controlling and coercive behaviour in their transactions and engagement with clients. Family violence is serious and should be taken seriously by the profession and our governing body regardless of what area of law one practices,” she said.

“Screening tools throughout a matter are a good practice and allow you to ensure that you are asking the right questions and help you navigate the answers provided by the client. There are a number available to assist; it is just finding the best one that suits your practice and clientele.”

Additionally, first responders and police officers should also undertake mandatory family violence training, which Ms Dib said would assist all parties moving forward.

“We know that family violence is a very complex issue and that it often presents differently based on the parties’ unique dynamics, their cultural and religious practices and beliefs, and the social support networks they may or may not have in place. Mandatory training, with input from various religious and cultural groups, may assist us all in being better placed to identify family violence and provide the appropriate assistance,” she said.

“Continuous education is a must. Attend trainings, seminars, CLEs and courses that will equip you with more tools to identify and address family violence. Do what you can to ensure that your client has the required support in place, as far too often, victims of family violence have been socially isolated. This ought to include referring them to counselling and therapeutic services and linking them in with services that may assist with housing, food and transport so that basic needs are met.”