What to Do If You’re Frightened to Leave a Situation of Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence

The horrendous murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children by her former partner in Brisbane in February 2020 has focused attention yet again on the terrible toll domestic violence takes in Australia.

While men are also the victims of domestic violence, Australian women are nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner. Since they turned 15 years of age, one in three Australian women has experienced physical violence and one in five has experienced sexual violence. One in four women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.

These are horrific statistics and highlight the fear and intimidation many people experience when they realise they should leave an abusive relationship but feel they are unable to. Below we try and provide some useful advice on how to deal with domestic violence if, for whatever reason, you feel you can’t just immediately leave.

What constitutes domestic violence and why don’t people just leave?

Domestic and family violence can comprise physical, psychological and emotional abuse. Pushing, slapping, hitting, punching, biting, pinching or the aggressor putting their hands around your throat is pretty obviously physical abuse. An abusive partner may also threaten harm to you, your relatives, friends, pets or colleagues. They may also threaten self-harm as a way to control you.

Other abusive behaviours include controlling who you see and talk to, damaging domestic property to intimidate or cause fear, controlling household money, constantly criticising, humiliating or insulting you, following you outside of the home, and monitoring your phone and social media usage.

The circumstances around an abusive domestic relationship can be complex, particularly where children are involved. A person experiencing abuse at the hands of their partner will have many and varied reasons for remaining where they are, even if they feel they should leave. A few of these include:

  • Fear for their life and those of their children should they leave.
  • Having no where else to go, or believing the abuser will find them should they leave.
  • Fearing they will end up homeless, with no money for food or accommodation.
  • Remaining because friends and family have advised them it’s their best option.
  • Believing their partner’s remorse for their actions and promises not to do it again.
  • Religious and/or cultural beliefs about marriage.
  • Shame and embarrassment about the domestic situation.
  • Fear they will lose their children in a parenting dispute should they leave.

Create a safety plan

Domestic violence experts advise victims of abuse to make a safety plan in situations where they fear for their safety and that of their children. This plan can help you think clearly in the midst of a dangerous domestic situation, and assist you to be more confident and independent if you need to leave. There are a number of domestic violence organisations, such as DVConnect in Queensland, who can help a person experiencing abuse to create such a plan.

A safety plan should address a number of key priorities in case you need to leave due to an escalation of domestic violence.

Firstly, the plan should identify the home of a family member/s or friend/s that will provide a safe place. This may involve creating a code word to use with friends, family, or neighbours that will alert them to the fact you are in danger and include a secret location where you can meet them in order to escape the abuser.

If possible, have an alternate mobile or another means of communication with family and friends that is not known to the abuser. Try and memorise important numbers or other contact information in case your abusive partner cuts off all means of communication.

Your plan should also include a list of things to take if you need to leave suddenly, including your main ID documents and those of your children, any cash and any small items of significant sentimental value such as pictures. If possible, consider also taking any evidence you have of your partner’s abuse or violence, such as threatening notes or old copies of police and medical reports about previous domestic violence.

Domestic Violence Orders

Where domestic violence poses a real threat to the safety of you and your children, a domestic violence order (DVO) may be necessary. Obviously if the danger is immediate you need to call the emergency services on 000. A DVO is an official document issued by a court designed to stop further threats or acts of domestic violence by the abuser. It makes illegal certain behaviour by your abuser and it is a criminal offence for them to disobey the order.

If the danger to you is immediate, you or the police can apply to a magistrate for a temporary protection order to protect you and your children until the time a magistrate can decide whether a full protection order is required.

Protection orders to protect those in domestic and family violence situations can be in effect for up to five years, or for shorter or longer periods depending on what the court deems appropriate.

A DVO sets out specific rules the abusive person must follow, such as not approaching you at home or work, not approaching friends or relatives, or preventing them going near your children’s school or daycare. You can nominate extra conditions for the court to consider including in the order when you make the application for a DVO.

Both you and the abuser will get a copy of the DVO once it is made. It’s crucial to keep this document safe so you can produce it to show police should the abuser breach any of its conditions.

How we can help

At Arbon Legal Group, we are specialists in the area of family law, including helping people through the terrible experience of domestic violence.

Whether you are concerned about ongoing physical and emotional harm, how you should go about leaving an abusive relationship, or your financial and legal position should you choose to do so, we can help you make those first steps to a safe and secure future.

Call us to today on (07) 5562 0444 and we will discuss your case with compassion and understanding.

Other important contacts

  • DVConnect Womensline 1800 811 811
  • Mensline 1800 800 636
  • Child Safety After Hours Service Centre (07) 3235 9999, or freecall 1800 177 135, 24 hours a day (Queensland only)
  • 1800RESPECT 1800 737 732