By Gianna Huesch
A staggering 30,000 cases of domestic violence have been recorded this year. Thanks to tireless anti-violence campaigners such as Rosie Batty, the issue has now been on the national agenda for some time.
It is in this context that new national judicial guidelines have been developed and released by the NSW Judicial Commission, with a new bench guidebook urging judges to look beyond physical violence when granting restraining orders.
The new guidebook makes crystal clear that domestic violence does not simply include physical violence but can also include emotional and psychological abuse, in a “complex pattern” of behaviours which go beyond physical attacks.
The judiciary have been told to focus on a wide variety of elements of family abuse, including verbal abuse and “mind games” such as criticism of their partner’s physical traits or housework abilities, or other abusive behaviours like staring, silent treatment, and withholding of affection.
The guidebook has been released in response to the latest report from the NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team, which assessed the terminology used by judges in delivering sentences in the NSW Supreme Court and the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal. The report found that, disturbingly, in a number of cases judges were using sexist terms and “victim-blaming” language that minimised domestic violence and offender culpability.
As an example, in one case a judge used the term “yummy mummy complex” to describe a situation where a woman became an obsessive housekeeper after lengthy psychological abuse by her partner. In other cases, stalking behaviours were described as an abuser simply “making a nuisance of himself”, and mutualising language such as “volatile” or “stormy” was used to describe relationships that had demonstrated a long history of violence against the victim. Other judges inexplicably described similarly abusive relationships as “happy” and “normal” in their sentencing remarks.
The bench guidebook aims to teach judges to use more appropriate language to avoid such minimising of offender behaviour and their accountability for violent actions.
Under new anti-domestic violence laws, victims of domestic violence or family abuse do not need to prove they fear for their physical safety in order to obtain an AVO.
Are you experiencing difficulties with your ex-partner? Please call Cristina Huesch or one of our solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2440 for advice—your first conference is free.