As family violence duty lawyers, we often hear people make excuses for those who have inflicted family violence on them. Some go so far as to resist taking out an Intervention Order or not supporting a police application for an Order.
These cases always stick in our heads. Two recent cases highlight the problem.
The first case concerned a young mother with infant children and a partner in jail. She wanted an Intervention Order to protect her and her children. But she also wanted her partner to be allowed to visit her upon his release as he had nowhere else to go. The Intervention Order application flagged serious concerns about his violent behaviour, and a risk assessment highlighted the dangers. However, she told us that his behaviour wasn’t his fault. Despite knowing that she needed protection, she excused his behaviour and was prepared to compromise the Order’s ability to protect her and her children.
The second matter involved a mother who had taken out an Intervention Order against an adult son who had assaulted her. Despite his violence, she still wanted him to come home. She told the court that she didn’t think she needed an Order to protect her. And she didn’t support the police application for an Order. Her excuses for his behaviour exposed her to further violence.
An Intervention Order doesn’t necessarily mean that you no longer love the other person. It simply means that you are no longer willing to put yourself or your children at risk. It is not a zero sum game. You can love somebody against whom you have taken out an Intervention Order.
People and relationships are complex. There are many reasons why a victim will excuse or play down a perpetrator’s violence, not least of which may be the perpetrator’s controlling behaviour.
Unfortunately, however, when victims excuse their abuser’s behaviour, the abuser is less likely to take responsibility for their behaviour and address it.
Part of our role as family violence duty lawyers is to encourage victims to prioritise their safety, which sometimes means helping them to distinguish between their feelings and a clear and present danger.
Ultimately, the responsibility for addressing family violence rests with the perpetrator. And it is vital that we do not blame the victim. However, we all have a part to play in unpacking the complex nature of family violence, which can mean helping victims to think differently about those who hurt them.