Child Abuse and Family Violence in Australia 

Family Law

Some children in Australia experience maltreatment (any abuse or neglect), even though the majority of them have grown up in homes that give them situations where they are secure, contended, and healthy. Any resolute or intentional actions by parents, caregivers, or other adults are seen to be in a place where the duty, trust, or authority causes physical or emotional harm to a child and are referred to as child abuse/neglect. As stated in the 2016 ABS Personal Safety Survey (PSS), more than 2.5 million adults in Australia, which accounts for 13% of the population, have been either sexually or physically abused as children. People who had suffered from both physical and sexual abuse were often younger than those who had only suffered physical or sexual abuse when the first incident occurred, with an average age of 6.8 years compared to 8.1 and 8.8 years, respectively.   

There are different types of Child Abuse that a child can suffer.  

  • Child ill-treatment includes neglect as well as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of a caregiver. 
  • Physical abuse is defined as any purposeful, injurious physical act which is committed against any kid. 
  • Sexual abuse is explained as any conduct that leads or involves a child in sexual activities they do not fully comprehend or that violate social conventions. 
  • Mental abuse is defined as any action that causes a child severe psychological pain or deprivation, along with suffering as a result of domestic or family-related violence. 
  • Neglect is described as any substantial action or neglect that violates cultural values and hinders a child’s physical and emotional development. 

According to the Family Law Act, 1975, sexual behaviour with a child in which the kid is used as an object for sexual enjoyment is considered child abuse. According to Section 4(1) of the Act, an individual (the first person) engages a kid in a sexual act with them or another person in which the child is used either directly or indirectly as a sex object for them or another person, where there is an imbalance of power in the relationship between the child and the first individual, is considered to be abusing a child. It also includes causing a child to suffer severe psychological harm, not limited to—when that injury is caused by the child being exposed to or subjected to domestic abuse or severe child neglect. 

Judicial tests to determine a child abuse 

The concept of abuse in Section 4(1) of the Act was developed from a variety of cases in the court, but the High Court’s formulation of the standard to be used in some situations of child sexual abuse came from the case of B and B; M and M (1988) 166 CLR 69; (1988) FLC 91-979. The three phases of the check outlined by the court required the decision-maker to consider the following three questions:  

1) Is there a chance that granting custody or access may result in sexual abuse?  

2) How big is that danger, exactly?  

3) Would allowing kid access or custody subject them to an “unacceptable risk”? 

When making a decision, the court will usually consider the kid’s best interests. If a favourable discovery is made, the civil standard of the balance of likelihood will be applied, but at the “higher end” of the criterion, according to the Briginshaw v. Briginshaw ruling. 

Family Violence 

According to the Australian government, domestic violence is unacceptable and cannot be treated lightly. The Government of Australia is dedicated to preventing family violence and abuse and improving the protections available to victims of abuse through the family law system. 

Family and domestic violence frequently include a large amount of coercive control. The use of abusive behaviours in a pattern over time by the perpetrators of coercive control to establish and uphold authority and domination over another person or group of people is known as coercive control. Perpetrators may use a combination of both physical and non-physical abuse tactics. The Australian government and the state and territory administrations will all adhere to the National Principles, which set out a shared concept of coercive control. This will assist in detecting and addressing coercive control. Government, non-governmental organisations, frontline services, law enforcement, the courts, academic institutions, corporations, and the community must collaborate for;  

  • the framing of prevention, early intervention, response, and recovery approaches;  
  • clear and consistent public messaging;  
  • the ability of victims and survivors to recognise and articulate their own experiences;  
  • the power of offenders to identify themselves and take action to stop engaging in harmful behaviour;  
  • improved knowledge of how gender disparity affects coercive control; 

Recent Amendment to the Family Act, 1975 protecting the victims of Family Violence 

  1. Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Act 2018 

On December 5 2018, Parliament approved the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Act 2018 (the Cross-examination Act). The provisions of the Cross-examination Act came into force on March 10, 2019, and applied to cross-examinations starting on September 10, 2019. The Cross-examination Act revised the Family Law Act 1975 to ensure that adequate safeguards for survivors of family violence are in place for cross-examination in all family law cases involving claims of domestic abuse. The Act prohibits some instances of direct cross-examination and requires that it be done through a legal representation. Legal assistance or private legal representation are also options. 

  1. Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2018 

This Act strengthens the court system’s capability to assist vulnerable Australians who are victims of domestic violence. It did amend the 1975 Family Law Act to improve how the family law system responds to domestic abuse and interacts with state and territorial family violence and child welfare systems. 


It is difficult to define what constitutes child abuse and neglect. Cultural differences, threshold issues, determining a “good enough” parent-child relationship, and anticipating the risk of harm are all factors to consider. Specialists in all aspects of the service mechanism must be conscious of pertinent laws and research results, value and connect in collaborative learning, and base their evaluations and choices on the experiences and opinions of kids, youths, and families in order to determine whether or not a child has been abused. 

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