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Family Law Blog

Abuse – the broader definition

Posted by on 25 Jul 2011

I recently read a travel article about an Asian country where it is considered very offensive to ruffle a child’s hair in public, however it was perfectly normal to grab a young child’s private parts in a show of affection. In Australia seeing this action would most likely spring one word to mind – Abuse.

Take five seconds off now to ask yourself what you would consider to be child abuse. I would say chances are you mentioned the words physical, sexual and assault in your definition. If those were the only words featuring in your definition, then consider yourself on par with the legislative minds of yesteryear.

Recent research has shown that a lot of actions that some people would consider normal while others would disapprove and shake their head at, such as parents fighting, breaking items in a fit of rage, police or medical assistance required for any parent following a fighting incident all in the sights or hearing of children are actually very damaging. Very often leaving deep and raw emotional scars which could lead to a cycle of violence as the children grow up repeating in their families what they saw in their own.

This has lead to the recommendation of changes to the current definition of abuse, materialising in the form of a Bill. The Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other measures) Bill now considers family violence to include not only the above but also what I think should be termed ‘emotional blackmail’ such as “intentionally causing death or injury to a family animal”, “unreasonable denying of financial autonomy” and “preventing a family member from making connections with his or her family” amongst others.

While exposure to family violence is taken to include incidents such as children comforting or providing assistance to a family member who has been assaulted by another family member.

Counsellors, social scientists, psychologists etc would probably be saying “it’s about time the definition of abuse and violence has been broadened”. Chances are others would think the definition was too broad and becoming ridiculous.

Whichever side of the fence you are sitting on, I would say, in the interests of protecting our children, families and future generation, would going too broad really be going too far?

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