Quick escape (ESC)

Reporting to the police

Getting help from law enforcement can be a critical step in responding to someone’s disclosure of abuse.

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Content warning This page involves descriptions and discussion of the experiences and impacts of domestic and family violence. Some survivors might find its content troubling.

Reporting violence to police is very important for victims. Police intervention can be life-saving and can help victims get connected to other resources. It also makes it very clear to abusers that their behaviour is a crime.

Call 000 if there is imminent danger

You should not hesitate to call emergency services on 000 if:

  • A crime is happening now
  • A life is threatened
  • The event is time critical.

And get the victim and any children to a safe place.

Otherwise let the victim lead

If someone you care about is being abused, you may feel that contacting the police is one important step in their safety plan. However, in a non-emergency situation, it is not recommended that you ring the police without the victim’s consent.

The person experiencing the abuse is going to be in the best position to make a judgment as to their own safety and there are some very real barriers for some survivors. Respect the autonomy of adult victims and allow them to make the decision about reporting abuse.

Victims might be afraid calling the police will result in losing privacy, being stereotyped, having an abusive partner retaliate against them or hurt their children. Remember, the victim does not have to take any actions that they believe would jeopardise their safety. Talk to them about the criminality of what their abuser is doing and offer to go with them to the police, but understand if they are not ready to do that yet. Offer to work with them to create a safety plan that will get them ready to leave if that becomes necessary.

If the police do not help

If you have contacted the police and not received adequate help, here are some additional steps you can take:

  • Talk with a local crisis service/shelter to see how they can help. Many domestic and sexual violence services have developed relationships with local police and can help you navigate that system.
  • Ask to speak with a senior police officer at your local police station. You can also ask if there is a Domestic Violence Liaison Officer (police specialists who deal with domestic and family violence - usually a woman) at the station.
  • Get legal advice from your local Community Legal Centre or Women’s Legal Service.

Legal protection orders

As a support person you may need to work alongside any legal processes that the victim decides to access such as Domestic Violence Orders (DVOs) or Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs), depending on what state or territory you live in. There are different types of DVOs across Australia, but generally they range from:

  • A violence order (where a perpetrator can’t be violent or threatening to the victim)
  • Non-intox DVO (where a perpetrator can’t be affected by alcohol or other drugs near the victim)
  • A full non-contact DVO (where a perpetrator can’t be in contact in person, via phone or social media or through any other means).

Churches may need to look at how to support victims if a DVO is taken out, for example, by letting perpetrators know that they can’t be on church grounds at the same time as the victim. Your church may need to do a security audit in relation to this, looking at plans should the perpetrator try to enter the church grounds while the victim is present, or should they try to use church resources (such as other congregation members) to access the victim or their children.

DVOs however do not necessarily ensure a victim’s safety. When it comes to committed stalkers and abusers, not only are they not afraid of a piece of paper, it can perversely incite them to even a higher degree of violence.

In every Australian state and territory there are specialist women’s legal services and family legal aid services that can assist victims. They often also hold training workshops if you wish to understand the law better in regard to domestic and family violence.

Read more on Legal Protection Orders in your state or territory.

What if a child discloses abuse?

Church leaders, staff and volunteers in all states and territories are mandatory reporters. This means that they must report to government authorities when they suspect or are told of abuse involving children. Most denominations have clear policies and procedures when they suspect abuse of children in their communities and in their care.

In some Australian jurisdictions (NSW, NT, Tas) if a child or young person in your church is either exposed to chronic or severe domestic violence, or is actually experiencing violence, and you have concerns for the safety, welfare or wellbeing of that child or young person, if you are a mandatory reporter you must inform or seek advice from your state or territory child protection authority.

Church staff members and volunteers should receive training delivered by their denomination in their responsibilities as mandatory reporters and what they need to do when they suspect the abuse of children in their care.

If a child or young person discloses that they have been abused:

  1. Listen carefully to them
  2. Let them take their time
  3. Let them use their own words
  4. Let them know they've done the right thing
  5. Tell them it's not their fault
  6. Say you believe them
  7. Don't talk to the alleged abuser
  8. Explain what you'll do next
  9. Write notes on what they said and/or what you have observed
  10. Immediately report the abuse to your state or territory child protection authority.

Even if government child protection workers decide not to become involved, if you know the child and their family, then you are in an excellent position to help. You can help the child connect to professional services that can keep them safe, provide support and facilitate their recovery from trauma (see below).

For more information, see the relevant child protection processes in each state and territory.

SAFER also looks specifically at children who witness family violence.

Services you can contact