Abuse and violence is against the law. If a person in your family is abusing you or other family members, the police and the law can protect you.
Q: If someone is abusing me or a family member, is it against the law?
Under the law, everyone has a right to be safe from violence or abuse.
Violence between parents (also called 'domestic violence is against the law. For example, if one parent hits or physically hurts another, they can be charged with assault. Other examples of criminal offences include threatening to hurt someone, stalking them (following or constantly contacting someone), or forcing someone to do sexual things. In most states, if a parent/family member is being hurt, harassed or abused by another parent/family member, they can apply for an Intervention Order / a protection order (see below) from a court to protect them from any more abuse.
Some forms of domestic violence are not crimes, but they are still wrong because they are hurtful (eg. telling a partner what they can and can't do, where they can go and who they can see).
In every state of Australia, there are laws to protect children/young people from abuse by parents/ family members or other adults. In most states these laws say that parents/family members/other adults should not subject children to physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect or sexual abuse, or to domestic violence in their homes (read more about child abuse. Some forms of child abuse are criminal offences (such as physically injuring a child, or sexual abuse. Other forms of abuse are not criminal, but they are still wrong - such as a parent humiliating you or screaming at you regularly.
In most states, the government has a department (in Victoria this is called 'child protection') which investigates reports of child abuse and takes action to make sure children are protected from abuse. How the police or child protection services react to child abuse depends on the situation. In some cases of child abuse (such as when a parent deliberately injures a child, or involves a child in sexual activity), the police can charge parents/family members with a crime. In other cases, the child protection department works with parents/family members to make sure they stop abusing children. In some cases the department might stop the abusive parent/family member from seeing their children for a while, so that the children can be safe. Read more about child protection.
Back to top
Q: What might happen if I ring the police about abuse/violence?
If you are in danger or if you think someone else is about to get hurt, call the police for help on 000. They will ask where you are, and if anyone is hurt. They can come to you any time, day or night. Police have the authority to stop the violence, and they will stay at the house until everyone is safe. They might talk to the person who is abusive. They could warn them, or ask them to leave the house. They will talk to the victim of the violence and other people present to find out what happened. If there's enough evidence to show that a criminal offence has been committed, they could arrest the person and charge them with a crime. The person probably would then be released on bail, with conditions that they don't contact family members. The police can also assist the victim of violence to take out a court order to protect them (see below).
If the police are worried about your safety or believe that members of your family can't protect you from the abuse, they may also report your situation to Child Protection, which is the government department that investigates child abuse and makes sure children are safe [read more about child protection ]
You can contact the police to talk to them about abuse or violence any time - even if the abuse happened a long time ago (see below). Their role is to investigate crimes and to make sure people are safe.
Back to top
Q: What can the law do to protect me or other family members from abuse?
You/family members can still get protection from violence even if the abuser is not charged with a crime. For example, if one parent is experiencing domestic violence from their partner, they can apply to a court for a protection order (they're called different things in different states - in Victoria they're called 'Intervention Orders', in NSW they're 'Apprehended Violence Orders', in Queensland they're 'Domestic Violence Orders', in WA and NT they are 'Restraining Orders', in ACT they are 'Protection Orders', in SA they are 'Domestic Violence Restraining orders', in Tasmania they are 'Restraint orders'). Or the police may apply for a protection order on behalf of the person who is being abused. The order can say, for example, that the abusive person must not be abusive again, and/or that they must not come near family members. If the abusive person disobeys the order, they're said to be in 'breach' of the order - and then they can be charged with a crime.
In some cases, young people who are being abused can apply for their own protection orders from a court (or otherwise an adult or police can apply for one for you). The order might say that the person has to stop abusing you, or is not allowed to come near you. Talk to one of the services listed for info on this.
you can also For more info on the law see Getting Help - True or False quiz.
Back to top
Q: Can I call the police to report abuse that happened a long time ago?
Yes, you can contact the police to report abuse that has been happening to you any time, even if it happened some time ago. Abuse and violence (including sexual abuse) is against the law. It might be a good idea to take a trusted adult with you when you talk to the police, because they can help you when you make a report. The police may investigate what happened, and if it's a criminal offence, and they could charge the person who abused you. Your local police can be found in your local phone book. If you need more info, you could call a youth legal service [see below]
or email a lawyer on the Lawstuff website.
Back to top
Q: Do young people have rights under the law?
In theory, the law is there to protect everybody from harm. Every person has individual rights and young people have rights just like everybody else, not just as their parents' children or as part of a family, but as people with their own interests, needs and situations. What your parents need from the law might be completely different to what you need from the law because you are separate person with separate needs. When the law is applied correctly, it should protect YOU.
In international law too it is recognised that young people need specific things, whether it's legal protection or help with asserting their rights. In 1989 the United Nations developed the "Convention on the Rights of the Child" (covering people up to 18 years of age) which has helped governments across the world recognise that young people have their own rights and their own particular needs.
Back to top
Q. If a young person goes to a lawyer or legal service for help, could they get in trouble for drinking or taking drugs?
No they can't get in trouble for that. Any discussion that you have with a lawyer is confidential - a lawyer can't use any of your information or pass it on without your permission. They might be able to help you get support for what you're going through, but only if you ask for it. A lawyer can only act on information about you if you give them instructions to do so.
Back to top
Q. Are there legal services or lawyers specifically to help young people?
Yes, in most states there are youth legal services just for young people. If you are in Victoria, there is YouthLaw - see below, or if you are in another state, go to the Lawstuff. website and find out what's available in your state, or ring one of the services listed on our site. Or you can email a legal expert on the Lawstuff website, which has info for all Australian young people. A legal expert can email you for confidential advice on what the law can do to help protect you (it takes about 10 days to get an answer back). On that website you can also find info about laws and services in your state.
For more info on the law see Getting Help - True or False quiz.
In Victoria there is YouthLaw, which is a service for people up to 25 years old. It's probably the best place to start if you have a legal problem or legal questions - we provide legal advice, information and also we can help you find private lawyers if it's needed. Young people can contact YouthLaw directly - you don't need to go to a lawyer first.
There is the Youth Legal Service in the Children's Court Section of Victoria Legal Aid, but that's for criminal or child protection issues only. There are also people called "Children's Representatives" in the Family Court. Children's Representatives are lawyers who are appointed by the Judge in family law disputes (e.g. if your parents have gone to court to decide where the children should live or who they should live with). The Children's Representative is there to represent "the best interests of the child" but they do not actually take instructions from children or young people. They make their case based on information and evidence, not necessarily what the child or young person asks for.
Lawyers at YouthLaw, on the other hand, will almost always act on the instructions of young people. That's what all lawyers are paid to do.
If you are a young person in need of free legal advice, you can call YouthLaw to make an appointment or drop in Monday to Friday between 2pm and 5pm. Youthlaw is located at: Frontyard, 19 King Street, Melbourne 3000 (Between Flinders Lane & Flinders Street), Phone: 9611 2412; Email: email@example.com. See YouthLaw's website at http://www.youthlaw.asn.au/ See also What services can help.
Thanks to Youth Law staff for assistance with answers to some of these questions.
For more info on the law see Getting Help - True or False legal quiz.
Back to top