Guest Post: Family Violence from a Christian Police Officer’s Perspective

14 November 2023 by Wes Bredenhof

Police cuffing demonstration, Greenville, date
Police cuffing demonstration, Greenville, date

This guest post is written by a currently serving member of the Western Australia Police.  While he approaches it from it a WA context, much of what he writes will be transferable to other jurisdictions in Australia and elsewhere.

What is Family Violence (FV)?

Police have many different Acts and Codes for our legislation, some of them include the criminal code, the Criminal investigation Act and Road Traffic Act. For Family Violence (FV) incidents, police use the Restraining Order Act for their powers to investigate all FV incidents. As you will read, FV is not just assaulting someone, it also consists of much more, such as physical, sexual, financial, emotional and verbal abuse.

Below is Section 5A and 6 of the Restraining Order Act, in this you will find what constitutes FV.

5A.       A reference in this Act to Family Violence is a reference to —

(a)  violence, or a threat of violence, by a person towards a family member of the person; or

(b)  any other behaviour by the person that coerces or controls the family member or causes the member to be fearful.

Examples of behaviour that may constitute FV include (but are not limited to) the following —

(a)  an assault against the family member.

(b)  a sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour against the family member.

(c)  stalking or cyber-stalking the family member.

(d)  repeated derogatory remarks against the family member.

(e)  damaging or destroying property of the family member.

(f)  causing death or injury to an animal that is the property of the family member.

(g)  unreasonably denying the family member the financial autonomy that the member would otherwise have had.

(h)  unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet the reasonable living expenses of the family member, or a child of the member, at a time when the

6. Term used: Personal Violence (PV)

(2)        In this Act — Personal Violence means one of the following acts that a person commits against another person with whom he or she is not in a family relationship — 

(a) assaulting or causing personal injury to the person.

(b) kidnapping, or depriving the liberty of, the person.

(c) stalking the person.

(d) threatening to commit any act described in paragraph (a) or (b) against the person.

(e) if the person who commits the act has an imagined personal relationship with the person against whom the act is committed, an act that would constitute family violence if those persons were in a family relationship.

(3)        For the purposes of this Act, a person who procures another person to commit personal violence is taken to have also committed the personal violence.

Term used: Exposed

(1)        For the purposes of this Act, a child is Exposed to FV or PV if the child sees or hears the violence or otherwise experiences the effects of the violence.

(2)        Examples of situations that may constitute a child being exposed to family violence or personal violence include (but are not limited to) the child —

(a)  overhearing threats of death or personal injury to a person; or

(b)  seeing or hearing an assault of a person; or

(c)  comforting or providing assistance to a person who has been assaulted; or

(d)  cleaning up a site after property damage; or

(e)  being present when police or ambulance officers attend an incident involving the violence.

I haven’t included it in this article, but section 4 of the Restraining Orders Act defines what constitutes a family relationship.  This article is mainly focused on the relationship between husband and wife. However family relationships can also be defined as Father – Son, Mother – Daughter, Mother – Son, Father – Daughter or even ex-partners.

Is Family Violence (FV) a crime?

FV is a crime and is against Australian law, yet even more importantly it is against God’s Word.

Ephesians 5: 25-26, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”

Ephesians 5:33, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

God calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loves his church. He loves his church with compassion, mercy, forgiveness, respect and selflessness; this is the same way a husband is to love his wife. Husbands are not dictators or kings; they are to show respect for their wives and their opinions. Husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. The love for their wife should be the same love that Christ shows his church.

If a husband loves in this way, it will not be hard for his wife to submit as she is called to do.

Ephesians 5: 22-24, “Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” It is important in this article to clarify what submission is not. It is not being controlled in everything you do, who you see or each cent you spend. It is not being abused sexually, physically or emotionally. Submission is not being a slave for your husband. It is being his help and support. It is listening to his guidance and defaulting to his leadership. In a loving relationship, submission should be easy. As per Titus 2, chat to an older woman in your church for clarification and advice if you are unclear as to what healthy submission looks like.

Who is the victim in a FV incident and are they the only person to report a FV incident?

Every FV incident is different and can differ. Statistics say that 64% of males are the perpetrator/suspects. As a police officer who often attends FV incidents, males are the main suspects. However there have been occasions where females also can be the perpetrator/suspects, though that is less often.

The victim doesn’t have to be the reporting person to police.  Police, however, will need to speak to them to find out exactly what has happened.

What happens if police are called to an FV incident?

Police are contacted by calling 000, 131444 or self-reporting to a police station. Police officers will respond to all FV incidents. When police arrive and both parties are still at the location, they will speak to them separately to gain accounts from either party. They will check on the safety and welfare of every person in the house including children.

If any assaults (sexual, physical) have been identified, police will investigate. If an assault has been identified, police will seek a statement from the victim. This statement is crucial for any charges to proceed; without a police statement from the victim, police will find it very difficult to proceed with charges. Police will look for injuries on either party, any corroborating evidence, independent witnesses, CCTV. Police will ask to take photos of injuries (if any).

If the victim wanted to proceed with formal charges, police will arrest the suspect and they will be taken to the nearest police station to be offered a formal interview. If there is sufficient evidence, police will lay charges on the suspect and they will be placed on protective bail. Protective bail involves conditions placed on the suspect to protect the victim from the suspect. These types of conditions are very similar to a Police Order that will be explained in the next paragraph.

However, if there is insufficient evidence and the victim does not wish to make a complaint, a Police Order will be issued. A Police Order is an order that is made by the attending officers. This order states that the suspect (bound person) is not to communicate or attempt to communicate with the victim (protected person).  They cannot approach the protected person or be within a certain number of meters of the nearest external boundary of protected person’s address.  Additionally, they cannot allow anyone to do any of the above on their behalf. These conditions are set in place for up to 72 hours. Police Orders are there for the victim to have some breathing room or allow them time to seek a restraining order.  

Police will then place a FV Incident Report (FVIR) on the police system.  In doing so they will ask a lot of question mainly to the victim to see if they are fearful, scared, threatened, controlled and if there are controlling behaviours such as financial, jealousy, separation, sexual or issues with children. All these questions build a picture to see if this a pattern. This FVIR can be passed on to other agencies such as the Family Violence teams, Child Protection Family Services and others. Police will offer other assistance such as a finding alternative accommodation for the victim and children. Crisis care can be contacted or even women or men refuges are able to be contacted. Police will offer Family Violence Restraining Order (FVRO) advice, which leads to the next question.

What is a Family Violence Restraining Order (FVRO) and how do I go about seeking one?

A FVRO is a nationally recognised order that is issued by the courts to protect the protected person from the bound person.  Like the Police Order/Protective Bail (which is Police issued), a court order acts in the same way, however a FVRO is court-issued.

There are a couple of ways to go about seeking a FVRO; one of the ways is the protected person will need to fill out the correct paper work (can be found online here).  Once the paperwork has been filled out, you will need to attend your local courthouse and talk to the magistrate and tell them why you wish to have a restraining order. Another way is that if someone has been charged with a FV offence, the victim will be asked if they would like police to apply for a FVRO on their behalf.  Most restraining orders have very similar conditions that the bound person must obey, however every situation is different and some restraining orders can differ from incident to incident. 

If you believe you would like certain conditions on the order in relation to the children and contact with children, then these conditions can be placed on them.  There are conditions where the bound person can contact the protected person and normally they are through lawyers, mediation ordered by the courts and some others.  Once the magistrate grants the order, police then will receive the order and will personally issue the order on the bound person. Once it is issued it is in place and the bound person must obey the conditions and if not, it is a serious criminal offence. The bound person does have the ability to object to the order and they have 21 days to submit the paperwork. If the bound person doesn’t object, the order will be in place for 2 years.

When should I call the Police, when should I get a FVRO?

Every situation, incident and spousal relationship is different. I can’t say that every situation needs police attendance or needs an FVRO. Spouses have disagreements and arguments; relationships can be rollercoasters with good times, hard times and extremely hard times.

If you are struggling in your marriage, do something to prevent a worse situation. It’s hard but seek the help you need, whether that is contacting family, friends, marriage counsellors, elders, deacons, ministers and if need be, talk to police.

However, when the relationship does become violent, police must be called, A spouse MUST not assault their other half in any way. Assaults can be physically touching someone without their consent. Sexual assault is also a crime — just because someone is married it doesn’t give them the right to do what they want to their spouse. If your spouse says NO to sex then it means NO;  if there is no consent given, it’s called rape.  Police will always recommend FVROs for the victim in these incidents.  It doesn’t mean the victim has to press charges on the suspect, but some means of intervention needs to happen. The protection and safety of the victim becomes police’s number one priority.

That is when police will ask the questions to ascertain if the victim is fearful, scared, threatened, controlled or if they believe their spouse is controlling things such as their finances, their sex life etc. Police will determine if there are traits such as extreme jealousy, taunting, always talking down, black mailing their spouse to do what they want them to do, stalking or monitoring movements. Ultimately if a spouse feels as they are a slave and don’t have a say in anything, this is abuse, and it should not be tolerated.

A victim does not need to formally press charges on their spouse to seek a restraining order. However, the behaviours in the above paragraph are sufficient grounds to seek a restraining order. They may not be clear-cut offences or crimes, but they are wrong and need to be addressed.

Should the church condone getting a Family Violence Restraining Order and/or pursuing further legal avenues?

Exodus 21:18-19,When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, 19 then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.

Ephesians 5:1-33, Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Galatians 5 :17-24, For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

These texts are clear that the Lord condemns sin against others, especially those against your spouse. So, should the church condone FVRO and or legal avenues? Yes, to protect the victims for FV incidents certain measures must be taken. When criminal offences against a victim have occurred, there are consequences, whether that means fines, FVROs or even jail time.

The church must encourage the victim to forgive, since we know God calls us to do so (Matthew 18:21-22).  But the church must also encourage the perpetrator to repent truly and seek forgiveness (Luke 13:3).  However, the church must be aware that relationships will usually not be restored; nor should they be in really bad cases where the perpetrator has not changed his behaviour or sought forgiveness.  Forgiveness and restoration are two different things!

Is Family Violence usually a once off thing or is it a pattern of behaviour. How can this pattern be broken?

Like I said in one of my previous paragraphs, every incident and situation is different.

As a police officer one of the main calls I attend are FV incidents and a lot of the time it can be the same addresses that we repeatedly attend.  FV incidents can be a pattern of behaviour. The couples love each other, then something happens and the male (for this example but not always) assaults his partner. Police are then called, the female doesn’t want to provide any evidence to police, so police issue a 72-hour Police Order. A week later or even sooner, the male asks for forgiveness and says ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m sorry’, the female forgives him and brings him back… and then the cycle starts again.

It sounds like a joke, and you think this never happens, but it does. How can the female get out of the cycle or rut? Seek help — it is not okay for someone to get assaulted or controlled.

Often if police are called it has gone too far.

I attended a FV incident recently where, when I attended, I saw the female and compared her to her driver’s license photo and I couldn’t recognise her as she was so badly beaten. The male had beaten her with her child in her arms. This was the first reported FV incident between the two parties.  Police had no prior interaction with them. Do you know what the female said to us?  She said, “He went a little too far this time.”  Police acted and now this female is safe and has thanked police for helping her through this point in her life. Sadly, this is the cycle victims endure, and in most cases they think it’s normal.  That’s how controlled they are.

In conclusion, I would like to say Family Violence is real and please know that it is real in church circles as well. It is against Australian Law and most importantly it is against God’s Law. If you’re a victim of FV please seek help, reach out, talk to someone or go to a police station to seek advice. This behaviour from your spouse is not normal and it is not okay; it is wrong.

If you’re reading this article and you feel you have been controlling your spouse, you’ve hit your spouse and you’ve treated your spouse as a slave, then seek help too. It’s not okay to keep doing what you are doing; it’s not okay to control your spouse.

As Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-39 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.  Your spouse is your neighbour, so love them as God loves you.