Dealing with cases of suspected or actual domestic violence can be challenging for even the most experienced practitioners.
A commonly asked question in these situations is “do I have any mandatory reporting obligations around domestic violence?”
There are a number of excellent resources available for health practitioners to help with this question. Please see the links at the bottom of this article.
- Australian Institute of Family Studies Domestic and family violence in pregnancy
- ACM – We stand together against domestic and family violence
- NSW Health Domestic Violence Safety Assessment Tool Guide www.health.nsw.gov.au/kidsfamilies/protection/Pages/default.aspx
The answer to this question depends on two main factors:
- Where you are practising – it is only in the Northern Territory that there is a mandatory reporting obligation for any person aware of domestic violence
- Whether children are involved – there may be requirements to make a mandatory report where children are exposed to domestic violence, or if they face risks which meet the thresholds under general child protection mandatory reporting obligations.
Mandatory reports – Northern Territory
In the Northern Territory, any person (not just health practitioners) must inform the police as soon as practicable when they have reasonable grounds to believe:
- Another person has caused, or is likely to cause, harm to someone else (the victim) with whom the other person is in a domestic relationship and / or
- the life or safety of another person (also the victim) is under serious or imminent threat because domestic violence has been, is being or is about to be committed.
Mandatory reports – where children are exposed to violence
An obligation to make a report in cases of domestic violence where children are involved can be part of a specific obligation, or may be a circumstance which warrants a report under general child protection mandatory reporting obligations.
In the Northern Territory, reasonable belief of exposure of a child to physical violence, such as witnessing violence between their parents, is grounds for making a child protection mandatory report.
In other States, there may be an obligation to make a report if the child’s exposure to domestic violence meets the criteria for making a child protection mandatory report.
It is important to keep good records when dealing with situations of domestic violence, particularly information disclosed by the woman, counselling, referrals made, advice sought and any decision-making around disclosures.
When in doubt about what to do
It may be appropriate, as a first step, to provide information of support contacts, including police and
1800 RESPECT, the 24 hour National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line, or local support services.
It is advisable not to make a decision before seeking guidance from professional colleagues and specialist services.
It can be best to seek assistance from others in dealing with suspected domestic violence. If you need advice we encourage you to contact our medico legal team who are available to help at any time.