Psychological abuse still not recognised as family violence: inquiry
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Psychological abuse still not recognised as family violence: inquiry

Warning signs of domestic and family violence are being ignored because of a misconception that the abuse must be physical for it to be reported, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

The first hearings of an inquiry into the ACT's policy response to domestic and family violence took place at the Legislative Assembly on Thursday.

Coercive and controlling behaviour is an often unrecognised sign of domestic and family violence.

Coercive and controlling behaviour is an often unrecognised sign of domestic and family violence.

Domestic Violence Crisis Service chief executive Mirjana Wilson said most people did not consider non-physical abuse as domestic violence.

This is despite a 2016 death review showing most people killed had not experienced physical abuse in the lead-up to their deaths.

"Domestic violence goes beyond physical violence. It is actually a whole range of coercive and controlling behaviours and it needs to be understood in that context," Ms Wilson said.

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"Often by the time people come to the attention of the specialist domestic violence sector, whatever's been going on, the violence, the coercive controlling behaviours has been going on a really long time and we recognise it for what it is but other places don't necessarily, GPs, hospitals, schools, where people live their daily lives."

In 2014, then Attorney-General Simon Corbell ordered a review of all the domestic violence deaths in the ACT from 2000 to 2012.

The review by the Domestic Violence Prevention Council found in many cases, there was no recorded history of physical violence prior to the victim's death.

However, there were patterns of non-physical family violence, including coercive and controlling behaviours.

The review found there was a general lack of understanding of what constitutes domestic and family violence, especially its non-physical manifestations.

It said greater awareness was needed about what domestic and family violence looks like, and that an absence of physical violence in a relationship does not necessarily mean a lower risk of harm for the victim.

Ms Wilson said more needed to be done to teach workers outside the domestic violence sector what the warning signs were.

"They're often places that don't identify or don't recognise that people are living with violence so what we really need is better way of upskilling more generally our workforces to better recognise that people are living with domestic and family violence," Ms Wilson said.

"The reality is people that are subjected to or affected by or use domestic and family violence are in our community and they intersect with all different places and I think the more that health providers, school providers can support people and offer intervention then we will be taking more steps to hopefully prevent some of the most horrendous things that happen for people."

Ms Wilson's comments come as the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation calls for the ACT to include funding for teaching nurses and midwives to respond to domestic and family violence in its next budget.

"Frequently the first point of contact for women and children in crisis due to family violence is a nurse or midwife," Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation ACT Branch president Athalene Rosborough wrote.

"Nurses and midwives can act as a trusted support and point of care coordination within the government's commitment to tackling family violence."

The next hearing will take place on March 8.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.