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What to Do If You’re Falsely Accused of Domestic Violence in Australia

It’s every person’s nightmare that at some point they will be falsely accused of domestic violence. Whether that’s part of a family law dispute, a larger disagreement or it comes completely out of the blue, knowing how to respond if you’re wrongly accused of domestic violence is going to make a significant difference to outcomes.

Now it’s certainly true that domestic violence is a widespread and serious issue in Australia. Domestic violence charges are rightly taken seriously. Unfortunately, some of the protective measures put in place as a response to those issues could actually lead to an increase in false domestic violence allegations being made to secure some other perceived increase in bargaining power if a relationship has gone sour.

But given the dramatic consequences that a false allegation of domestic violence can have on you personally, your career or business, your reputation and your future, it’s important to respond quickly and wisely to the accusation.

How do you think “he/ she got so angry that he broke the door” is going to sound in Court?

In this article, we’re going to run through:

  1. How common or otherwise false accusations of domestic violence might be;
  2. What your immediate first step should be if you are falsely accused;
  3. A bit of damage control for the non-legal parts of your life;
  4. The process that’s going to happen;
  5. The aftermath of a false accusation of domestic violence.

Are False Accusations of Domestic Violence that Common?

Pauline Hanson didn’t exactly make any friends in 2017 when she announced that women routinely “game” the system by making up false accusations of domestic violence.

That said, the view she expressed seems to align with what many people in the community believe, according to the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey.

In short, some suggest that the issue is rare, others insist that men in particular are routinely falsely accused of domestic violence.

But truthfully, the actual data is skinny either way. For example, if an allegation is withdrawn does that mean it was “false”? If domestic violence gets raised in a mediation in a family law dispute that settles without the allegations ever being formally made, then we don’t get data on that. Nor do we get data on threats to make false allegations made in less formal settings.

So really all we can say is: yes, false allegations of domestic violence do happen.

The Absolute First Thing to Do If You’re Falsely Accused of Domestic Violence

Call a lawyer. Even before a police interview – that’s your right!

Yes it’s trite, and yes it sounds self-serving. If you’re reading this article, we also expect that you have been falsely accused of domestic violence, and so you might think that getting a lawyer makes you look “more guilty”.

But when every word you speak and action you take after the allegation could well find its way into a police statement later on, do you really want to just take a stab in the dark at knowing what might and might not work against you later?

Here’s the thing – if and when you get charged and find your way to a trial, the Court’s job is to try and figure out the truth of the allegation made against you. It’s going to do that, usually, by weighing up relevant evidence in the form of statements and documents.

So let’s say that in response to your spouse accusing you of domestic violence you get so angry that you storm out of the house and slam the door shut, damaging it in the process. How do you think “he/she got so angry that he broke the door” is going to sound in Court? Or perhaps when the police arrived, you shouted at them because you just couldn’t get your head around the fact that your spouse had accused you of domestic violence? That’s going in a report too!

And so, all of a sudden, an innocent person starts to look less innocent, because events are now sifted through the eyes and ears of people who KNOW that you have been accused of domestic abuse. And yes, they’re trying to figure out whether it happened, but they’re also trying to figure out “is this the kind of person who might do this kind of thing again?”.

Damage Control Options

One of the biggest concerns most people have about false allegations of domestic violence is the impact it’s going to have on their reputation.

But while the legal system has you innocent until proven guilty, the Court of public opinion doesn’t apply the same kind of due process. So first and foremost, you’re going to have to expect that some people will simply assume that you are guilty and did the things you are falsely accused of simply because you were charged.

This is a difficult area to navigate, but in practical terms your approach should be:

  1. If necessary, be clear in your denial of the allegations. Always inform police that you are happy to cooperate but want to discuss the matter with a lawyer first. This might or might not involve a press statement, but that’s always something you should be careful about and only do with your lawyer’s assistance.
  2. Do not speak to the media about the matter at all, other than with your lawyer’s input and approval.
  3. Depending on your employment situation, getting out in front of the allegations with your employer might be a good decision. Better they find out from you in a managed way than finding out through others.
  4. Avoid giving any fodder to a public perception that you have anger towards your spouse.
  5. Stay completely away from the issue (and from your accuser) on all social media. In some cases, consider shutting down your social media accounts entirely for the duration of the matter.

Remember, the decisions you make now about what to say and who to say it to, could have long-lasting impacts on your life. It can be easy to fire off some comment in the moment that later becomes a source of deep regret.

What’s the Process Going to Be?

You are absolutely going to go through an emotional rollercoaster here. That’s normal, and to be expected. You will feel like your whole life is being examined and recreated as part of some fictitious narrative.

We’re not going to set out here a comprehensive overview of the entire legal system, so these are just a few highlights that you need to understand if you’re falsely accused of domestic violence.

Before You’re Charged

Let’s assume you find out about the allegation before you get charged (which isn’t always the case).

It’s important not to let your natural negative reaction to the allegation control your behaviour.

That means you shouldn’t be making decisions that sound like “well he/she said that about me, so I’m going to….”.

Similarly, taking steps to remove evidence of things that might be interpreted negatively isn’t always a good plan. After all, the perception of someone who destroys evidence isn’t usually a good one and can result in further charges.

But in all, this is the time when you should be taking steps only with your lawyer’s advice. That includes giving or not  giving statements, gathering documents, and communicating (or not) with your accuser. What you do and don’t do here might make the difference between charges being laid or not.

If You’re Charged – Getting Bail

In Queensland, if you’re accused (wrongly or otherwise) of domestic violence then the bail process is a bit different.

Ordinarily, if you are refused watch house bail, it’s up to the Police Prosecutor to argue in favour of your restraint or not. The Police Prosecutor will also likelyprovide arguments to the court that you might pose a threat to the Aggrieved, the public or of risk that you might flee the country.

However, with domestic violence allegations, it is now up to you to put a positive case forward about why your release pending trial would not offer a risk to the public or, specifically, your accuser.

So if you are being interviewed or havebeen charged, one of the first decisions is going to be about how we help you approach an interview or an application for bail and what evidence might be helpful in that process.

In Preparation for Trial

Your lawyer is going to be doing a lot of the work here.

One of the biggest issues lawyers face defending their clients from false allegations of domestic violence is in the area of surprises. Incidents that you have decided are “irrelevant” and have withheld from your lawyer.

So, in preparation, if your lawyer asks for information or your recollection, then your best play is to ensure that you have armed us with ALL the information we need to help you.

You are absolutely going to go through an emotional rollercoaster here. That’s normal, and to be expected. You will feel like your whole life is being examined and recreated as part of some fictitious narrative.

The trial itself will largely turn on the amount you have trusted your lawyer with honest information and allowed them to guide you with solid and considered advice. You won’t always like it, but any lawyer worth their salt is going to give you honest advice whether you like it or not.

What about Afterwards

So let’s say it’s all over and you have rightly been found not guilty. What’s next?

Along the way, perhaps you lost some friends and your job. Whatever the case there will certainly be a lot of “stuff” going on in your head.

And while the false allegations of domestic violence might be done and dusted, you might still have other ongoing legal matters to be dealt with regarding your spouse.

While it’s not very technical, our advice is to take the aftermath one step at a time. If counselling is in order, then get it. If you need to skill up for another job, then do that. Over time you will dwell less on the ugly events that have been and gone, and more on the opportunity for the future.