Mum turns to Court seeking protection from daughter

The reasons behind elder abuse are varied and can be complex when mental health is a factor. Parents may be the last resort for adult children experiencing mental ill-health and find themselves caught between a desire to support their adult child and a need to protect themselves. In these fraught scenarios, the older person seeking professional help can feel guilt for taking action and concern about what the consequences will be for their adult child. 

Jane’s adult daughter Mandy experiences extremely poor mental health. In 2016,  Jane first contacted Caxton Legal Centre’s Seniors Legal and Support Service (SLASS) for assistance as she was feeling unsafe due to Mandy’s threats and emotional abuse towards her. At that time,  Jane decided against taking out a domestic violence order application as Mandy eventually agreed to a mental health assessment. 

More recently, Mandy’s relationship with her husband has broken down and he has full custody of their children.  Mandy has no further contact with them. Mandy left a mental health treatment facility interstate, despite an involuntary treatment order being in place. She turned up at Jane and her husband Arthur’s front door shortly after, and began living with them.  Mandy had a history of leaving hospitals midway through treatment and switching doctors, making her mental health care sporadic while interstate. She did not connect with mental health services upon arrival in Queensland and was not receiving any treatment. 

While they were living together, Mandy terrorised Jane with an online campaign of threats and false allegations. Mandy made death threats, alleged her family were pedophiles and attempted to recruit strangers over social media to harm Jane and other family members. Jane was greatly distressed by Mandy’s behaviour and sought mental health care for herself in order to cope. After some time, Mandy moved out of Jane and Arthur’s house and in with another family member, but her abusive and threatening behaviour continued. 

Jane telephoned the police but was discouraged by their response as she felt she was not being listened to. No offer was made by the police to apply for a domestic violence order on Jane’s behalf, despite numerous requests from Jane to do so. The police indicated that Jane would need to attend the police station to provide evidence. Jane was afraid to do this. The response from police, combined with Jane’s heightened state of fear and anxiety, meant she found the prospect of returning to the police extremely stressful when Mandy’s abuse escalated. Instead, Jane once again sought help from Caxton Legal Centre’s seniors’ service.  

Community services such as Caxton Legal Centre are distinct from government-run agencies such as the police, with processes and resources which prioritise client wellbeing.  These services play an essential role in the range of options available to people seeking help  

Caxton provided urgent social work support and legal advice to Jane, who was anxious about bringing domestic violence court proceedings against her daughter but also fearful that her daughter’s behavior would not stop without legal intervention. Caxton provided a duty lawyer to represent Jane in court which helped her feel less anxious about the process.  A temporary domestic violence protection order was granted, much to Jane’s relief.   

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is behaviour by one person towards another person that is:

  • physically or sexually abusive
  • emotionally or psychologically abusive
  • economically abusive
  • threatening or coercive
  • controlling or dominating and causing others to fear for their safety or wellbeing or that of someone else (s Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (Qld) (DFVP Act)).

The Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act provides a non-exhaustive list of examples of behaviour that constitute domestic violence (s 8(2)):

  • causing personal injury to a person or threatening to do so
  • coercing a person to engage in sexual activity or attempting to do so
  • damaging a person’s property or threatening to do so
  • depriving a person of the person’s liberty or threatening to do so
  • threatening a person with death or injury of the person, a child of the person or someone else
  • threatening to commit suicide or self-harm so as to torment, intimidate or frighten the person at whom the behaviour is directed
  • causing or threatening to cause the death of, or injury to, an animal, whether or not the animal belongs to the person at whom the behaviour is directed, so as to control, dominate or coerce the person
  • following (surveillance) of a person without their consent
  • unlawfully stalking a person.

If a person counsels or procures someone else (e.g. encouraging them to act as their agent) to engage in behaviour that would constitute domestic violence, then the first person will be taken to have committed domestic violence (s 8(3) DFVP Act).

Relationships covered by the DFVP Act

Three types of relationship are covered by the DFVP Act:

  • an intimate, personal relationship (a current or former spouse, a parent of a child together, an engaged couple or a ‘couple’ relationship) (s 18)
  • a family relationship
  • an informal care relationship.

Further information on this area of law is available via the Queensland Law Handbook online.