When Charlotte* split from her husband a few years ago she had herself and four children to worry about. After numerous threats and some physical assaults her husband was given a family violence restraining order.
Charlotte thought the order would end her family's encounter with manipulation and abuse. But soon her ex turned his threats onto their family pets. In one case Charlotte said he threatened to kill her daughter's rabbit if she continued to have contact with her mum.
He also passed threats against the life of the family dog through Charlotte's sons.
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"He would constantly tell the two boys that he was going to come kill [our dog] and that if he saw her out the front of the house, or anywhere that he could get access to her then he would do her harm," Charlotte said.
"All of these threatens were to be manipulative with the children to meet his own end."
Now, advocates are calling for Tasmania to follow NSW's lead by including animals in family violence laws.
The changes in NSW will see harm or threats of harm to an animal explicitly added to the definition of intimidation. The protection of animals will also be made standard in domestic violence orders.
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Although there are existing animal cruelty laws in NSW the changes will mean when the offences are committed in with intent to coerce or control the victim, or cause intimidation or fear, perpetrators may also be charged with domestic violence offences.
For Charlotte that protection would have made a big difference.
"They make threats against everything that relates to your life. So to have pets included ... would be an amazing result," she said.
Engendered Equality chief executive officer Alina Thomas said too often people were staying in abusive relationships because of their pets. She said there was an emerging body of evidence showing a correlation between animal abuse and intimate partner abuse.
"When people are violent towards pets it is a really strong indicator that they are also violent towards the humans in their life," Ms Thomas said.
"As we are beginning to grow our knowledge around that it really emphasises the need for us to be recognising animal abuse as an indicator and a risk factor for family violence.
"People who are experiencing family violence have often witnessed their pets being harmed or killed ... it keeps people in unsafe relationships.
"We do meet a lot of women who don't leave abusive relationships because they are unable to leave with their pet."
RSPCA Tasmanian chief executive officer Jan Davis said Tasmania had began to fall behind other state's when it came to animal welfare organisations.
She said now more than ever we had realised the importance of pets in the family structure.
"People stay when they really need to go because they're worried about their critters. We need to have a situation where that is recognised as a risk," she said.
"[Abusers] threaten to harm the pet, they do harm the pet in some circumstances, they use them for blackmail. It is not a good circumstance.
"Recognising it as a reality is really important and one way to do that is to include specific references to pets in the domestic violence regulations."
Ms Davis said the situation would also require changes to short stay and emergency accommodation to allow people to escape fraught situations with their pets.
A Tasmanian government spokesperson said the government was committed to the elimination of all forms of family and sexual violence.
The spokesperson said $26 million had been invested to carry out 40 actions over the course of three years to prevent family and sexual violence.
"Family violence in Tasmania is defined by the Family Violence Act 2004 and includes threats and intimidation, as well as damage caused directly or indirectly to any property," the spokesperson said.
"Therefore, threats made in a family violence incident, in relation to pets is family violence, as is hurting pets. This may also be considered as emotional abuse, which is also family violence.
"When dealing with family violence matters, police take into consideration threats and harms against pets when assessing risks."
* Name changed for privacy reasons.
- If you or someone you know is affected by issues raised in this article support is available at 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732, the Women's Crisis Line 1800 811 811 and the Men's Referral Service 1300 766 491.
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