What is domestic and family violence?

For concerned family and friends, it’s important to understand the differences between domestic and family violence and other forms of violence that can occur in within families and relationships.

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Domestic and family violence

Domestic and family violence, also known as domestic violence, family violence or partner violence, is a pattern of abusive behaviour in an intimate relationship that over time puts one person in a position of power over another, and causes fear.

It is often referred to as a pattern of coercion and control. Abusers are sometimes called ‘perpetrators of violence’.

Domestic and family violence does not always stop when the relationship ends, so it can also occur between ex-partners.

Abusers use many tactics to maintain power and control, such as:

  • Physical assaults, choking, beatings.

  • Acts of sexual violence, forced sex or forcing someone to do sexual acts they don’t wish to do.

  • Emotional abuse, name calling and put downs, disrespectful treatment.

  • Isolation from supports, family and community, or using family and community to intimidate. This can include sending texts or posting on Facebook from someone else’s phone or account to undermine their community standing or friendships.

  • Stalking or monitoring every move.

  • Psychological abuse and ‘crazymaking’. This can include denying that the abusive behaviour occurred; blaming the person being abused for the behaviour; telling the person being abused that they have mental health problems or anxiety disorders; manipulating or deliberately twisting reality; moving personal belongings or furniture and then denying that this has been done (sometimes this is called ‘gaslighting’, from the movie Gaslight).

  • Financial abuse, such as denying living expenses or ‘housekeeping money’; preventing someone from working; manipulating the child support system; intimidating someone to sign legal and financial documents that put them in debt; standing over someone to demand money; and humbugging.

  • Preventing someone from practicing their spirituality or faith, or forcing them to adopt a faith or spirituality that is not their own.

  • Harming or threatening to harm loved ones including children.

  • Harming or threatening to harm pets.

  • Legal abuse, such as exploiting the family law system to intimidate, exhaust, exploit or disempower someone.

Abusers can exert control in ways that are unique to each relationship. In some relationships, withholding supplies of drugs and alcohol, threatening suicide when someone tries to leave a relationship, threatening to withdraw the assistance or care required by someone who has a disability, or undermining mothering by preventing settling or breastfeeding of infants can be forms of domestic and family violence.

Other types of violence in the home

As well as domestic and family violence, there are other types of violence that can occur in families and relationships. These types of violence are not necessarily linked to behaviour patterns of power and control, but they can be harmful to individuals and to family and community harmony. All violence is unacceptable.

People who have mental health issues, poor conflict management skills or substance misuse issues may be violent to family members or loved ones without this being part of a pattern of coercion or control.

Violence can occur within any kind of relationship. This includes violence by women towards men, violence targeting older people or people with disabilities, and violence by teenagers towards parents.

It is important to remember that people who experience other types of violence or abuse in the home can be hurt, harmed or shamed in similar ways to people experiencing domestic and family violence.

Child abuse is also a form of violence in the home and is never acceptable. If you are experiencing child abuse, contact Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. If you are scared now, call 000.

If you experience any of these other types of violence in a relationship or within your family, the information in this site will still be of value, and many of the services listed here will be helpful. The 1800RESPECT line can provide support and information for people living with all types of relationship abuse or violence at home. Phone 1800 737 732.

Women are more likely to experience domestic and family violence

Statistics show that domestic and family violence is most likely to be committed against women.

Some groups of women have been identified as being at greatest risk of harm from domestic and family violence:

  • Pregnant women

  • Separated women

  • Women with disabilities

  • Indigenous women

Some facts about domestic and family violence

  • Women are more likely to experience violence committed by partners or ex-partners, than men.

  • While men are more likely to experience general violence, it is most often violence committed by people other than their partners or ex-partners. Violence against men is also usually committed outside of the home.

  • Abusers can be charming and respected in their community, or portray themselves as victims. People who live with domestic and family violence often comment they are living with a ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, or a ‘street angel / home demon’.

  • Abusers will often deny their abuse or blame the person they abuse. They feel justified or entitled to behave abusively.

  • Children who live with domestic and family violence are affected by it, even when they can’t see or hear the violence, because of the fear and disruption to home life experienced by their carers. For children, domestic and family violence is trauma.

  • Gay, lesbian, transgender and intersex people can also be in violent or abusive relationships.

Further Reading

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