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Domestic and family violence

  • Domestic and family violence happens when one person in a relationship hurts another or makes them feel unsafe
  • It can happen in any kind of relationship — not just with husbands and wives or boyfriends and girlfriends (intimate partners)
  • Abuse doesn't have to involve hurt to your body, or physical violence, to be domestic or family violence
  • If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through online chat

Who is affected by domestic and family violence?

Domestic and family violence can happen to anyone — that is, a person from any country, religion, sexuality, gender, social background or culture.

It can also happen in any relationship, including with:

  • Boyfriends, girlfriends, partners, husbands or wives
  • Ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-partners, ex-husbands or ex-wives
  • Carers or paid support workers
  • Parents, guardians or other family members
  • Adult children
  • Other people you live with or see often, whether inside or outside the home

None of these people has the right to hurt you or make you live in fear. 

What does domestic and family violence involve?

Domestic and family violence can involve behaviour that:

People who use this kind of violence are sometimes called 'perpetrators of violence'.

What is a pattern of control?

Domestic and family violence involves a pattern of abusive behaviour that aims to scare and control you. The words 'pattern of control' or 'pattern of coercion and control' are often used to describe this kind of violence. 

Patterns of control can take different forms in different relationships. In some relationships, stopping you from taking medicine you need is a pattern of control. Someone threatening to kill or hurt themselves when you try to leave the relationship might be part of a pattern of control. If you have a disability and access support, taking away that support in order to control you is another example of a pattern of control.

What forms can domestic and family violence take?

It is never OK for someone in a relationship to:

  • Hit, kick, and do other things that hurt your body
  • Touch you in ways or places you don’t want to be touched
  • Force you to have sex or do sexual things
  • Say and do things that make you feel scared or unsafe
  • Take your money or use money to make your life hard
  • Damage walls, parts of your home, or your things
  • Tell you they will hurt you, your children, your pets, or people you care about
  • Say they will hurt themselves if you try to leave
  • Share private photos or videos of you online without your permission
  • Stop you from following your religion or cultural practices
  • Cut you off from friends or family
  • Refuse to provide essential care and support for you if they are your parent, guardian, carer, or paid support person
  • Make looking after a baby hard by not letting you feed or settle your baby
  • Scare you by following you, harassing you, or refusing to leave you alone
  • Use the legal system to bully or intimidate you
  • Stop you from making decisions about whether or not to have a baby, or other reproductive issues
  • Stop you from having medicine you need or from seeing a doctor
  • Give you medicine you don't need or more medicine than you need

These are only some things that domestic and family violence may involve. There are many others. If anyone is making you feel scared, worried or unsafe, it is OK to ask for help. 

Supporting someone experiencing domestic and family violence

  • It is OK to say something if someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence
  • There are some simple things you can do to help, including believing them and taking their fears seriously
  • Remember that domestic and family violence is not just physical — it can also be emotional, financial, spiritual, social, legal, reproductive, and can include stalking and neglect
  • If someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through online chat

How can I support someone?

Finding out that someone you know is being hurt is always hard. Perhaps you want to help but don't know what to do. The good news is that there are simple things you can do that can make a big difference.

When someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence the way you talk and listen to them makes all the difference. You may be worried about doing the wrong thing, but it is important to know that it is OK to say something. Many people are glad to have the chance to talk about what they are going through. 

When someone is experiencing violence they often feel trapped and out of control. These feelings can be made worse if you try to force them to do what you think is best. It is very important that people are supported to make their own choices, as they are ready.

Here are some ways you can help:

  • In an emergency or if is someone is in danger now, call 000 immediately
  • Believe them and take their fears seriously. This is important no matter what you think of the person or people who hurt them.
  • Listen without interrupting or judging
  • Never blame the person experiencing the violence for what has happened to them. Violence is never OK.
  • Don’t make excuses for the person who has hurt them
  • Understand that they may not be ready or it may not be safe to leave. Don’t try to force them to do what you think is best.
  • Remember that domestic and family violence is not just physical
  • Help in practical ways—with transport, appointments, child minding, or a place to escape to
  • Help explore options. You or the person you are supporting can call 1800RESPECT or visit our website for more information and support.
  • Some people may need the help of an advocacy service to explore options or contact 1800RESPECT. You can find an advocacy service in your area by searching our Service directory.

What are the signs of domestic and family violence?

People experiencing domestic or family violence may:

  • Suddenly stop going out with no reason
  • Worry a lot about making a particular person angry
  • Make a lot of excuses for someone's negative behaviour
  • Have marks or injuries on their body that can’t be explained
  • Stop spending time with friends and family
  • Seem scared or wary around a particular person
  • Seem worried that they are being watched, followed or controlled in some way

 A person whose behaviour is violent or abusive may:

  • Act in ways that make the other person scared
  • Put the other person down all the time
  • Make threats to hurt another person
  • Control
    • Where someone goes
    • Who they see and speak to
    • What happens to their money
    • How and when they can use their phone, car, or computer
  • Have a lot of rules about how the other person is allowed to behave
  • Get very angry when the other person doesn’t follow these rules

How do I ask someone about domestic and family violence?

In the end, the only way to be sure there is a problem is to ask. This might feel hard, but there are things you can do to make it easier. 

You may be worried that the person experiencing the violence will get angry, upset or won’t want to talk. This may be the case, but often people are glad to be able to talk about what is happening.

Pick a quiet time to talk, when the violence isn’t happening. Let the person talk at their own pace, don’t push them to say more than they feel ready to.

If the person you are talking to doesn’t react in the way you hoped, don’t take it personally. Let it go for now, but let them know you are there if they need you.

It’s better to talk to them about the things you’ve noticed that make you worried, than to give your opinion.

You can try some questions like:

  • I'm wondering if everything is OK at home?
  • I noticed you have some bruises. How did that happen? Did someone do that to you?
  • I've noticed you seem frightened by your partner [or other person you suspect is hurting them]. Is that right? Is everything OK?

Give them the chance to speak in private. Be prepared to listen, but don’t force them to speak if they are not ready.

Who is at risk?

  • Some people are at greater risk of sexual assault, domestic and family violence than others
  • Certain people are also at greater risk of particular types of domestic and family violence
  • It helps to be aware of these factors when supporting someone
  • Sexual, domestic and family violence are never OK. No matter what your gender, sexuality, religion, or cultural background, or the type of relationship involved, support is available

Are some people at greater risk of domestic and family violence?

Domestic and family violence can happen to anyone. It occurs in all races, religions and genders. It can be experienced by people with a lot of money or those living in poverty, by people who are in an intimate relationship and those who are not. However, domestic and family violence is most often committed by men against women. 

People belonging to certain groups or communities may experience higher rates of domestic and family violence than others. Some people can also experience forms of violence specific to a part of their culture, identity or situation. They may also experience unique challenges in finding support or leaving a violent situation. Affected people may include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Separated women
  • People with disability
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • People from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds
  • Older people
  • People who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Intersex (LGBTI)
  • Women living in areas that have recently been affected by disaster

Different groups and communities also have higher rates of different types of violence. Some people belong to more than one group, which creates a unique set of risks for them. There are a range of services in Australia that offer specialist support for people with unique risks when it comes to sexual assault, domestic and family violence. You can get more information about the sorts of services available to you at our Services overview page. You can also visit our Service directory for local services that can support you.

Click on the headings below to read more about the unique risks faced by different groups.