What is family violence?
Family violence is when a family member threatens, harms, controls or abuses another family member. Family violence can include violence by:
- an adult in a family – for example, a partner or spouse, an adult child or an extended family member
- an adult who used to be in a family – for example, a former partner or spouse
- a teenage child or young person in the family.
Family violence is sometimes also called domestic violence, intimate partner violence or domestic abuse.
If you or your children are in immediate danger because of family violence, call the police on 000. If you need support because of family violence, speak to your GP or another health professional. Call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). Or speak to a trusted family member or friend.
Types of family violence
Family violence includes many different types of violence and abuse. This article focuses on the types of family violence that happen between partners and ex-partners.
Emotional and psychological abuse
This kind of family violence is when a person insults, upsets, intimidates, controls or humiliates their partner or ex-partner. It includes:
- yelling, swearing and name-calling
- putting their partner down in public or private
- using words to intimidate or threaten their partner
- doing or saying things to make their partner feel confused or question themselves – this is often called ‘gaslighting’
- stopping their partner from spending time with their children, friends or other family members
- damaging or destroying their partner’s personal belongings or property
- turning their children against their partner
- using their children to get information about their partner
- forcing or encouraging their children to insult or disobey their partner.
This kind of family violence is any harmful or controlling physical behaviour that a person uses towards their partner or ex-partner. It includes:
- shoving, pushing, punching, hitting, slapping or biting
- choking, smothering or pinning down their partner
- using weapons or objects to harm their partner
- harming or threatening to harm other family members or family pets.
This kind of family violence is any unwanted sexual behaviour by a person towards their partner or ex-partner. It includes:
- threatening or intimidating their partner into unwanted sexual activities
- exposing their partner to sexual images or content they don’t want to see
- sharing sexual images or content about their partner without consent
- engaging in unwanted sexual contact with their partner
- raping their partner
- forcing their partner to become pregnant or sabotaging their partner’s contraception.
Harassment, stalking and threats of harm
This kind of family violence is unwanted monitoring of or contact with a partner or ex-partner. It includes a person:
- following their partner to see where they’re going or who they’re meeting
- tracking phones and other electronic devices to find out where their partner is or monitor their social and online activities
- putting software and spy cameras into children’s devices or toys
- constantly ringing or texting their partner
- threatening to harm their partner or the people close to them.
This kind of family violence is any controlling behaviour that might restrict a partner or ex-partner’s access to money. It includes a person:
- not letting their partner work outside the home for pay
- taking their partner’s pay, Centrelink income or other benefits
- making their partner late for work, going to or interfering with their work, or causing their partner to lose work
- having sole control over family finances
- asking their partner to justify and document every expense
- withholding child support payments if they’re separated from their partner.
Cultural, spiritual and/or religious abuse
This type of family violence is when a person stops their partner or ex-partner from practising their religion, language or cultural activities.
Coercive control is when someone uses a range of controlling behaviours to manipulate, intimidate or trap someone in an abusive relationship. Someone experiencing coercive control is at high risk of increasing levels of physical violence, especially when they decide to leave the relationship.
There’s no excuse for family violence. The person using family violence is the person responsible for it and the way it affects those experiencing it.
Women, men and family violence
Family violence can happen to both men and women, in heterosexual and same-sex relationships. It happens regardless of age, income, education, culture or religion.
But women are more likely than men to experience family violence and coercive control. Women are also more likely to live in fear of a partner or ex-partner and to be injured or killed because of family violence.
Children are also often affected by family violence. They might experience family violence themselves or be witnesses to it.
Signs of family violence in someone you know
People experiencing family violence often don’t tell anyone.
This might be because they’ve been threatened, they think no-one will believe them, or they haven’t felt supported when telling someone in the past. Also, people experiencing family violence sometimes blame themselves or feel ashamed, so they don’t want to talk about it.
If you think someone you know is experiencing family violence, there are signs you can look out for. The person might:
- seem afraid of their partner or very careful about what they say or do around their partner
- say their partner is jealous, moody or bad tempered
- say they have to get their partner’s approval to do things, go places or spend money
- get a lot of phone calls or text messages when they’re not with their partner
- seem more anxious, jumpy, distant or depressed than usual
- not socialise as much as usual, make excuses for not socialising, or cancel things at the last minute
- not want to leave children with their partner
- have physical injuries like scratches or bruises and say that these are because of clumsy accidents.
You might also notice the person’s partner behaving in concerning ways. For example, the person’s partner might criticise them in front of you.
What to do if you think someone is experiencing family violence
If you’re concerned about someone’s immediate safety or the safety of their children, you should call the police on 000.
If you think that a friend or family member is experiencing family violence, let them know you’re concerned. You might start the conversation by talking about some of your observations. For example, you might say ‘I’ve noticed that you always seem frightened when you’re around your partner. Is everything OK in your relationship?’
If they don’t want to talk about it, let them know that they can trust you and that you’re there for them when they’re ready. In the meantime, you can find out about services, options and safety plans by calling 1800RESPECT or visiting their website.
If or when your friend or family member is ready to talk to you, you can let them know about these support services and other practical options. You can also discuss a safety plan.
It’s important to avoid judging the person for being in a violent or an abusive relationship or for not having left the relationship. They might not be ready to leave, or it might not be safe for them to leave. Leaving an abusive relationship can take many attempts and can be a very difficult, long and risky process.
Just being listened to and believed can be very important for people experiencing family violence.
Family violence support ranges from crisis accommodation and protection orders to family violence counselling and survivor support groups. With the right support, people can recover from the social, emotional and physical effects of family violence.