Family violence: what is it?

Family violence: what is it?

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.

Family violence is sometimes also called domestic violence, intimate partner violence or domestic abuse.

Family violence is an umbrella term used to describe all the different types of violence that can happen in families. This article focuses on the family violence that happens between partners and ex-partners.

Types of family violence

Family violence includes many different types of violence and abuse.

Emotional and psychological abuse
This kind of family violence is when a family member insults, upsets, intimidates, controls or humiliates another family member. It includes:

  • yelling, swearing and name-calling
  • putting someone down in front of other people or in private
  • using words to intimidate or threaten someone
  • doing or saying things to make someone feel confused or less confident
  • stopping someone from spending time with friends or family
  • stopping someone from practising their religion.

Physical abuse
This kind of family violence is any harmful or controlling physical behaviour that one family member uses towards another. It includes:

  • shoving, pushing, punching, hitting, slapping, biting or choking
  • using weapons or objects to harm someone
  • damaging or destroying someone's personal belongings or property
  • harming other family members or family pets.

Sexual abuse
This kind of family violence is any unwanted sexual behaviour by one family member towards another. It includes:

  • threatening or intimidating someone into unwanted sexual activities
  • exposing someone to sexual images or content they don't want to see
  • sharing sexual images or content about someone without consent
  • engaging in unwanted sexual contact with someone
  • raping someone.

Harassment, stalking and threats of harm
This kind of family violence is unwanted behaviour like:

  • following someone to see where they're going or who they're meeting
  • tracking phone calls or phone locations
  • constantly ringing or texting someone
  • threatening to harm someone or the people close to them.

Other types of abuse include financial abuse. This can include not letting someone have money or using someone's money against their best interests.

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. Women are also more likely to live in fear of an intimate partner or ex-partner and to be injured or killed because of family violence.

Children are also often caught up in family violence - they might experience family violence themselves, or be witnesses to it. Witnessing family violence has the same negative effects on children as physical violence against them.

Signs of family violence in someone you know

Family violence happens to one in four Australian women. So you'll probably know or come across someone who has experienced family violence of some kind.

But people experiencing family violence often don't tell anyone. This might be because they've been threatened about telling anyone or they don't think anyone will believe them. Also, people experiencing family violence sometimes blame themselves for the abuse or feel ashamed about it, 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:

  • regularly have physical injuries like scratches or bruises - the person might say that the injuries don't matter or are because of a clumsy accident
  • seem afraid of their partner
  • speak about their partner as being jealous, moody or bad tempered
  • describe their partner as controlling - for example, the person has to get their partner's approval to do things or go places
  • seem more anxious, jumpy, distant or depressed than usual
  • be often criticised by their partner
  • not socialise as much as in the past
  • not want to leave children with their partner or family member.

These are only some of the signs of family violence, and sometimes these signs happen because of other things going on in a person's life. But a combination of these signs over time might mean that someone is experiencing family violence.

What to do if you're experiencing family violence, or someone you know is

If you're experiencing family violence
If you or your children are in immediate danger, call the police on 000.

If you're experiencing family violence and you need support for yourself or your children, you have a few options:

  • Speak to a GP, child and family health nurse or other health professional.
  • Call a telephone support service like 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).
  • Speak to a trusted family member or friend for support.

If someone you know is experiencing family violence
If you think that a friend or family member is experiencing family violence, let them know you're concerned. If they don't want to talk about it right away, let them know that they can trust you, and that you're there for them when they're ready.

Find out about local support services so you have some practical options to offer when the person is ready to talk to you.

It's important to avoid judging the person for being in an abusive relationship. They might not be ready to leave the relationship or they might not want to. And leaving an abusive relationship can take many attempts and can be a very difficult and long process.

Just being listened to and believed can be very important for people experiencing family violence.

Why does family violence happen?

Family violence is about power and control. By making someone afraid, the person using violence keeps power and control in the relationship.

There is no excuse for family violence. Family violence is never OK. It's never justified by feelings, family circumstances, background, past experiences, or use of alcohol and other drugs.

No matter how long someone stays in a relationship with family violence, or how many times they leave the relationship and come back, the person experiencing family violence is never to blame.

Alcohol or other drug use can increase the severity of family violence and the seriousness of any resulting injuries. But alcohol and other drug use doesn't cause the abuse in the first place or excuse it afterwards.