Family Violence EXPLAINED
Family violence is a crime. It is a violation of human rights.
Family violence can happen to anyone but in 95% of reported incidents, it is mainly committed by men against women, children and other vulnerable people*. It is endemic in the community and affects people of all walks of life regardless of age, culture, sexual identity, ability, ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic status.*
Family violence can take many forms and is when someone (the abuser) uses behaviour that is violent, threatening, intimidating or controlling, or intended to cause the family or household member to be fearful. The abuser may be from a current or past intimate relationship, a carer or a guardian, other family member including step family regardless of gender and sexuality.
Abusive behaviours include:
Physical: hitting, slapping, threats, restraining, biting, scratching, pinching, kicking, punching, pushing, burning, stabbing, shooting
Psychological and emotional: threats, intimidation, name calling, put downs, isolation, economic abuse (forcing a person to give up his/her wages or not letting him/her have access to money), abusing or using children or pets to create fear, stalking, harassing, guilt trips, blaming
Sexual: unwanted sexual contact – e.g. touching, rape, verbal harassment, making you do sexual things without consent that may hurt, make you feel ashamed, or bad, making you feel guilty if you say no to sex, not using contraception when you ask them to
Family violence can happen to anyone. Survivors of family violence come from all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Family violence is characterised by one individual’s power and control over another. The abuser uses intimidation, fear, and abuse to maintain that control.
Family violence has a huge impact on those who experience it.
People with a lived experience of family violence may live in fear for themselves and their family even when they have left an abusive relationship.
Family violence has both long and short term effects. These include:
Emotional: increased feelings of shame and guilt, confusion, loss of self-confidence, feelings of hopelessness, loss of self-esteem, loss of dreams and passion, increased feelings of rage and feeling powerless
Physical health: increased injury risk, death
Mental Health: depression, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder and stress related disorder
Behavioural changes: self-harm, eating disorders, substance abuse, addictive behaviours, obsessive compulsive disorders
*safe steps 2015 Family Violence Risk Assessments
An abuser chooses to behave violently to get what they want and gain control. Their behaviour often originates from a sense of entitlement.
Violence by men against women is caused by the misuse of power and control within a context of male privilege. Male privilege operates on an individual and societal level to maintain a situation of male dominance, where men have power over women and children. Men’s violence against women is a consequence of the inequalities between men and women, rooted in patriarchal traditions that encourage men to believe they are entitled to power and control over their partners.
The responsibility for the violence lies with the abuser.
Violence is a learned intentional behaviour rather than the consequence of stress, substance abuse or dysfunctional relationship. Abusers avoid taking responsibility for their behaviour, by blaming their violence on someone or something else, denying it took place at all or minimising their behaviour.
Whilst the responsibility for violence is the abuser’s alone, there are belief systems in our society that affect abusive attitudes making it difficult for women and children to get support. These include:
- Blaming the woman for the violence
- Putting the ‘family’ before the safety of women and children
- Tolerating the use of violence
- Privileging men over women and children’s needs
- Treating family violence as a private matter
- Posing excuses for the violence – such as alcohol and drug abuse, deflecting responsibility from themselves and putting the blame on the woman for the violence
Family violence is about gaining control, not a lack of control. If an abuser is careful about when, where and to whom they are abusive, then they are showing sufficient awareness and knowledge about their actions to indicate they are not out of control.
Abusers use violence and tactics of coercion as a way of exercising control and getting what they want.
Below is a quick checklist to see if you (or someone you care about) may be experiencing abuse. It is important to note that there are distinct patterns in a relationship that someone is being psychologically abusive. These can be warning signs that physical abuse may follow.
If you answer yes to any of the questions you may be in danger. Whether the violence or abuse has happened once or many times, you are at risk. These behaviours indicate the abuser is choosing to use a system of power and control over you.
Questions (Answer Yes or No)
- Does your partner make you feel as though you cannot do anything right?
- Do you feel nervous or sick when with your partner?
- Does your partner call you names or make you feel bad about the way you look?
- Do you feel pressured or forced to have sex even when you don’t want to
- Has your partner made you do something that is humiliating or degrading?
- Does your partner ever push, shove, slap, pinch, punch or physically hurt you?
- Does or has your partner smashed your belongings or broken things around the house?
- If you have children, has your partner threatened that if you leave him, you will never see your children again?
- Has your partner ever done anything that really frightened you?
- Does your partner take away your money and control how you use it?
- Does your partner verbally degrade your self-worth by constantly putting you down?
- Does your partner show unfounded jealousy and suspicion that is out of proportion when you talk to members of the opposite sex ?
- Has your partner threatened to hurt your children, family, friends or pets?
- Does your partner question the children to find out information about you or where you have been and with whom?
- Does your partner monitor or limit your phone calls, conversations and emails?
- Do you know if your partner checks your car mileage to work out where you have been or who you have seen?
- Do you feel your partner tries to control your contact with your family and friends?
- Does your partner need or demand to know where you are constantly?
- Does your partner see themselves as superior or always right?
- Do you feel your partner treats you like you are a possession that can be owned?
- Has your partner used force or coercion to make you do things against your will?
- If your partner has been aggressive, have they blamed you for their anger and violence, saying it’s your fault?
- Has your partner denied using violence or said it wasn’t that bad or you were “asking” for it?
- Has your partner encouraged your children to insult you or tell you things that are not appropriate?
- Does your partner make you feel bad about yourself?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions then family violence is happening in your relationship. Regardless of whether physical abuse has occurred or not you are being abused, and your safety could be at risk. You deserve to be treated with respect and have a life free from violence and abuse.
Recognising that you might be in an abusive or controlling relationship can be difficult; speaking to another woman who can answer your questions could make all the difference.
If your relationship doesn’t feel right and/or you are fearful, then call safe steps for confidential support and information. Support is available 24/7, every day of the year.
safe steps will support you to put in place a safety plan and strategies so you and your children are safer when the time comes to leave, breaking free from the violence and beginning a new life.
Whilst the risk of staying may be very high, simply leaving the relationship does not guarantee that the violence will stop. In fact, the period during which a woman is planning or making her exit, is often the most dangerous time for her and her children.
Many women are frightened of the abuser, and with good reason. It’s common for abusers to threaten to harm or even kill their partners or children if she leaves.
Leaving an abusive relationship is a different experience for each person.
Some abusers increase the level of threat or violence, holding the survivor or children hostage, making repeated unwanted phone calls or visits, or threatening to harm the women’s family or friends.
Some women who are abused leave for a short time and return. They may leave and return several times before leaving for good.
Others survivors attempt to leave and face an increased level of violence or even death.
Barriers to leaving – why not just leave?
There are many barriers when deciding to leave an abusive relationship.
Women experiencing violence may be afraid that:
- The abuser will kill them and/or the children, if they leave
- Based on their past experiences, the violence will increase
- The abuser may not able to survive alone or may commit suicide
- The abuser will take the children or harm another family member
- The abuser may harm pets
- She will lose their children
In most cases, the fear is well founded. Women are at increased risk when they are leaving an abusive relationship. Those who have tried to leave before may know they are at increased risk of severe violence if they try again.
Elder abuse is a form of family or domestic violence that is experienced by older people. Like family violence, elder abuse is about one person having power and control over another person.
It is defined as “any action, or deliberate inaction, by a person in a position of trust which causes harm to an older person.” (World Health Organization, 2002).
Elder abuse is a complex issue, which can challenge views about the nature of families and the status of older people in our community. In many cases, both the person experiencing abuse and the perpetrator may not know what is occurring is abuse.
Forms of elder abuse:
Physical: non-accidental acts that result in physical pain, injury or physical coercion
Sexual abuse: unwanted sexual acts, including sexual contact, rape, language or exploitative behaviours, where the older person’s consent is not obtained, or where consent was obtained through coercion
Financial: illegal use, improper use or mismanagement of a person’s money, property or financial resources by a person with whom they have a relationship implying trust
Psychological: inflicting mental stress via actions and threats that cause fear or violence, isolation, deprivation or feelings of shame and powerlessness. These behaviours can be both verbal and nonverbal and are designed to intimidate and maintain a hold of fear over a person.
Social: forced isolation of older people, including attendance at social activities
Neglect: failure by a responsible person to provide life necessities, such as adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical or dental care
The abuser may be someone close to an older person, with whom they have a relationship implying trust, who carries out elder abuse. Such a relationship could involve a family member, such as a spouse, adult child, grandchild or a sibling – or a close friend or primary carer
The abuse may be perpetrated as a result of ignorance, negligence or deliberate intent
Challenging the myths
Busting the myths, one myth at a time, is an important preventative strategy to end violence against women and children.
Cultural, religious and social norms are sometimes used to justify violence against women and children around the world. This results in violence being normalized and accepted as an everyday occurrence. This can also lead to women and girls being blamed for the violence experienced.
By busting these myths and changing attitudes, we will create a safer environment for girls.
Simply, there is no excuse for violence. Violence against women and children is NEVER acceptable.
You can help and take action to bust the myths relating to family violence and to speak out to expose family violence for what it is – a community issue not the problem of an individual.
Download the Busting Myths fact sheet:
By assisting people experiencing family violence, employers can reduce workplace violence risks, increase productivity and protect themselves from liability.
A safe and supporting workplace will provide a person experiencing family violence with a safe haven. Supporting an employee who is experiencing family violence provides you with the opportunity to build loyalty, trust and to enhance the value the employee adds to the work place.
Family violence impacts on the workplace in a number of ways:
- Productivity decreases when the effects of family violence reduce an employee’s concentration and capability
- Increased risk to the employer as an employee’s concentration diminishes due to family violence leading to greater risk of mistakes or accidents in the workplace
- Absenteeism increases due to injury, illness, protection, arrest or imprisonment
- Through employee discord when misunderstandings arise, employees may take sides
- When family violence enters the workplace
Family violence impacts on the workplace as it:
- Affects many employees with 1 in 3 women in Australia are affected by family violence. It costs the Australian economy $13.6 billion every year
- Affects employee performance and productivity whereby a person experiencing it may suffer from reduced motivation, reduced concentration, increased absenteeism or tardiness, reduced or missed work targets, or reduced commitment, all of which affect productivity performance.
- Is an occupational health and safety concern and may put employees at risk – not only the employee experiencing family violence but others who work with them as well.
- Is a health care concern with short and long term effects that may include but not limited to the following; physical health, mental health such as depression, anxiety disorder, stress related disorder
- Is a management issue with family violence having a huge negative impact on an employee’s productivity it becomes a management issue
A work environment should be safe for all employees. Recognising signs that a co-worker is being abused provides you with an opportunity to support and encourage them to talk about their situation, enabling them to explore options.
Warning signs may include:
- Visible bruising or injuries
- Withdrawal from co-workers
- Emotional outburst
- Frequent calls which leave them upset
- Reduced performance, including lateness and absenteeism
- Loss of confidence and low self esteem
It’s important to remember if the person discloses that they are in an abusive relationship, be supportive and non-judgemental. Reassure them it’s not their fault and you are there for them.
Make a difference
Employers have a duty of care and responsibility to their employees by providing a safe and healthy workplace.
Taking action in response to family violence works – family violence is unacceptable. By working together, the community, church, government, schools, community-based organisations, police, employers and religious/faith based organisations can change attitudes and behaviours towards building healthy relationships.
As an employer, you can make a difference by instilling a ‘zero-tolerance to family violence’ in your workplace and can implement the following:
- A workplace charter, with a zero tolerance approach to violence and display this charter in
- A policy on addressing family violence in the workplace
- Provide information on family violence to employees
- Family violence training for managers, supervisors, people and culture staff or anyone that interacts with your employees in a support role
- Have family violence materials visible and accessible for all in the workplace
When Violette* first arrived in Australia from Mauritius with her husband and young son, she thought her life would be one of stability and simple family enjoyments. But less than two years after moving to Melbourne, she found herself living in isolation and in fear for her life.
Violette was enduring daily physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband, who would often berate her and strike her in front of their six-year-old son Ryan*. Her husband strictly controlled her access to money and threatened to kill her and Ryan if she told anyone what she was experiencing.
Being unfamiliar with Australian laws and unaware of support services for women experiencing family violence, Violette remained in the abusive household until one day a new neighbour, having overheard a violent verbal outburst the night before, asked Violette if she was okay. Violette initially denied there was any cause for concern but the neighbour gave her a safe steps flyer and told her she could call the number on it if she ever needed help.
The very next day, Violette called and spoke to a safe steps Crisis Support Advocate who listened to her story and determined that she was in need of immediate help. The safe steps Crisis Support Advocate arranged for Violette and Ryan to move into a motel and organised for an outreach family violence counsellor to visit them. safe steps also provided them with care packages, including clothing and school supplies, much of which they had had to leave behind when they fled their home.
It was difficult to find longer term accommodation that would accept Violette and Ryan, because neither held permanent Australian residency. But their safe steps Support Advocate was eventually able to find a refuge that would take them. Their Support Advocate also helped Violette apply for a restraining order against her husband and a bridging visa which would allow her to work. Both of these were granted over the coming months.
Now Violette and Ryan are living in a subsided rental property while Violette looks for a job. With ongoing support from outreach family violence services that safe steps connected Violette with, both mother and son are happy, safe and starting to build a new life together free from violence.
Every day of the year women seek support and guidance from safe steps family violence response centre. For some women seeking help is both overwhelming and frightening not knowing if their decision is the right one or if the perpetrator will find out and if so, what consequences this may be bring. Following the initial contact some women make the decision to leave the violence behind and find safety for themselves and their children.
Sheree’s story is the journey of one courageous woman who makes the difficult decision to leave her partner of six months. safe steps supported Sheree and her children every step of the way.
Sheree* had recently separated from her partner when she called the safe steps 24-hour response line. The 34-year-old woman was scared and very anxious when she explained to the Crisis Support Advocate (CSA) that her ex-partner, Malcolm*, was stalking her by calling her mobile incessantly – on average 15 times a day demanding to know where she was, who she was with and what she was doing.
The young mother has three children aged between four and nine years of age from a previous relationship. Malcolm was sending text messages to Sheree’s oldest child telling the child that he would kill her mother. He had also driven past Sheree’s home almost daily and each time a male friend was in the car with him. She was convinced that he had been tampering with her car at night because the petrol has been siphoned out on several occasions.
Struggling financially and living in a rental property Sheree could not afford to buy her own home because of the debt she incurred from her previous marriage and the father of her children, Robert*. Sheree is the sole income earner and provider for her children due to Robert’s gambling problem.
To add to this, Sheree was concerned that she was at risk of losing her job as a hairdresser. She had taken numerous sick days to deal with the stress associated with the abuse from Malcom.
The impact of Malcom’s abuse on Sheree’s children was worrying. The children were becoming noticeably distressed and the oldest child, who had been receiving the threatening texts, had started wetting the bed and refused to go to school because she was frightened that her mother would be killed if she was left alone.
Sheree had reported Malcolm’s behaviour to police, but had not considered taking out an Intervention Order against him.
On contacting safe steps Sheree spent an hour talking on the phone to a Crisis Support Advocate who conducted a risk assessment and together they discussed safety planning that included the option of living in safe house accommodation. She was reluctant to live in a safe house because she could not afford to give up her job and was unsure about the children taking more time off school – it was a huge dilemma for her.
The support worker ran through options with Sheree and they decided to apply for extended leave from work until she was able to get a few measures in place. She was also advised to pack personal belongings for her and the children in readiness for a room becoming available in safe house accommodation. A room became vacant quickly and the support worker arranged for Sheree to discreetly meet a safe house worker.
The worker settled Sheree and her three children into the accommodation. She was introduced to the other women and children who were in similar situations. Sheree was told that while staying at the safe house she could call safe steps any time during the night if she needed to. Sheree was encouraged to contact family members for support and to suggest they turn off their phones for a few days in case Malcolm tried to contact them.
After a restful night’s sleep, Sheree and her children were for the first time in many months feeling relieved to have somewhere safe to stay. However, Malcolm was potentially very dangerous due to his escalating behaviour of stalking, harassment and threats to kill.
The following morning, Sheree met with the worker to discuss the next steps. The worker explained the process of applying for an Intervention Order. Sheree was concerned about work and her children’s schooling. Interim measures were put in place including negotiating to take three weeks’ unpaid leave and a time was set for her to attend court to apply for an Intervention Order. The worker also arranged for Sheree to go to Centrelink for an emergency payment because she had no money.
Sheree had to think about finding new rental accommodation because she understood that she could not stay in the safe house long term. A safe steps worker advocated with Sheree’s landlord so that she could give short notice to leave the property. The worker also referred Sheree to an outreach service that could help her with obtaining financial assistance in order to be able to afford new private rental accommodation.
In the meantime, the children stayed away from school so as not to be found by Malcolm. They were to re-enrol in a new school in the area where Sheree hoped to find a property. The children’s behaviour had settled, although they were still very clingy.
Sheree had become stressed as she had wanted things to move faster. Although Malcolm had not been able to locate her and the children, he continued to call and text her. She feared that it would only be a matter of time before Malcolm discovered where she was working and started causing trouble for her employer.
After five days in the safe house, Sheree was still struggling to secure private rental accommodation. safe steps investigated options for Sheree and her children to move into a longer-term refuge. Understandably Sheree was reluctant to leave the safe house as she had established a good rapport with staff and did not want to repeat her story and move the children again. At last she felt safe.
The outcome of the Intervention Order was positive – an interim order was granted by the court. But Sheree knew Malcolm would fight it and had the resources to hire a good lawyer. He was also very charming and plausible when he wanted to be and Sheree was concerned that the court system would not believe her.
Sheree knew that this was just the beginning of a long journey and that moving away from her abuser did not mean the end of her troubles. She understood that the safe steps team were doing everything in their power to support her and the children. It made the world of difference that there was someone there to listen to her and believe her story.
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the women and children we assist
Key statistics; violence against women
Family and sexual violence is overwhelmingly committed by men against women. Research from the 2012 ABS Personal Safety Survey and Australian Institute of Criminology reveal:
Australian women from the age of 15:
- 1 in 5 experienced sexual violence
- 1 in 6 experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner
- 1 in 4 experienced emotional abuse
- 1 in 3 experienced physical abuse
- 36% of women experienced physical or sexual violence from someone they know
- 15% of women experienced physical or sexual violence from an ex-partner
- 62% of women experienced physical assault by a male perpetrator
Australian women are most likely to experience physical and sexual violence in their home at the hands of a male current or ex-partner. Of women who had experienced violence from and ex-partner.
- 73% experienced more than once incident of violence
- 61% had children in their care whilst the violence occurred
- 58% of women had never contacted police
- 24% had never sought support
World Health Organisation 2013 Global Facts
- Violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women – are major public health problems and violations of women’s human rights.
- Recent global prevalence figures indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
- On average, 30% of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner.
- Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
- Violence can result in physical, mental, sexual, reproductive health and other health problems.
- Risk factors for being a perpetrator include low education, exposure to child maltreatment or witnessing violence in the family, harmful use of alcohol, attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality.
- Risk factors for experiencing intimate partner and sexual violence include low education, witnessing violence between parents, exposure to abuse during childhood and attitudes accepting violence and gender inequality.
- In high-income settings, school-based programmes to prevent relationship violence among young people (or dating violence) are supported by some evidence of effectiveness.
- In low-income settings, other primary prevention strategies, such as microfinance combined with gender equality training and community-based initiatives that address gender inequality and communication and relationship skills, hold promise.
Situations of conflict, post conflict and displacement may exacerbate existing violence and present new forms of violence against
What is the Duluth Model?
The “Duluth Model” is an ever evolving way of thinking about how a community works to end family violence. Since the early 1980s, Duluth – a small community in northern Minnesota – has been an innovator of ways to hold abusers accountable and keep survivors safe.
safe steps uses the Duluth model to better understand a woman and her children’s experience of family violence. This means we understand that women and children victimised through violence are not responsible for the abuse. We also understand that family violence is dangerous and that safety is paramount.
The staff at safe steps are trained in family violence as a gendered crime which can be understood through the lens of power and control. We also understand that it takes a community to address men’s abuse towards women and children and that working closely with other agencies including statutory agencies such as the police, courts and child protection.
A community using the Duluth Model approach:
- Has taken the blame off the survivor and placed the accountability for abuse on the offender
- Has shared policies and procedures for holding offenders accountable and keeping survivors safe across all agencies in the criminal and civil justice systems
- Prioritises the voices and experiences of women who experience battering in the creation of those policies and procedures.
- Believes that battering is a pattern of actions used to intentionally control or dominate an intimate partner and actively works to change societal conditions that support men’s use of tactics of power and control over women.
- Offers change opportunities for offenders through court-ordered education groups for batterers.
- Has ongoing discussion between criminal and civil justice agencies, community members and survivors to close gaps and improve the community’s response to battering.
Duluth Power and Control Wheel:
Our training experts provide quality training and professional development for internal staff, and external family violence workers. safe steps also delivers tailored training to meet the needs of a variety of workplaces. For further information or to discuss your training requirements call (03) 9928 9600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org safe steps also trains women who have experienced family violence to be volunteer advocates and become spokespeople to influence change through the media, community and on the world stage. Our volunteers educate the public through the media to create social change in attitudes and behaviours and promote gender equality and respectful relationships to end violence towards women.
The following brochures contain information about family violence and how to access help, and are available in a variety of languages.
Click on the links below to download a printable PDF of each brochure.
If you’re a community service provider and would like brochures for your clients, email email@example.com for bulk orders.
No to Violence
Women with Disabilities Victoria
Kids Triple Zero
Women’s Legal Aid Victoria
Legal Aid Victoria
Financial and Consumer Rights Council
Gay Lesbian Health Victoria
Men’s Lines Australia
The Gender Centre
Not The Only One