24/7 family violence
response phone line
1800 015 188

Defining family violence

Family violence is any threatening, coercive, dominating or abusive behaviour that occurs between people in a family, domestic or intimate relationship, or former intimate relationship, that causes the person experiencing the behaviour to feel fear.

Family violence is not an argument once in a while, it is a continuous pattern of abusive behaviour perpetrated by one person towards another, often using multiple tactics.

Family violence is not just physical or sexual abuse. It can include many types of abuse all of which are unhealthy and harmful.

The Victorian government recognises that:

  • Family violence violates human rights
  • Family violence is not acceptable in any community or culture
  • Anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of family violence, but family violence is predominantly committed by men against women, children, and other vulnerable persons
  • Family violence can impact on children’s physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing

Is family violence the same as domestic violence?

Not exactly. The term domestic violence has usually been used to refer to intimate partner violence (violence between spouses, partners or ex-partners). Family violence is a broader term that includes any abuse between people in a ‘family or family-like relationship’, for example a parent and child, siblings or extended relatives.

At safe steps, we view intimate partner violence (aka domestic violence) as a type of family violence so we choose to just use the term family violence. But in different parts of Australia and the world different terms are favoured. It’s also common to see the two terms used together as ‘domestic and family violence’.

Types of family violence relationships

Family violence is most often thought of as occurring between intimate partners or immediate relations living in the same home. But family violence can also be perpetrated by someone that you normally live with who is in a ‘family-like relationship’ (such as a carer), or relationships where there is cultural recognition by the community of a ‘family-like’ relationship (such as in Aboriginal communities).

Here are some examples of family violence relationships:

  • Intimate partner abuse: violent behaviour used by a current or former spouse or partner against the other spouse or partner.
  • Dating abuse: violent behaviour used by a casual partner against the other partner.
  • Child abuse: violent behaviour or mistreatment towards a child or young person by a parent or caregiver. Under Victorian law, exposing a child to any form of family violence is also a reportable child abuse offence – so if a person is abusive towards their spouse in front of their child or children, child abuse has occurred.
  • Elder abuse: violent behaviour or mistreatment towards an older person by a partner or family member, often including financial abuse, controlling behaviours and/or negligence.
  • Parental abuse: violent behaviour towards a parent by an adolescent child or dependant.