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Use of violence is an intentional individual choice

An abuser chooses to behave coercively or violently to get what they want and have control over someone else. The responsibility for violence always lies with the abuser.

Perpetrators of family violence will often make excuses for their behaviour – ‘I just lost control’, ‘I snapped because I’m stressed about work/the children/money’. This is a way for them to avoid taking responsibility for their actions by blaming it on someone or something else.

But if an abuser is careful about when, where and to whom they are abusive, then they are showing enough awareness about their actions to indicate they are not out of their control. Rather, they are using deliberate actions to gain control in a relationship.

Social ‘enablers’ of family violence

While use of violence is always a choice made by an individual, there are broader social and community factors that enable family violence to occur and/or allow a person who commits family violence to excuse or minimise the harm they are choosing to cause.

These factors include the beliefs and structures in our society that enable some dominant groups to have more power, privilege and resources than marginalised groups.

This inequity between different groups can be seen across gender – between women and men – as well as across race, culture and class – for example, inequity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, or those with higher and lower wealth.

This theory of inequity is consistent with feminist theories of violence against women, which talk about male privilege being reinforced by community institutions that promote and maintain male dominance and control over women.

Gender inequity

Gender inequity is characterised by an unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunity between women and men. Rigid gender roles lead to women being less valued in society and creates a social environment that enables and excuses violence against women.

Extensive research has identified the following expressions of gender inequity as being most consistently associated with higher levels of violence against women:

  • condoning of violence against women
  • men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence
  • rigid gender roles and stereotypes
  • male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women

Other inequity

Racism, classism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination also enable social conditions that contribute to family violence. These forms of discrimination intersect with each other and gender inequity, resulting in different marginalised groups being more likely to experience higher rates of family violence. See Who Experiences Family Violence?

How do we stop family violence from happening?

Family violence is not an inevitable social problem, it can be prevented. When we join together as a community to raise awareness of, understand and challenge community attitudes towards family violence, raise awareness about family violence, and hold abusers responsible for their actions, we can create a society that supports equality and addresses the complex factors that drive and reinforce family violence. By continuously doing this we can stop family violence from occurring in the first instance.