Understanding
domestic and
family violence

If you feel afraid and/or unable to live your life freely or have questions about domestic and family violence, contact us on 02 4732 2318 to discuss your concerns confidentially with a specialist worker.

Although it is often mentioned in one term, domestic violence and family violence have distinct differences.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence occurs mainly to women in intimate relationships. They may be married, living in a de-facto relationship, dating, engaged, have left a relationship or be promised to someone under a religious or cultural tradition. It can happen regardless of your race, religion, age, socio-economic or educational background.

What is family violence?

Family violence occurs between people who are related to one another through blood, marriage or de facto partnerships, adoption and fostering relationships, sibling and extended family relationships. It includes the range of kinship ties in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, extended family relationships, and family within communities of people with diverse sexualities, gender identities and those with intersex variations. It also includes people reliant on care or living in the same house.

In both situations, perpetrators use a pattern of behaviours to maintain power and control over the other person, commonly referred to as coercive control. The impact of the abusive behaviours causes the victim/survivor to live in fear and restricts their freedom. These behaviours can include physical harm, sexual violence, threats and intimidation, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, psychological abuse, social isolation, technology-facilitated abuse/control, cultural and religious abuse and preventing the other from doing what they wish or forcing them to behave in ways they do not want.

Many of these different forms coercive control can be occurring at any one time within the same relationship.

If you feel afraid and/or unable to live your life freely or have questions about domestic and family violence, contact us on 02 4732 2318 to discuss your concerns confidentially with a specialist worker.

The drivers

Research clearly locates violence against women and children as occurring within a society where male dominance is normalised, and men feel entitled to use violence to maintain their privileged position. DV West operates from a feminist framework. We understand that men’s violence against women is exacerbated by other forms of social inequality such as racism, poverty and class bias.

Examples of gender inequality are the uneven division of domestic labour (such as unpaid childcare and housework), fewer women in leadership roles, and the sexualised portrayal of women and girls in the media. All these things impact on attitudes towards women in Australian Society.

This video by Our Watch called “Change the Story” shows that violence against women in Australia starts with gender inequality, stereotypes, and sexist structures and practices.

In domestic violence relationships, women do not know when they start the relationship that it will become violent. The abuse usually starts only after the relationship is well established, or for example when the woman is pregnant. Violence often begins with the partner’s apparent love transforming into controlling and intimidating behaviour, which can be confused with passion. This type of passion in the past was even used as an excuse for murdering your partner, also called a crime of passion. Another example of how we have normalised controlling behaviours is when a partner wants to know where you are all the time, seeing this as a testimony of how much they love you. We now know that this falls into the spectrum of domestic violence behaviour.

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Why doesn’t she leave?

In our society women are often blamed for not leaving the perpetrator. Leaving a violent relationship can be the most dangerous time for a woman. Staying may be the safest option. Instead of asking “why does she stay”? we could be asking ‘Why does he do it”?

If we look at the spectrum of behaviours that perpetrators use to control, like social isolation, financial abuse, technological-facilitated abuse they are all designed to make it difficult for women to leave. Specialist domestic violence support can make all the difference.

What about women’s violence against men?

While men can also be victims of violence and abuse, from females and also same-sex male partners, research shows that males and females experience different kinds of violence, in different contexts, and with different impacts.

In 2017, the Australian Personal Safety Survey found that men are more likely to be physically assaulted by other men, usually strangers, outside of their home. In contrast, most women (92%) reported being assaulted by a man they knew, mainly in their home (65%).

When women do use violent behaviours, research shows that it is usually motivated by fear and is used in self-defence against violence that is already being done to them by their male partners.

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Verbal abuse

Includes constant yelling and put downs, name calling and bringing up private matters which can cause shame or fear, ridiculing someone’s religion or cultural background, swearing and constant humiliation – whether in public or private, criticising someone’s intelligence, their body image or their capacity to be a good parent or romantic partner. Verbal abuse often accompanies other forms of abuse – for instance an abusive partner may prevent their spouse getting a job, then criticise her for being lazy and not working.

Technological abuse

Using modern technology, such as computers, mobile phones and ‘smart’ equipment to monitor a partner, or to stalk and harass someone who wants to leave the relationship. Abusers may use GPS systems to locate their partner, or specially designed Apps to install tracking software on phones or ‘smart’ devices such as key finders. Social media and the internet can also be used for this form of abuse, which can involve harassing someone via social media or posting unwanted photographs or information about them online.

Social abuse

Preventing someone seeing their family, friends, social networks or from having a job or participating in social activities. The controlling person may make constant calls to check on their partners whereabouts and make nasty remarks about the other person’s family or friends. Sometimes, the abusive person will engineer arguments with their partner’s family and friends, and then state that an attempt to see them means the partner is ‘disloyal’.

Spiritual or religious abuse

Preventing the other from practicing their religion – such as not allowing them to attend the place of worship they want to go to. It can also mean forcing someone to follow religious beliefs they don’t agree with or using religious beliefs to scare or control someone’s behaviour.

Sexual abuse

Any form of sexual contact that is forced or unwanted, from groping and unwanted touching through to rape. Nobody has the right to force or coerce someone into sexual contact – even if they are married or in a long-term relationship.

Reproductive abuse

Involves someone being forced or coerced into having unprotected sex, becoming pregnant or having an abortion. The abusive partner may deliberately pass on STIs, destroy birth control or force their partner to have unwanted genital altering surgery.

Physical abuse

When someone pushes or shoves the other, throws or smashes things, spits at the other person, slaps, punches, strangles or threatens to injure or hurt the other person. Sometimes abusers will hit walls or doors, break property or even harm beloved companion animals.

Psychological abuse

Psychological abuse is sometimes also called ‘emotional abuse’. It can be defined as the systematic use of manipulation through nonphysical acts against an intimate partner, child, or dependent adult. These actions can include threatening the physical health of the victim-survivor or the victim’s loved ones, purposely controlling the victim’s freedom, and/or acting to undermine or isolate the victim. Psychological abuse can occur prior to physical, sexual, or other abuses. However, it can also happen at the same time.

Image based abuse

A form of technological abuse. In this case, the abuser will typically post (or threaten to post) private images of their partner online or email them to family members and friends. This type of abuse can involve using image altering software to create an explicit photograph, even if it is not real.

Harassment and stalking

Types of abuse during which someone will intimidate their partner, or ex-partner, by following them, turning up unexpectedly at inappropriate places (such as a workplace), or go to someone’s home even after being asked not to do so. The abuser may also make harassing telephone calls or send harassing emails or text messages.

Gaslighting

A commonly used term to describe the act of manipulating a person by forcing them to question their thoughts, memories, and the events occurring around them. A victim of gaslighting can be pushed so far that they question their own sanity, or they accept the version of reality an abusive partner presents as ‘real’.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse is complex and occurs in the vast majority of abusive relationships. Some instances are not simply about a man taking charge of the finances. It can also be also things like stopping someone accessing Centrelink benefits or childcare benefits or refusing access to a bank account or a credit card.

This type of abuse can control a victim’s ability to leave a violent relationship.

Family violence

This type of abuse happens to people who are related to one another through blood, marriage or de facto partnerships, adoption and fostering relationships, sibling and extended family relationships. It includes the range of kinship ties in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, extended family relationships, and constructs of family within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ) communities.

Emotional abuse

Deliberately causing someone to feel hurt, bad or inadequate – for example using constant put downs, name calling or unpleasant ‘jokes’. This type of abuse can also include emotional blackmail such as ‘the silent treatment’ if the partner disagrees about something or threatening to commit suicide if the partner leaves the abuser.

Coercive control

Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. Coercive control is a range of behaviours that enable a perpetrator to maintain or regain control of a partner, ex-partner or family member/s. It may involve acts of assault, humiliation, intimidation or threat to instil fear. It can be difficult to describe as one incident because it is usually a spectrum of behaviours to control and maintain fear.