Domestic violence (also known as family violence) occurs when someone uses violence or manipulation to maintain power and control over someone with whom they share an intimate or family relationship.
Who is at risk?
Domestic violence can affect anyone in the community, regardless of their level of income or status, gender, age, race or culture. Most victims are women and children, and most perpetrators are male.
The risk of domestic violence is highest around the time of a relationship breakdown. This can occur beforehand, when the victim announces they are planning to leave or soon after a separation has taken place.
Other risk factors include pregnancy and alcohol or drug addiction (in the victim or perpetrator). Women with a history of mental illness and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to experience domestic violence.
Effects of domestic violence
People affected by domestic violence can feel scared, anxious, have trouble sleeping, have trouble concentrating, lose confidence and feel isolated. They are also at risk of physical injuries and sexually transmitted infections.
Domestic violence can have devastating effects on children, even if the child is not a direct victim of violence. Witnessing violence between parents can disrupt a child’s sense of safety and security in the long-term. Domestic violence can have long-term effects on children’s physical and mental health, as well as their learning and social development.
Certain types of injuries can act as warning signs that a person may be a victim of domestic violence. For example, people who have multiple or repeated injuries without a logical explanation, seem strangely ‘accident prone’, or show tell-tale marks such as bruises, fingernail scratches or cigarette burns.
Types of domestic violence
Domestic violence can take many forms. It is any behavior that tries to exert power and control. The person don't have to be in a current relationship with the person for it to be considered domestic violence.
- Direct assault on the body, such as strangulation, slapping, punching, kicking, shaking or pushing. May include the use of weapons or objects.
- Any form of unwanted or coerced sexual activity.
- Verbal attacks, threats, insults or humiliation.
- Themes might relate to body shape, sexuality, intelligence or ability as a parent.
- Isolating the victim from their family and friends, such as forbidding or preventing contact, or ongoing rudeness to family and friends.
- Moving far away from family support or employment opportunities.
- Maintaining control of family finances, such as restricting access to bank accounts, wages or pensions or providing a small ‘allowance’.
Other forms of psychological and emotional abuse include:
- destruction of property, abuse of pets or driving dangerously
- sulking or refusing to speak for long periods
- emotional blackmail or suicide threats
- stalking, following or spying
- monitoring emails, or phone calls or using GPS tracking
Where to get help
If you are experiencing domestic violence, it’s important to seek help as early as possible.
For many people who experience domestic violence, the most important first step is to find safe housing, including for any children involved. The police should be contacted and ongoing legal protection such as an apprehended violence order (AVO) may be needed. Some people may need financial assistance to establish a new home in safety.
Both victims and perpetrators require support and assistance to recover, and may have mental health issues that need to be addressed. Types of therapy for people recovering from domestic violence may include supportive therapy, self-esteem building, self-empowerment techniques and trauma therapy.
If you are currently experiencing domestic violence or feel unsafe in an intimate or family relationship, 24 hour assistance is available on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), which is the National Sexual Assault Domestic & Family Violence Counselling Service. Or you can go to www.1800respect.org.au.
If you are in immediate danger, call the police on triple zero (000).
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: February 2018