What is family violence/abuse?

It is important to know that family violence (sometimes called ‘domestic violence’ or ‘abuse’) does not always come in the form of physically violent behaviour – it can also include emotional and financial abuse.

The Family Law Act 1975 (‘FLA’) defines family violence as ‘violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family or causes the family member to be fearful’.

Family violence/abuse can happen in any relationship – it does not discriminate against men, women or children, age, sexuality, education levels, culture race or income.  There is nothing to be embarrassed about.  It is not your fault.

Many of these forms of abuse also apply to our vulnerable elderly. 

What is physical abuse?

Physical abuse encompasses physically harmful and controlling behaviour. It includes, but is not limited to:

  • Threatening, or actual assault – punching choking, kicking, hitting, throwing objects
  • Threatening or the use of weapons against you
  • Threatening or intentionally damaging or destroying property
  • Threatening or intentionally causing death or injury to an animal
  • Intentionally harming other family members
  • Threats to do any of the above to you, or threats of harm to you, your children or your pet/s

Explanations or justifications that you were ‘just in their way,’ or ‘I was stopping them from assaulting me’ or ‘I just brushed past them’ is a common defence used to justify the perpetrator’s actions.

What is emotional or psychological abuse?

Emotional abuse occurs in a number of contexts, but is generally behaviour that insults, upsets, controls, or intimidates a family member. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Repeated derogatory taunts
  • Verbal threats or intimidation
  • Constant put-downs and ridicule
  • Threatening self-harm if you leave or attempt to leave
  • Making you question whether something happened or not, or that there is something wrong with you (this is called gaslighting)
  • Undermining your sense of self worth and self esteem eg. Comments regarding your appearance, weight, ability to work or look after your family or have friendships
  • Asserting that the justice system won’t support you or believe you
  • Interfering with your relationship with your children, parents/family or friends

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse includes, but is not limited to:

  • Preventing you from accessing money or accounts, keeping accounts secret from you
  • Controlling the family money (eg. Limits on expenditure, telling you what you can/can’t spend your money on), not giving you

enough money for proper or reasonable expenses or for the children

  • Withholding money necessary for essential items (e.g. food, petrol, clothing, or necessary items for the children)
  • Requesting PINS and to access your accounts or social media
  • Asking for receipts for evidence/explanation of expenditure
  • Preventing you from working or restricting where/when you can work

What is sexual abuse?

This can include:

  • Threatening you, or engaging, in any unwanted sex or sexual acts
  • Administering drugs or alcohol to incapacitate you from consenting or not to sexual or other acts that you would not consent to
  • Attempting to induce you in any sexual acts with threats to you or others if you do not
  • Inflicting unwanted pain or degradation during engaging in sexual acts
  • Criticising or using degrading insults in relation to sexual matters
  • Filming, recording or disseminating pictures of you, or threatening to do so, of sexual acts of you on social media without your consent
  • Note: strangulation is one of the highest risks of homicide. Please take it seriously.

What is social abuse?

This can include:

  • Systemic isolation from family and friends eg. ‘don’t talk to your sister as I know she doesn’t like me,’ questioning/ridiculing you why you are talking to your friends/family or isolating you from family and friends so you are essentially dependent upon your partner and alone
  • Relocating you to a place where you have no social connections
  • Barring you or monitoring your work relationships
  • Preventing you from going out

What is spiritual/religious/cultural abuse?

This can include:

  • Denial or misuse of religious beliefs or practices to force you into a subordinate role that is not supported by Australian law
  • Forcing you to follow a certain religion or aspects of a religion that you do not agree with
  • Forcing you to follow a cultural tradition that is not followed by Australian law
  • Using religion or cultural traditions to justify abuse or violence against you
  • Using ‘community leaders’ from a religious or cultural context to follow the abuser’s directives and to advise you to follow the abuser’s advice

What is coercive control?

This is a course of conduct used by a person to dominate and control the other person.  It involves behaviours that are not necessarily physical.  It is repeated behaviour used to dominate, control and manipulate you.

Women, those from LGBTIQ relationships and Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islanders have been most noted to be victims of ‘coercive control.’  It is very much a psychological form of control.   

Coercive control is a risk factor for homicide and to be taken seriously – it is one of the highest risks for homicide.

A number of States in Australia have laws that are due to be passed to recognise the offence of coercive control as a criminal offence.  It does not matter if an intimate partner has not been violent beforehand and must be taken seriously.

It is:

  • Actions used to intimidate, manipulate or control another intimate partner or family member
  • The threat of violence if you do not do what the person wants you to do
  • Monitoring, and the insertion of electronic tracking devices on your computer/phone/car navigation equipment to monitor where you go
  • Isolating you from friends, family or support/medical workers
  • It can include: jealousy and false accusations or suspicions of infidelity, verbal abuse, monitoring or control of movement, financial restrictions to money or economic independence, interfering with your relationships with friends or family, threats of self harm or threats of harm against you, family members, children or pets

What is stalking?

Stalking occurs when somebody follows you or repeatedly attempts to contact a person, or engages in one act that causes a reasonable fear of harm that is unwanted. It may be a significant singular event or a course of conduct. 

It is behaviour that makes you worried about your safety or that of another person, or causes you physical or emotional harm.

Note that if you were in a ‘domestic relationship’ you can apply for an AVO/IVO.  If you were not, you can seek a APVO or IVO, for a personal order for safety in the absence of a relationship (eg. New partners who are being stalked by your former partner).

Stalking can include, but is not limited to:

  • Repeated phone calls and text messages or contact on social media (either using real or fake profiles – delete all friends that you do not actually know)
  • Contact of you at home or at work or through a third person who is known to be your friend
  • Leaving of ‘presents’ or other matter at your home or workplace
  • Following a person electronically or in person
  • Repeated and unwanted attendances at your house or workplace or any other person/pace that you are known to frequent.
  • Taking photographs/videos or images of you, your home, your workplace
  • Computer technology installed on your computer monitoring your computer use, downloading your emails or otherwise.

What if I am in a same-sex relationship?

In short, it does not matter. The definition of family violence stated in the Act uses gender-neutral terms, meaning that it encompasses abusive acts by men and women in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships.

Who can commit family violence?

Anyone. Family violence occurs between people in a family or family-like relationship. This can include:

  • Current or former spouse (irrespective of gender)
  • Current or former relative
  • A person who has or has had an intimate personal relationship with you
  • Someone who you consider to be like a family member
  • A child who normally or regularly lives with you, or used to live with you
  • A carer

What if my child is exposed to family violence?

The Act considers a child as being exposed to family violence if they see or hear family violence, or otherwise experience the effects of family violence. 

Do not underestimate the ability of children being brought up in family violence/abuse situations. 

There is now comprehensive data about the neurological affects of such actions upon children at a young age that will affect their development into later life even if they are a baby or a toddler.  Act now.

Examples of such exposure include, but are not limited to:

  • Overhearing threats of death or personal injury by one family member toward another
  • Seeing or hearing an assault of one family member by another
  • Comforting or aiding a family member who has been assaulted by another family member, or having to provide reassurance
  • Having to ‘look after’ a family member who is a victim of family violence, or, (using a survival technique) identifying with the abuser
  • Cleaning up after a family member has intentionally damaged the property of another family member
  • Being present for police and/or ambulance attendance following an incident of family violence

Even if children do not see or hear family violence, they often know that it is happening and can suffer from its effects. It is important to seek support for your child to prevent trauma and long-term mental health concerns.

What do I do if I am experiencing family violence?

If you are in immediate danger, call 000 and ask for the police.

Make a safety plan

  • Think about things that you can do to help keep yourself and your children/pets safe. Safe contacts? Safe storage of your keepsakes? etc
  • Prepare a way to escape if you need to leave quickly
  • Prepare and keep a bag of important items in a safe place in case you need to leave quickly (e.g. money, keys, documents, family keepsakes, toys)
  • Inform your employer if you feel comfortable – they may be able to assist with flexible working arrangements and will know not to give out your contact details. The Federal Government has recently legislated for ‘domestic violence’ leave.  Contact us for more details.
  • Ensure that services such as doctors, lawyers, banks, etc. know that they must keep your personal information private. We have a fact sheet about separating your personal data in preparation of/or after a separation. Change ‘joint’ bank accounts to require your verification before any money is withdrawn by the other party.  This can include mortgage offsets.
  • Change all of your passwords: joint accounts, myGov accounts, social media, email accounts (be aware that the computer that you may have been using allows for the saving of passwords – delete this).
  • Monitor and delete ‘trusted devices’ for your computer, phone, or other smart devices ranging from your door bell to ‘Alexa’ or televisions.
  • Set your phone and computer to ‘factory settings’
  • Be aware of any ‘family’ applications that have been subscribed to as this may allow the perpetrator to track your whereabouts. Any ‘smart’ applications are the same.
  • In legal situations, the more evidence you have about reporting family violence, the more beneficial to you and your case. We realise, though, that this may be difficult for you as many victims feel embarrassed, or that it is their fault, or embarrassment in their cultural or religious community.

Seek support

  • Speak to a trusted friend, family member, or professional. This can help you cope with the effects of family violence and help to ensure your ongoing safety
  • Engage a family violence service who can offer expert support and advice about your options – they can assist with obtaining a rental property, obtaining whitegoods and other necessary furniture if you have to leave in a hurry.
  • Consider applying to Centrelink for a crisis payment, the Commonwealth Bank through the Uniting Church also offer a specialised domestic violence payment).

Keep a record

  • Keep a record or diary of the family violence that cannot be accessed by the other party and that is private to you eg. Take it with you to work, leave it in your car etc).
  • Include the date and location of the incident
  • Note if any children or witnesses were present
  • Note whether you attended any medical appointments because of the incident
  • Include any supporting evidence, such as photos, letters, texts, etc.

Legal Avenues

  • The police: if somebody has threatened you or abused you, call or attend your local police station
  • Intervention Orders: this can stop a person using violence against you or your children, approaching you in any place, locating or following you, and damaging your property

Know that you are not alone- men, women, children or those from ATSI/LGBTIQ communities – there are people and support services that exist to help you. 

You may be surprised who has/is a victim of domestic violence – they are from all walks of life.   

Whether you are a victim or an alleged perpetrator, we are here to help.


Despite progress in understanding family violence, you may encounter police who do not appear to take your complaints seriously.

Ask to speak to the domestic violence worker at the station or contact us to facilitate your complaints and that they are taken seriously.

Take a note of who you speak to and their station/police number.

If you are in immediate danger, call 000 and ask for the police.

We have a list of emergency contacts and support services for women, men and children who may be the victims of domestic violence or abuse. 

Contact us and we can help put you in touch with the best appropriate service for your needs.  We will also listen to you without judgment or

  • 1800 Respect:  1800 737 732 for men, women, children, LGBTIQ
  • MensLine: 1300 78 99 78
  • KidsLine: 1800 55 1800
  • Yarn Line: 13 YARN (13 92 76) for Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people
  • Queerspace Family Violence Services: 1800 015 188

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