What is family violence?

Women, non-binary and gender diverse people from all kinds of circumstances and backgrounds experience violence and abuse at home. They don’t ask for it; they don’t deserve it. Family violence is not your fault. You are not responsible for the violent behaviour of others – not ever.

Under Victorian law*, family violence is defined as harmful behaviour that occurs when someone threatens or controls a person they are in a relationship with, or another family member through fear. Abuse of any kind within a relationship is family violence. Victims of family violence are entitled to the same rights, irrespective of a person’s age, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexuality, gender expression or intersex status or occupation.

Many Australian women, non-binary and gender diverse people have experienced a relationship with someone who is or has been violent, controlling and/or abusive towards them. One in three women will be affected by family violence at some time during their life. Every week a woman is killed by her male partner or ex-partner.

Family violence happens when one person exerts power and control over another. It can occur after you have been in a relationship with someone for a long time or when it is just beginning. Family violence can occur between parents and children, as well as between relatives and in any family-like relationship, such as with carers and housemates.

Whilst anyone can be affected by it, women are far more likely to experience family violence. Family violence can occur no matter your age, where you live, your occupation, your abilities or disabilities, your sexuality, your gender, your religion, your ethnicity, your skin colour, your residential status, your education, your social class, whether you live with your partner, whether you have children or whether you are in a monogamous relationship or have more than one partner.

Women, non-binary and gender diverse people from all kinds of circumstances and backgrounds experience violence and abuse at home. They don’t ask for it; they don’t deserve it. Family violence is not your fault. You are not responsible for the violent behaviour of others – not ever.

Regardless of the type of relationship you are in, you have a right to feel safe and respected. Nobody has the right to abuse or control you.

What is family violence?

Family violence can take many forms. Family violence can be more than physical abuse. It includes behaviour that is threatening and controlling that can cause you to fear for your own safety. Living with family violence can be emotionally and physically isolating, and affect your relationships with other family members, friends and colleagues.

Family violence may include:

  • Emotional abuse e.g. manipulation, isolation, put-downs, mind games
  • Financial abuse e.g. forcing you to hand over control of income or assets, coercing you to take on debt or sign a contract, or not allowing you to earn an income
  • Sexual abuse e.g. any unwanted sexual activity
  • Social abuse e.g. insulting you in public
  • Threats of physical violence and revenge
  • Property damage e.g. smashing belongings
  • Harming or threatening to harm your pets

Family violence can be subtle and take place over a long period of time. It may not be obvious to others. Common methods used to coerce, control and dominate people living with family violence include:

  • Telling you what to wear and where you can or cannot go
  • Forcing you into sexual behaviours that are unwelcome, painful, humiliating or not your choice
  • Putting you down, criticising you, insulting you in public
  • Not letting you see your friends and family
  • Saying you are crazy, causing you to feel like you are crazy, claiming you are imagining the abuse
  • Threatening to tell your friends, family or workplace of your sexuality or gender transition or affirmation
  • Misleading people about your mental health and/or your capacity to parent
  • Preventing you from accessing medications: e.g. treatments for anxiety/depression, HIV and hormone therapy
  • Stalking
  • Using technology to harass, stalk and perpetuate violence
  • Not letting you be included in family finance decision-making

Family violence impacts on your health and well-being. Often women are left feeling stressed, anxious or depressed. Many women experience a worsening of a chronic illness, as a result of the stress they are living under.

Often people experiencing family violence have been isolated from their friends and family. It can be hard for them to take steps to reconnect.

What about the kids?

Children often feel responsible for family violence and they can respond in various ways. For example, a child may try to make things easier for their mother by withholding how they feel or they may side with the abuser because they believe this may be the safest option for themselves, their mother or even their pets.

Children living with family violence are often in a permanent state of fear. This can make them nervous, withdrawn, depressed and/or aggressive. They may have difficulty relating to their peers and performing at school. In the long term, children are at risk in their later relationships — sons are more likely to be abusive, and daughters are more likely to be abused.

Talk to your children. Explain that the violence is not their fault, and seek support.

Will the violence and abuse stop?

It can be difficult – even frightening – to take action to protect yourself. There are many reasons women stay in violent and abusive relationships, not least because they love their partner or other family member.

A woman may want to stay — she just needs the violence to stop. Women often leave their relationship and return a number of times. It is common for the abusive family member to tell them they love them and need them, and to promise ‘this time’ they really will change. We all want to believe the people we love. Unfortunately, this ‘honeymoon’ period is usually followed by a return to abusive behaviours. Sometimes a woman may stay because she feels it is safer than leaving.

Once violence or other forms of abuse take root in a relationship, statistics show the situation will get worse, not better. Violence and abuse stop only when the abuser takes responsibility for their behaviour and seeks help.

Want more information? You can download this 2016 WIRE Information Booklet (PDF) but please note that some resources in it will be out of date.

Where can I go for help?

If you are experiencing family violence, WIRE can also assist you with finding your local financial counsellor, lawyer or community legal centre.

Contact us here

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