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.

Abuse of any kind within a relationship is family violence.

Under Victorian Law, family violence is defined as harmful behaviour that occurs when someone hurts or threatens a family member or a person they are in a relationship with, or controls them through fear.

People from all kinds of backgrounds, cultures and circumstances experience violence and abuse at home. You don’t ask for it; you don’t deserve it. Family violence is not your fault. You are not responsible for the violent behaviour of others — not ever.

Victim-survivors of family violence are entitled to the same rights as anyone else, irrespective of their age, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, ability or disabilities, sexuality, gender expression or occupation.

Family violence is when one person uses power and control over another and can take many forms.

Sometimes it includes physical abuse and sometimes the person uses other ways of maintaining power and control over the victim-survivor.

Family violence includes any behaviour that is threatening and controlling that can cause you to fear for your own safety.

Living with family violence can be emotionally exhausting and physically isolating. It can also affect your relationships with other family members, friends and colleagues.

Family violence happens when one person exerts power and control over another in a relationship or family. It can occur when your relationship with someone is just beginning or when you have been in it for a long time.

Family violence can occur between parents and children, as well as between relatives and in any family-like relationships, such as with carers or housemates.

Although men may experience family violence, it is far more likely in Australia that women, nonbinary and gender diverse people will be in a relationship with someone who is or has been violent, controlling and/or abusive towards them (ABS).

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 preventing you from earning an income
  • Sexual abuse i.e. any unwanted sexual activity
  • Social abuse e.g. insulting you in public, deciding when and where you socialise
  • Threats of physical violence and revenge
  • Any kind of abuse that makes you live in fear
  • Property damage e.g. smashing belongings
  • Harming or threatening to harm your pets
  • Complex forms of violence such as forced marriage, dowry abuse or trafficking/slavery

Family violence impacts on your health and well-being. Often people in violent relationships are left feeling stressed, anxious or depressed. Many 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.


Read our family violence booklet

This comprehensive booklet, updated in 2020, contains information and resources for women, nonbinary and gender-diverse people in relationships where there is violence.

Download the PDF

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 victim-survivor parent by witholding how they feel or they may side with the person using violence because they believe this may be the safest option for themselves, the parent they are trying to protect, or even their pets.

Children living with family violence often feel stressed by this environment. 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 of becoming abusive themselves or being abused by their own partners.

Will the violence and abuse stop?

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

Often people stay because they fear the violence will get worse if they leave. Often people stay because they do not have the support and resources they need to leave. Victim-survivors often leave their relationship and return a number of times. It is common for the person using violence to tell the people they are abusing that they love them and need them and to promise that ‘this time’ they will really change. We all want to believe the people we love. Unfortunately, this ‘honeymoon’ period is usually followed by a return to abusive behaviours.

Once the abuse starts, statistics show that the situation usually continues to get worse instead of better. Violence and abuse only stops when the person using violence takes responsibility for their behaviour — and seeks help.

Men can call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.

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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