Skip to main content
Gippsland Family Violence Alliance
Courses Filter
Sort by

Family Violence is…

Family violence is behaviour that controls or dominates a family member and causes them to fear for their own or another person’s safety or wellbeing.

It includes exposing a child to these behaviours, as well as their effects and impacts. Family violence presents across a spectrum of risk, ranging from subtle exploitation of power imbalances, through to escalating patterns of abuse over time.

Family violence is deeply gendered. While people of all genders can be perpetrators or victim survivors of family violence, overwhelmingly, perpetrators are men, who largely perpetrate violence against women (who are their current or former partner) and children.

However, family violence can occur in a range of ways across different relationship types and communities.

Family Violence is Against the Law

The Family Violence Protection Act 2008 defines family violence as behaviour by a person towards a family member or person that is:

  • physically or sexually abusive
  • emotionally or psychologically abusive
  • economically abusive
  • threatening
  • coercive
  • in any other way controls or dominates the family member and causes that family member to feel fear for the safety or wellbeing of that family member or another person.

It also includes behaviour by a person that causes a child to hear or witness, or otherwise be exposed to the effects of behaviour referred to in these ways.

Source: MARAM Practice Guides – Working with Adult People Using Violence p.22

What is Coercive Control?

Coercive control is not a standalone form of family violence. The term reflects the pattern and underlying feature or dynamic created by a perpetrator’s tactics and use of family violence and its felt impact or outcome on victim survivors. As a tactic, coercive control can include any combination of family violence behaviours (risk factors) used by a perpetrator to create a pattern or ‘system of behaviours’ intended to harm, punish, frighten, dominate, isolate, degrade, monitor or stalk, regulate and subordinate the victim survivor.

Coercive controlling behaviours may or may not include physical or sexual assault or threats to kill the adult or child victim survivor. However, the use or threat of these behaviours, even once, can create significant, ongoing threat of reoccurrence, creating and reinforcing an environment of coercive control.

The power and control dynamics underpinning family violence can have significant cumulative psychological, spiritual and cultural, physical and financial impacts on victim survivors. This can undermine a victim’s autonomy, capacity for resistance and sense of identity and self-worth. A victim survivor can feel trapped within their experience of coercive control, where their options for accessing safety and support are removed, restricted or regulated.

High levels of coercive control are an indicator for increased likelihood of adult or child victim survivor/s being killed or seriously injured. Recognising patterns of behaviour that underpin coercive control can enable broader recognition of family violence outside of overt or discrete ‘incidents’ of physical and sexual violence. Source: MARAM Practice Guides – Working with Adult People Using Violence

What is Coercive Control?
What is Coercive Control?

Forms of Family Violence

Family violence can include:

Kicking, pushing, punching, shoving, slapping, hair pulling strangulation and any other acts which hurt a persons body. This may involve the use of weapons such as guns, knives, or other objects.

Calling a person vulgar names; criticising their body parts or sensuality; forced or pressured a person to perform sexual acts that cause pain or humiliation, including sexual assault or rape; forcing a person to watch porn; forcing or coercing a person to have sex with other people or causing injury to a persons sexual organs; and sharing explicit images.

Following, watching , putting someone under surveillance; monitoring vehicle mileage; installing secret cameras & recording devices; monitoring emails, social media and phones; tracking movements, making persistent phone calls, texts, emails; sending unwanted mail, gifts & love letters. This can also include tracking a persons work location via their professional registration (i.e. nurses); providing children with technology with the purpose of tracking the victim survivor.

Dictating what a person does; not allowing a person to express their feelings or thoughts; not allowing a person any privacy; forcing a person to go without food or water; not allowing a person to go anywhere without them and if they do the perpetrator becomes angry or sullen; when someone calls a person repeatedly wanting to know their location and who they are with; tells a person what they can and can’t wear; monitors a persons phone, social media, car mileage and location.

Destroys possessions, punches holes through the wall; handling weapons including guns, knives or other weapons; using intimidating body language (angry looks, raised voice); hostile questioning; reckless driving of vehicle. They may also threaten suicide or harm or take the children. Threatens to harm a persons family, children, friends. It may also include harassing a person at their workplace; persistent phone calls or sending text messages or emails; following a person to or from work, or loitering near a persons workplace or home; threatens to tell ATO or Centrelink of overpayments often due to previous coercion by the perpetrator; threatens to use Child Protection or the Family Court to take the children from the victim survivor; threatens and coerces a victim survivor to engage in illegal activity; threatens to or uses associates to threaten or intimidate a person.

Geographic isolation including in rural and remote locations where there is limited transport, services and community; a victim survivor may be reluctant to contact local police and services in rural and remote locations due to the perpetrators relationship with them. i.e. local football club, CFA etc.

When a victim survivor is prevented from seeing friends and family; when the perpetrator makes social events uncomfortable; when a victim survivor is being excluded from family outings; telling a victim survivor who they can be friends with and what activities they can be involved in; denying access to mobility equipment, cars, internet, social media; publicly humiliating and abusing a the victim survivor; when a perpetrator makes up and shares lies about the victim survivor; not allowing a victim survivor to attend personal appointments on their own.

Gas-lighting (causing a person to question their own sanity); telling a person that they are ‘mentally unstable’ and that they are exaggerating the abuse; creating fear by possessing and handling weapons; driving dangerously; giving angry looks; threats to harm/ kill/ or commit suicide; standing over and intimidation; the perpetrator falsely claiming to be the victim to the community (victim stance); implying that the victim survivor is unstable, has mental health problems or substance abuse problems to their friends, family, police, doctors, legal professionals, counsellors etc.

Name-calling, threats, put-downs, screaming, ridiculing, using sarcasm, ridiculing a persons beliefs, opinions or cultural background. It is aimed at destroying a persons sense of self.

Constant blaming, emotional blackmail and suicidal threats; comparing a person with other people; silence, ignoring and withdrawing as a means of abuse and control; to undermine a persons self-esteem and self-worth; to embarrass a person in front of other people.

Intentionally damaging or destroying property or threatening to do so to scare someone; causing damage to property to generate debt for the victim survivor when they have to replace or repair property; damaging property to preventing a victim survivor from leaving (breaking windscreen, tampering with car or slashed tires) or calling police (smashing a phone) or to destroy evidence of abuse (CCTV).

Controlling, forbidding or sabotaging a persons employment; refusing to work or contribute to house hold expenses; taking control of money and assets; having to account for all spending; forbidding access to bank accounts; denying access to money or providing insufficient ‘allowance’ for daily needs. It can also include being forced to sign loans and a person being forced to be responsible for the debts that were not incurred by them; hiding assets; pressuring or coercing a person to make false insurance or Centrelink claims; refusing to pay child support; incurring fines and infringements in the name of the victim survivor.

Sharing or threatening to share intimate, nude or sexual photos or videos of a person without their consent; secretly filming sexual activity or a sexual assault; photo shopping a persons image onto a sexually explicit photo or video.

The use of social media, phones, emails or technology to stalk, harass, humiliate or intimidate a person. This may include posting pictures, videos or information about a person. This also includes sending messages to a person via bank transfers.

Not allowing a person to practice their beliefs; forcing a person to change religion; not respecting religious practices; attacking a person’s spiritual or religious beliefs; forcing a person to take part in spiritual or religious practices when they don’t want to; using religious and spiritual leaders or teaching to force a person to stay in the relationships or marriage; using culture or religion as an excuse for violence and abusive behaviour; stopping a person or their children from getting medical treatment; misinformation provided by a perpetrator about Australian laws and a persons right; being rejected by community if a person makes a report to police; forced marriage; female genital mutilation, and dowry-related violence.

Using a persons immigration status and fear of deportation to control them, hiding or taking a persons passport or visa documentation, this includes causing a person to overstay their visa; making false claims about a persons visa status; the claim by a perpetrator that is a victim survivor leaves the relationship they will be deported. If a person is bought into Australia on incorrect visa information and under false pretences for the purpose of exploitation, coercion or having had their travel documentation taken away can also be defined as trafficking.

When a person is made to get married even though they don’t want to; it can involve being pressured, bullied, tricked or where a person doesn’t understanding the meaning of a marriage ceremony; where there is no intention on the part of one or both of the spouses to participate in a genuine relationship as husband and wife. Anybody can be a victim of forced marriage regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, or religious or cultural background; forced marriage is a crime in Australia.

Forcing or pressuring a person to have unprotected sex, become pregnant or have an abortion; being coerced into having more children than a victim survivor wishes to have due to contraceptive denial, sabotage or restriction.

When a perpetrator threatens to or causes physical, psychological harm or neglect to a pet/s, including the killing of pets; this is to prevent a victim survivor leaving a relationship; to demonstrate the level of violence a perpetrator is prepared to commit against a loved member of the family; denying veterinarian care and attention when required.

When the person or people who cares for someone doesn’t give them the things they need to be healthy, comfortable and safe. This can be a lack of personal care support, lack of food and water, lack of medical interventions and support to attend medical appointments, inappropriate clothing, lack of cleanliness and hygiene, lack of appropriate sleeping conditions, and other forms of family violence can occur at the same time.

When someone uses the law or legal threats to control and scare another person; when a person makes false reports to the courts or police; destruction of legal documents; refusal to do what the court has ordered. When a perpetrator represents themselves in court (i.e. family court) enabling them to cross examine a victim survivor who they are prevented from communicating with due to IVO conditions; causing delays by not filling out paperwork in the right way or creating large legal bills by making a lot of calls and emails to the victim survivors lawyer.

Specific cohorts of people can experience unique forms of Family Violence which can include:

Threatens to expose a person’s sexuality, or share private information about a person’s gender history, sex characteristics or HIV status; hiding or withholding medications or hormones; using homophobia, transphobia and lack of support as tools of control a person; pressure and coercion to undertake Conversion Therapy; threatens to disown a family member due to their identify; pressure and coercion towards a person to conform to traditional gender and sexual norms, relationships and marriage.

People with disabilities may experience impairment-based family violence from a family member or carer, including using or withholding aides, medication or other devices that support the day-to-day capacity of people with disability; a higher risk of sexual violence; a perpetrator may tell a person with a disability that they will have no one else to look after them; a person with a disability may be threatened with punishment, abandonment or institutionalisation; that police or other services will not believe their reports because of their disability; threats to report a person with a disability to Child Protection or have their children taken away; there may be threats of harm to assistance animals (such as guide dogs); that a person is not made aware of available support services available to them; often the perpetrator is seen by police and other services as more believable.

Direct & indirect exposure to all forms of family violence including the effects of family violence on the physical environment or the control of other adult or child family members; the perpetrator may target certain children, particularly non biological children in the family. A perpetrator behaviours including threatening or failing to return a child can be used to harm the child and the affected parent; failure to adhere to, or the undermining of agreed child care arrangements (or threatening to do so); threatened or actual removal of children overseas; returning children late, or not responding to contact from the adult victim survivor when children are in the perpetrator’s care. Perpetrators often engage in behaviours that cause damage to the relationship between the adult victim survivor and their child/children. These can include tactics to undermine capacity and confidence in parenting and undermining the child-parent relationship, including manipulation of the child’s perception of the adult victim. Children having to be involved with child protection, counsellors, or other professionals.

Perpetrators who demonstrate sexualised behaviours towards a child are also more likely to use other forms of violence against them, such as:

  • talking to a child in a sexually explicit way
  • sending sexual messages or emails to a child
  • exposing a child to sexual acts (including showing pornography to a child)
  • having a child pose or perform in a sexual manner (including child sexual exploitation).

Users of violence may exploit an Aboriginal persons reluctant to seek assistance from mainstream agencies because of the discrimination, racism and the lack of understanding they have experienced in the past. Their trauma associated with dispossession, child removal and other practices from agencies may also be exploited by users of violence.

Users of violence may threaten a partner’s capacity or ‘right’ to children; they may attack the mother/parent–child bond, undermining their ability to parent, and by exacerbating fears linked to negative experiences of government service interventions.

People using violence may deny or disconnect victim survivors from cultural identity and connection to family, community and culture, including extended kinship and family networks and to land or country and denial of Traditional Owner rights. This might include people using violence exploiting lack of connection to or contact with families, culture and supports for members of the Stolen Generations who have lost contact with families of origin.

People using violence may exploit concerns by the person experiencing violence that seeking help will create conflict in the community. For example, given the high rates of Aboriginal deaths in custody, some community members may negatively view a victim survivor’s engagement with the police and justice system.

Non-Aboriginal people using violence towards Aboriginal family members may present with narratives that attempt to use systems abuse by seeking collusion from services. They may do this by presenting as charming or attempting to draw parallels between their own (often) white, dominant culture male privilege and capacity and that of the professional or service. Their aim may be to exacerbate discrimination, avoid responsibility and undermine victim survivors’ access to services.

They may use negative language or make inaccurate reports to police or child protection, to misidentify an Aboriginal victim survivor as using violence as a tactic of coercive control.

They may use derogatory language about the victim survivor’s Aboriginal identity as a tactic to belittle and isolate the Aboriginal victim survivor.

The person using violence may use coercive control to force an Aboriginal victim survivor into illegal activities, exacerbating and compounding ramifications for Aboriginal victim survivors who are overrepresented in justice systems.

Women may use force in response to patterns of violence from a predominant aggressor or person using violence. This results in many women being misidentified as a perpetrator. Services must be aware that non-Aboriginal men using family violence may be more likely to exploit service stereotypes about Aboriginal women being violent.

A perpetrator may threaten to ‘out’ a victim survivors who has or is working as a sex worker to the victim survivors family, friends, community or non-sex industry work colleagues. Perpetrators may alter or change social media advertisements and information; make inappropriate or ‘slut shaming’ comments; encourage clients to abuse, threaten or violate the victim survivor; post fake reviews about the victim survivor; use racist comments, to justify the sexual services the victim does/should offer; controlling the bookings and money; justifying/excusing the abuse the victim may receive from clients because of the nature of the work; limit the amount of personal time the victim has to not see clients. E.g., booking back-to-back clients without their consent; make the victim work in an isolated location; threaten or tell children or Child Protection about their parents sex work to discredit them as a parent; tracking the victim survivor with the pretence of providing security.

A perpetrator may exploit an older persons dependence on the perpetrator as their carer or main form of support and the fear of isolation and a loss of dignity by the older person if they were to report abuse. Older people may believe that family violence is a private matter or may not recognise particular behaviours as violence with traditional beliefs and values reinforcing this view.

A perpetrator may be aware that an older person may want to protect and maintain the relationship with the perpetrator and may not want to get the perpetrator into trouble, particularly if the perpetrator is the older person’s adult child or adult grandchild. This includes also where an older person is contributing as a carer to grandchildren and may impact an older person’s willingness to engage with legal and justice services.

A perpetrator may present as a barrier to an older persons access to services due to control of movements and isolation, cognitive capacity or language barriers. The perpetrator may deny medical care and treatment, they may also be medical and financial power of attorney for the older person and be seeking financial advantage.

People who develop or who have pre-existing mental illness may find it difficult to seek help because they may doubt they will be believed. Perpetrators may compound this belief with taunts relating to their credibility when reporting violence, their ability to support themselves if they leave the relationship, that they will lose custody of children if they leave; perpetrators may also hide or deny access to medication, treatment and supports.

Alcohol and drug use is strongly associated with an increase in the likelihood of family violence occurring and an increase in the risk of physical violence, injury and hospitalisation. The behaviour of perpetrators that use drugs and alcohol are more unpredictable and the level and severity of violence can increase; alcohol and drug use can also provide an excuse for behaviour that would not otherwise be tolerated (drugs and alcohol use can increase risk and severity of family violence but is not a causal factor); perpetrators may claim to have no memory of the violence or that the victim survivor is exaggerating the abuse. Perpetrators that use drugs and alcohol may coerce partners or children into being ‘drinking buddies’ so they are not drinking alone resulting in the potential for the victim survivor to become addicted to using drugs and alcohol and to becoming more dependent on the perpetrator; victim survivors may be coerced or threatened into engaging in illegal activities (i.e. drug dealing); that there may be increased risk of threats from criminal associates; less likelihood of reporting the family violence to police for fear of being charged with criminal activity; there may be a co-dependency between the perpetrator and victim survivor due to the drug and alcohol use.

Due to the family violence the victim survivor may use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism; it can reduce a person’s capacity to keep themselves and others safe; there may be increase feelings of shame and sense of responsibility for the violence, an increase reluctance to seek help and in the case of police involvement, reduce the likelihood that the person using violence will be arrested or charged.

Adolescents’ use of family violence can co-exist with family violence perpetrated by a parent or other family member and can also be a manifestation of disability, including adolescent mental ill-health. Parents are often reluctant to report their children’s behaviour to the police because of feelings of shame and self-blame, fear their child might get a criminal record; fear of police and Child Protection involvement in the family

Some women might commit crimes as a result of a history of childhood violence or other trauma or under duress or coercion from a violent partner. Their partner may pursue them while they are in prison or they may be at risk of violence when they leave. On release from prison, victims of family violence often experience risks to their safety and recovery. They may be coerced to reengage in criminal activity; be threatened by a perpetrator or the perpetrators associate for what they know about criminal activity.

Drivers of Family Violence

There is consensus in the international and national research that violence against women arises in the social context of gender inequality, and that this violence has distinct gendered drivers. There is a solid evidence base regarding the drivers and reinforcing factors that lead to family violence.

The drivers of family violence are:

  • Condoning of violence against women
  • Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence in public and private life
  • Rigid gender stereotyping and dominant forms of masculinity
  • Male peer relations and cultures of masculinity that emphasise aggression, dominance and control

There are a range of factors that, while they do not drive violence on their own, can contribute to violence against women or make it worse. Reinforcing factors include:

  • Condoning of violence in general, which can lead to the ‘normalisation’ of violence.
  • Experience of, and exposure to, violence (particularly during childhood).
  • Factors that can weaken prosocial behaviour (such as stress, environmental/neighbourhood factors, natural disasters and crises, male-dominated settings and heavy alcohol consumption) and therefore reduce empathy, respect and concern for women.
  • Backlash and resistance to prevention and gender equality (actions that seek to block change, uphold the status quo of gender relations, or re-establish male privilege and power), which creates an environment in which there is a heightened risk of violence.

Source – Our Watch

Myths & Excuses of Family Violence

Let’s change the story: Violence against women in Australia

Myths & Excuses of Family Violence

There are many commonly held misconceptions in our society and projected in the media that family violence is caused by:

  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Unemployment
  • Financial stress
  • Family background
  • Mental illness
  • Provocation
  • Culture
  • Disability

None of these factors cause violence and there is no excuse for it. Many people are dealing with a number of these issues and don’t use violence against others, including their partners or family members. Using violence is a choice made by the individual. For more information about family violence myths. To find out more about myths and excuses visit Safe Steps or Safe+Equal

The National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) is the world’s longest-running survey of community attitudes towards violence against women. It has been led by VicHealth (2009 and 2013) and ANROWS led the next wave. For more information click here