Defining Family and Domestic Violence

Family violence, also known as domestic violence, occurs when one partner (including a boyfriend or girlfriend) in an existing, or former, intimate relationship, a carer or a family member tries to coerce or control another family member, or causes another family member to be fearful. It can take several forms, and can affect anyone in the community regardless of gender, sexual identity, race, age, culture, ethnicity, religion, disability, economic status or location.

Physical abuse – including direct assaults on the body (strangulation or choking, shaking, eye injuries, biting, slapping, pushing spitting, punching or kicking), use of weapons including objects, assault of children, locking the victim in or out of the house, forcing the victim to take drugs, withholding medication, food or medical care, or sleep deprivation.

Sexual abuse – any form of pressured/unwanted sex or sexual degradation by an intimate partner or ex-partner, such as sexual activity without consent, causing pain during sex, assaulting genitals, forced sex without protection against pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease, making the victim perform sexual acts unwillingly (including taking or distributing explicit photos without their consent), criticising, or using sexually degrading insults.

Emotional abuse – blaming the victim for all the problems in the relationship, constantly comparing the victim with others to damage or undermine self esteem and self worth, periods of sulking or withdrawing all interest and engagement (e.g. weeks of silence), emotional blackmail and suicidal threats.

Psychological abuse – driving dangerously, destruction of property, abuse of pets, making threats regarding custody of children, asserting that the police and the justice system will not assist, support or believe the victim, threatening to ‘out’ the person.

Verbal abuse – continual ‘put downs’, swearing and humiliations, either privately or publicly; attacks following clear themes that focus on the victim’s intelligence, sexuality, body image and capacity as a parent or partner.

Social abuse – isolating the victim from others by methods such as ongoing rudeness to family and friends to alienate them, moving to a location where the victim has no established social circle or employment opportunities, restricting the use of the car or the telephone, forbidding or physically preventing the victim from going out and meeting people.

Economic or financial abuse – complete control of all money, forbidding access to bank accounts, providing only an inadequate ‘allowance’, not allowing the victim to seek or hold employment, forcing the victim to sign documents or make false declarations, using all wages earned by the victim for household expenses, controlling the victim’s Centrelink or other payments, denying that the victim has an entitlement to joint property.

Spiritual abuse – denying access to ceremonies, land or family, preventing victim from practicing their religion, forcing them to do things against their beliefs, criticising their cultural background, or using religious teachings or cultural tradition as a reason for violence.

Harrassment or stalking – following and watching, telephone and online harrassment, tracking with global positioning systems (GPS), being intimidating.

Differences between states


“Personal violence” involves the same type of behaviours as family or domestic violence, but it’s carried out by a person who is not related to you and has not been in a domestic relationship with you.