About domestic and family violence

What is domestic and family violence?

Domestic and family violence (DFV) occurs when one person in an intimate personal, family or informal carer relationship uses violence or abuse to maintain power and control over the other person.

DFV does not always involve physical violence. DFV is usually an ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling a partner (also known as coercive control). A wide variety of abusive behaviours – including social, financial, psychological and technology-facilitated abuse – often accompanied by threats of physical violence, may be used to cause fear.

Over time, this can have a devastating impact on victims' autonomy, independence, wellbeing and safety. Coercive control is the most common risk factor leading up to an intimate partner homicide.

Many of the types of abuse described below include elements of controlling or coercive behaviour.

Domestic and family violence can include:

  • Emotional abuse is not always easy to identify, but it can lower self-esteem and confidence, impacting your mental health and wellbeing. Examples are:
    • constant criticism, put downs and name calling, often in relation to appearance/attractiveness, parenting ability or likeability
    • intentionally embarrassing you
    • telling you what to wear or criticising your looks
    • threatening to commit suicide or self-harm to intimidate and control you.
  • Verbal abuse can include:
    • yelling, shouting or swearing
    • using words to intimidate or cause fear
    • frequently accusing you of having affairs
    • constant criticism and put downs.
  • Financial abuse can start with subtle, controlling behaviours and result in someone having complete control over your finances. For example:
    • getting angry about you spending money
    • taking your pay or restricting your access to joint bank accounts
    • refusing to pay for your necessary items such as food and medicine
    • stopping you from working or furthering your education.
  • Psychological abuse can affect your inner thoughts and feelings as well as exert control over your life. For example:
    • controlling what you eat
    • controlling access to medications
    • undermining your perception of reality
    • questioning your judgement
    • trying to convince you or your support network that you are ’crazy’ or a ’liar’
    • frequent abusive text messages or demanding phone calls.
  • Physical abuse involves causing or threatening physical harm to control you. For example:
    • slapping, kicking, punching
    • choking, suffocation or strangulation – anything that prevents you from breathing normally
    • anything that causes injury
    • punching holes in walls or breaking furniture and belongings
    • physically restricting your movement e.g. locking you in a room or house or preventing you from leaving
    • threatening to harm your children, other loved ones or pets.
  • Social isolation can start with subtle, controlling behaviours that can end in completely isolating you from your friends, family and support networks. For example:
    • monitoring your phones and devices without permission
    • controlling which friends and family members you have contact with
    • continuously criticising your friends and family
    • purposefully humiliating you in public or in front of other people
    • moving you away to a geographically isolated location to further separate you from your support network.
  • Technology-based abuse and surveillance can include:
    • constantly messaging or calling you
    • checking your phone and other devices without permission
    • inhibiting your access to technology
    • monitoring you on social media, or actively abusing and humiliating you on these platforms
    • tracking your movements
    • monitoring your internet usage
    • video or audio-recording of your home, car and workplace (with or without your consent or knowledge)
    • posting sexually explicit images or videos of you online without your permission (this is also image-based abuse and a form of sexual abuse, and may be referred to as ’revenge porn’).
  • Spiritual abuse can include:
    • forcing you to participate in religious activities
    • stopping you from taking part in your religious or cultural practices
    • misusing spiritual or religious beliefs and practices to justify abuse and violence.
  • Sexual abuse can include:
    • forcing or coercing you to have sex or engage in sexual acts
    • unwanted exposure to pornography
    • deliberately causing pain during sex
    • using sexually degrading insults or humiliation during sex.
  • Reproductive control is often a subset of sexual abuse and can include:
    • not letting you use contraception or forcing you to use contraception that you do not want to
    • tampering with your contraception without your knowledge
    • pressuring you to have a termination you don’t want, or not allowing you to access a termination of pregnancy
    • pressuring you to start a family or have more children when you are not ready.
  • Stalking and surveillance can include:
    • following you in your car or on foot
    • frequent ‘drive-bys’ of your home or workplace
    • waiting outside your home, workplace or educational facility
    • leaving unwanted notes or gifts for you to find
    • talking to friends, neighbours or your children about your movements or activities.
    • constantly keeping check on where you are and what you are doing
    • using tracking devices to monitor your whereabouts.
  • Identity-based abuse is often specifically targeted at people from the LGBTIQ+ communities and can include:
    • threatening to reveal your sexual orientation – outing you – to others
    • threatening to reveal your HIV status to others
    • reinforcing your feelings of confusion, shame or guilt about your sexuality to coerce you
    • using your concern that support services may be homophobic or transphobic to discourage you from seeking help
    • isolating you from your family, community, or LGBTIQ+ spaces, or threatening to isolate you if the relationship ends.

Find out how to get help if you are affected by domestic and family violence.

Signs of domestic and family violence

Someone experiencing domestic and family violence may:

  • seem afraid of their partner or someone close to them
  • try to hide bruises (e.g. by wearing long sleeves in summer, or giving unlikely explanations for injuries)
  • have little or no say about how money is spent
  • stop seeing friends and family and become isolated
  • become depressed, unusually quiet or lose confidence
  • show signs of neglect if they are older or have a disability
  • have a partner who frequently accuses them of cheating or continually checks up on them
  • be reluctant to leave their children with their partner
  • suspect they are being stalked or followed.

They may be in greater danger if:

  • there is a history of domestic and family violence
  • violence has escalated within the relationship
  • their partner is stalking or monitoring their movements
  • they separate or plan to separate from their partner
  • they start a new relationship or their ex-partner believes they have
  • there is conflict within the broader family
  • there are issues about child custody or access to children
  • they are pregnant
  • there is financial hardship or unemployment
  • the partner has a history of physical violence, mental illness or access to weapons.

Find out how to support someone experiencing domestic and family violence.

Impact of domestic and family violence on children and young people

Children and young people are also affected by domestic and family violence—even if they haven’t directly seen or heard the abuse or violence.

Children affected by domestic and family violence could:

  • try to stop the abuse and thereby put themselves at risk
  • blame themselves
  • copy the abusive behaviour, bully others or be cruel to animals
  • be bullied by others
  • feel fearful, nervous, guilty or depressed
  • relapse into bed wetting and thumb sucking or have nightmares
  • show changes in their school behaviour and performance
  • have unexplained ailments including headaches, asthma and stuttering
  • run away from home
  • attempt suicide or self-harm
  • abuse drugs and alcohol.

Phone Triple Zero (000) if it's an emergency or if you believe a child is in immediate danger or in a life-threatening situation. If you have reason to suspect a child is experiencing, or is at risk of abuse, contact a Regional Intake Service (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) or the Child Safety After Hours Service Centre on 1800 177 135 (24 hours a day) if outside business hours. Find out more about how to report child abuse.

If you’re a child or young person affected by domestic and family violence, find out what you can do.