Republished with permission from the Domestic Violence Resource Centre, Victoria
Domestic violence takes different forms and may be known as different things.
Domestic violence is also commonly known as:
• Family violence
• Relationship violence
• Intimate partner violence
• Child abuse
Domestic violence is common in Australia.
It is a pattern of abusive behaviour through which a person seeks to control and dominate another person.
Domestic violence does not take the form of a single incident. It is ongoing behaviour that gradually undermines the victim’s confidence and ability to leave the violent person. The severity and frequency of violence often escalate over time.
This violence takes many forms, none of which is mutually exclusive. While physical violence may be the most visible form, others such as sexual, emotional, social, spiritual and economic abuse can be equally harmful.
• isolating a victim from family and friends
• controlling their access to money
• diminishing their self-esteem
• preventing them from practising their religious beliefs
• intimidating them, and
• threatening them.
Domestic violence is common in Australia. It is complex, and different from other forms of interpersonal violence.
Where does it happen?
Domestic violence happens in all kinds of relationships, including:
• intimate: partners, lovers, husband and wife, ex-partners
• older people and their children (elder abuse)
• other family members, including step-parents
• parents and their teenage or adult children
• people with disabilities and their carers
When domestic violence occurs between adults in heterosexual relationships, research shows that men are most likely to be the perpetrators and women the victims.
When the violence occurs against children in families, research shows that parents and step-parents are most likely to be the perpetrators.
Children and young people also experience violence when they live with and/or witness violence between other family members.
Domestic violence is a denial of human rights and it causes significant harm
Being violent to another human being is a denial of that person’s human rights, which governments have a responsibility to protect under international law.
In Australia some forms of abuse—such as physical and sexual violence and the threat of such violence—are criminal offences.
Domestic violence causes significant and long-term harm to its victims and is costly to the community. Relevant factors include being dispossessed of land and traditional culture, the breakdown of community kinship systems and law, entrenched poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, child removal policies, inherited grief and trauma, and the loss of traditional male and female role models.
While domestic violence occurs across all social groups, socio-economic inequalities are also linked to the experience of violence, and the ability to access resources to recover from it. Economic policies also impact upon people’s lives in a way that relates to, but does not excuse the use of violence.
Where age inequalities are concerned children and young people are particularly vulnerable to abuse in families. This is due to their dependence on family members, and to the way that society views children as being, for example, the property of their parents, or prone to ‘make up’ stories of abuse.
However, some forms of domestic violence are not well explained by reference to theories of gendered social power. Violence also occurs in lesbian relationships, and some women in heterosexual relationships are violent towards their male partners. In addition, many people who have social privilege over others do not abuse this through violence. Individual choices, experiences and motivations must also form part of any explanation for relationship violence.
Social and economic factors also influence people’s ability to escape abusive relationships. Perpetrators of abuse often use this to their advantage. For example, a woman with a disability may be reliant on the abuser for care, which can make leaving the relationship extremely difficult. Members of Aboriginal or non-English speaking communities, for example, may be afraid to contact police about the abuse because of the risk of discrimination based on their culture, race or language. These broader social issues of discrimination and marginalisation have to be addressed if we are to prevent abuse.
• One woman is killed nearly every week in Australia due to family violence (Chan & Payne 2013);
• 7 in 10 women murdered in Australia are victims of family violence (Chan & Payne 2013);
• One in three women have experienced physical violence (ABS 2006);
• Nearly one in five women have experienced sexual violence (ABS 2006);
• 16% of women have experienced violence by a current or previous partner (ABS 2006);
Intimate partner violence especially affects pregnant women. The ABS found that 36% of women who experienced intimate partner violence were pregnant at the time of the violence and 17% of those women were pregnant when the violence started (ABS 2006).
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006). Personal Safety
Chan, A and Payne, J (2013). Homicide in Australia: 2008–09 to 2009-10 National Homicide Monitoring Program annual report, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra