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What is family violence?

Family violence is when someone behaves violently to another family member.

It may be experienced within families, marriages, de facto relationships and lesbian relationships. It may be inflicted on adults and children or it may be between siblings or extended family members.

1 woman is killed almost every week

One woman is killed in Australia by a partner or ex-partner almost every week (Source DVRCV 2015)

Lead contributor to death and disability

Family violence is the leading contributor to death, illness and disability in women aged 15-44

40% continue to experience violence

Almost 40% of women continue to experience violence when separated from their partner

What is family violence?



Verbal abuse, humiliation and isolation

Family violence consists of a range of behaviours and may include:
  • Verbal abuse such as insults, name-calling, put downs and constant criticism
  • Emotional abuse such as making threats, humiliating you privately/publicly, isolating you from family, friends and social contacts
  • Smashing and destroying your personal belongings or property, or harming pets
  • All forms of physical violence including pushing, slapping, hitting, punching etc
  • Taking away access to money
  • Driving unsafely when you are in the car
  • Intimidating/controlling behaviour
  • Sexual harassment, rape

What are the effects of family violence?



Feeling afraid, unsafe and shame

Family violence impacts on women in different ways, including:
  • Feeling powerless, afraid, depressed, humiliated and withdrawing from others
  • Taking away your fundamental human right to feel safe
  • Feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety, grief, sadness and loss
  • Minimising/denying the violence is occurring
  • Feeling like you’ve tried everything and nothing works
  • Feeling worthless, not valued, low self-esteem, lacking confidence
  • A sense of shame and embarrassment
  • Afraid to tell others or shutting down to keep the violence hidden
  • Being made to feel responsible for the violence or feeling like you deserve it
  • Worried about financial security
  • Confused because sometimes your partner is loving and kind
  • A sense of failure about the relationship
  • Afraid of continued violence and harassment if you leave
  • Feeling guilty about leaving or scared of coping alone

Why is it hard for a woman to leave a relationship?



Increased risk of harm in the first weeks

Leaving a violent relationship is difficult and risky

Many women will attempt to leave a number of times before finally separating and there are many reasons for this:

  • Increased risk of harm – most homicides occur in this period
  • Financial pressures – lack of access to money and leaving her job behind
  • Not wanting to disrupt children’s education, lives and links to family and community
  • Believing it’s in the children’s best interest to be close to family
  • Continuing to care for a partner and hoping for change
  • Social isolation and its effects – fear of being ostracised by her community

The impact of family violence


$22 billion

Estimated to cost to the economy each year

Family violence is estimated to cost the Australian economy $22 billion each year
  • Family violence is most commonly carried out by men against women who are their current or formers partner; this is known as intimate partner violence
  • Is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in Victoria for women aged 15-44 (source Vic Health 2004)
  • The single largest driver of homelessness for women
  • Women and children with disabilities are twice as likely to experience violence as those without

How family violence effects children


1 in 3 kids

Present at 1 in 3 family violence situations

Witnessing family violence may impact on children in a range of ways, including:
  • Chilren are present in 1 in 3 family violence situations reported by police
  • In home where family violence occurs, children suffer emotional and psychological abuse whether or not that are being physically abused themselves
  • Taking away a child’s fundamental right to feel safe
  • Becoming withdrawn and fearful
  • Have difficulty relating to others or being unable to concentrate at school
  • Blaming themselves for causing the perpetrator’s anger
  • Taking responsibility of protecting others
  • Suffer post-traumatic stress, feeling helpless and overwhelmed with anxiety
The cumulative effect of family violence on children
  • Impacts on the brain’s neural pathways, affecting cognitive development and stress response systems
  • Low self-esteem and difficulties at school affecting their long term employment and financial security
  • Mental health problems including anxiety, depression, symptoms of trauma, eating disorders and, for some, suicide attempts
  • Increased aggression, anti-social behaviour and likelihood of substance abuse
  • Teenage pregnancy
  • Can affect their long term relationships

Client stories

Names and details have been changed to protect client privacy.



Amal was referred to Kara House by the Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service in early 2011 after she fled the family home with her two teenage daughters. Amal met her husband, a resident of Australia, in Lebanon in 2009, whilst he was on holiday.

A year later they married and she moved to Australia with her daughters. Within months of their married life, Amal was a victim of domestic violence perpetrated by her husband and his former wife. Amal was sexually abused, financially abused and she was isolated. Several weeks later, unobserved by her husband, Amal and her daughters walked out of the house. A passer-by seeing the distressed family took them to a police station and three days later she was in Kara House.

Amal could not speak English, did not have permanent residency, and didn’t know Australia or its laws and customs. She had no money, was responsible for two children, was homeless and could not return to Lebanon. Over the three weeks that Amal was in refuge, Kara House helped her to link into a GP, Centrelink, migration support, sexual assault counselling and legal aid. Kara House also provided Amal with food vouchers and material aid for 10 weeks before she was eligible for Centrelink income.

She was taught basic living skills – how to catch public transport, where to shop, Australian money, the Court system. Amal and the children were transferred to a transitional property with the help of Kara House and her support continued. There were many court visits which impacted greatly on Amal’s health. She was linked into a psychologist. The children were enrolled into a language school and they commenced counselling.

Amal and her daughters remained in transitional housing until 2014 when she was offered a property through the Department of Housing. Amal can now speak English, and she has permanent residency and she receives a benefit from Centrelink. Her daughters speak English and have continued on with their education. They are settled and they feel safe.


Sarah, an aboriginal pregnant woman, came to our service in late 2013. Sarah had two other children that were in Department of Human services care. Sarah had a long history of distrust with the system and believed her unborn child would be taken by DHS. As soon as Sarah came into refuge, she was linked in with the local doctor and pregnancy services to assist her with her birth.

Kara House advocated with DHS for Sarah to be given a chance with her child. Sarah was put in a transitional property while pregnant and moved to a two bedroom property appropriate for when she gave birth. With stable accommodation, Sarah was able to successfully set up for the birth of her child.

Sarah felt positive for her future. Sarah gave birth earlier this year to a healthy baby boy closely observed by Kara House and other services we had referred her to. This is including a close link to her culture through an Aboriginal Family Strengthening program.

Odyssey House was also involved through the Kids in Focus program and worked intensively with Sarah to parent positively. Sarah is now attending young parenting groups and doing well. She also has access to her two other children – something that had seemed impossible 12 months prior. With stability and support she has been able to turn her life around.

How to prevent family violence

Family violence is complex and each experience is difference.

  • From international evidence that the major cause is inequality between women and men – that is, the unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunities
  • Stereotypical ideas about the roles of women and men in society and the way they should behave, fosters an environment for violence against women to occur
  • In individual relationships, this inequality plays out in the belief that a man is entitled to exercise power and control over his partner and children

How it plays out in society

  • ‘Everyday sexism’ such as sexual and verbal harassment of women and girls
  • Demeaning and sexualised portrayals of women and girls in the media
  • Fewer women in leadership roles, giving men more control over decision making
  • The gender pay gap, caused by men being paid more than women for the same or similar work
  • Women’s sport attracting less sponsorship, prize money and media coverage compared to men’s
  • Individuals – both women and men – are more likely to condone, tolerate or excuse violence against women when they don’t believe women and men are equal

What actions can the community take

  • Call out rather than condone violence against women
  • Promote independence and decision making by women
  • Challenge gender stereotypes and roles
  • Strengthen positive and respectful relationships

What can the community do to help?


Crisis response

Support of women and children who are in high risk of harm.

Early intervention

Identification of and support of women and children experiencing family violence as early as possible.

Primary intervention

Population-based and community initiatives to educate and bring about social and cultural change.

Advocate for action

Advocate that action is needed through legislation and policy change by governments and organisations.

Advocate for rights

Advocate for the rights of women and children to live in safety and without fear, using professional practice informed by feminist, human rights and social justice principles.

Useful Resources

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Work with LGBTI

About Kara House and how we work with the LGBTI Community

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