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Presentations of family violence in different relationships and communities

How perpetrators use family violence behaviours across the community.

Understanding presentations of how perpetrators use family violence behaviours across the community starts with the recognition of the high prevalence experiences and the impact of family violence for:

  • women and women as mothers (and carers) in an intimate partner relationship with the person using violence
  • children and young people from the perpetrator (usually a father/parent or other carer).

This section is then structured to describe particular experiences of victim survivors in relationships with perpetrators within and outside of each community, including:

  • victim survivors from Aboriginal community who experience family violence from both non-Aboriginal perpetrators and Aboriginal people who use violence
  • victim survivors from diverse communities who experience family violence from people who may or may not identify with the same diverse community
  • where victim survivors and/or the person using violence may each have specific complex health and mental health or compounding risk issues, of the same or other presentations.

Remember

Aboriginal people are recognised as our nation’s First Peoples. Aboriginal people are described throughout this document separately from ‘diverse’ communities.

Both Aboriginal people and people from diverse communities experience structural inequality, barriers and discrimination, and these are described in the following sections.

It is important to consider the victim survivor as a whole person when assessing how the perpetrator is targeting their family violence behaviours, as well as their access to your service.

For example, consider the experiences and barriers for people with disabilities and recognise this may be only one aspect of their identity.

The perpetrator may target the person’s other identities and experiences, which you also need to consider to ensure safe, accessible responses.

The information in the following sections will inform your understanding of how victim survivors from all communities can experience any combination of family violence risk factors, including and in addition to the specific common presentations of risk outlined in the victim survivor–focused Responsibility 7.

Note: Use of gendered language

The prevalence of family violence against women and children, and against women as mothers and carers, is well established and recognised across the service system.

Acknowledging this, when specifically talking about this predominant experience, this section uses gendered language, particularly in relation to:

  • the predominant presentation of cisgender male perpetrators in intimate partner relationships with cisgender female victim survivors
  • the experience of mothers, including damage to the mother–child bond caused by the perpetrator’s (predominantly the father’s) behaviours.

The term ‘mother/carer’ refers to any parent/carer who is not using violence (not a perpetrator).

Gendered language is not used when describing experiences of family violence towards and across LGBTIQ communities.

Further, there is a continually evolving evidence base suggesting similar rates and forms of family violence occur across LGBTIQ communities.[70]

Any shifts in use of gendered language are not intended to diminish any experiences of family violence, which can occur across all communities, gender identities and relationship types.

Men’s experience as victim survivors

Men can experience family violence. The prevalence of men experiencing family violence is a smaller proportion of all victim survivors, and is largely due to violence from other men.[71]

The experience of male victims is outlined in each section providing guidance on the experience and impact of risk across relationships, including against Aboriginal men, men from diverse communities and older men experiencing elder abuse.

Developing your knowledge

Continue to reflect on and develop your own knowledge about identities, barriers and experiences of family violence across the community.

If you lack confidence or feel ill-equipped to respond, you can engage in secondary consultation and referral with organisations that specialise in working with particular community groups (Refer to Table 2, and the victim survivor and perpetrator-focused Responsibilities 5 and 6).

12.1.1 Intimate partner family violence perpetrated against women

Family violence and sexual assault are the most common and pervasive forms of violence against women. Family violence is the greatest contributor to ill health and premature death in women under the age of 45 years.[72]

Key statistics[73]

  • On average, one woman a week is murdered in Australia by her current or former partner.[74]
  • Aboriginal women are 32 times more likely than other women to be hospitalised and 10 times more likely to die from violent assault.[75]
  • Women and girls with disabilities are estimated to be twice as likely to experience violence as those without disabilities.[76]

Common perpetrator behaviours towards women

Common tactics perpetrators use towards women (usually by current or former male intimate partners) include:

  • constant monitoring and regulation of her everyday activities such as phone calls, social interactions and dress
  • evaluating her every move against an unpredictable, ever-changing and unknowable ‘rule book’[77]
  • constant put downs about anything and everything she does
  • having no control or say about the household finances
  • criticism of her parenting skills
  • disrespectful behaviour towards her in front of their children and others
  • threats and actual physical violence against her, their children and pets
  • being blamed for the violence
  • surveillance using smartphones and other technology.[78]

Impacts of perpetrator behaviours

A perpetrator’s use of family violence can cause physical injuries, disability, miscarriage, sexually transmitted diseases and homicide of victims.

It can also result in indirect health or mental health-related symptoms for victim survivors, such as headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and self-harming behaviour.

As a result of a perpetrator’s use of family violence, victim survivors might also experience depression, fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, social isolation, financial debt, loss of freedom, and feelings of degradation and loss of dignity, and pre-existing disabilities and mental illnesses may be exacerbated.

Women who experience a perpetrator’s pattern of coercive and controlling behaviours over time are also likely to have trauma responses or to be diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, emotional detachment, insomnia, avoidance of reminders (‘triggers’) and extreme distress when exposed to these, irritability, hypervigilance (watching for anger or signs of violence), memory loss, excessive startle response, clinical depression and anxiety, and loss of appetite.

Women with family violence experiences are up to six times more likely to use substances. This ‘self-medication’ can be understood as a way of coping with and managing the impact of trauma.

While every woman’s experience of family violence is unique, for many, the perpetrator’s abuse increases in frequency over time, rather than being a one-off incident.

Family violence often starts with an intimate partner’s apparent love transforming into family violence through use of controlling and intimidating behaviour. Over time, the perpetrator will increasingly isolate the woman from friends and family.

A perpetrator’s use of physical or sexual violence may not occur until the relationship is well established, or it may not occur at all. The perpetrator’s abusive, violent, threatening and controlling behaviours create an environment of fear and constant anxiety in their home and relationship where women and children should feel safe and secure.

Recognising common perpetrator presentations and narratives

Men’s use of violence against a female intimate partner is the most common and pervasive form of violence against women.[79]

Key statistics:

  • Men perpetrate 90% of all violent crime in Australia.[80]
  • Of the 2.2 million women who have experienced male intimate partner violence since the age of 15, 1.8million experienced physical violence and 0.9 million experienced sexual violence.[81]
  • Nearly 1 million women had experienced multiple incidents of physical violence by the same man.[82]
  • Women with a disability were more likely to experience multiple incidents of violence by a male perpetrator.[83]

Many men minimise their use of violence or abuse and seek ways to justify or avoid responsibility for their actions and their impacts.

In early conversations, men who use violence will describe the family violence as a ‘one-off incident’, related to being tired, stressed or pressured. This may shift over time to narratives that disclose patterns of violent and coercive behaviour.

This change may occur in response to managing or dismissing an internal narrative that they are inherently bad or problematic, which can relieve or minimise feelings of shame, guilt or taking responsibility for their behaviour.

Perpetrators rarely disclose physical or sexual violence in their interactions with the service or justice systems. It is more likely they will present a story about their life, relationship or family, or a specific and sometimes repetitive negative narrative about their current or former partner.

This can often take the form of criticisms and judgements of their partner, which may be subtle or overt.

Examples include:

  • the lack of cleanliness or orderliness within the family home
  • the use of finances, which the perpetrator may feel justified to direct due to their ‘breadwinner’ status
  • complaining about or indicating non-support of their partner’s decisions or goals
  • taking sides with those their partner might be in conflict with, for example, other family members
  • always pointing out their partner’s shortcomings or failings
  • complaining about their partner not understanding their position and the stresses they are under – from work, family life, finances or friends – nor supporting their coping mechanisms, such as excessive alcohol use.

During your engagement with men, you should develop a picture of the victim survivor’s identity.

In particular, take note of perceived ‘vulnerabilities’ the perpetrator may exploit to create isolation or control.

Some men, particularly those who have had multiple relationships where they have used violent and controlling behaviours, exhibit a pattern of choosing intimate relationships with partners they perceive to be ‘vulnerable’. In these situations, power dynamics are commonly exploited for control and domination, for example:

  • non-Aboriginal men towards Aboriginal women
  • Australian citizens towards non-visa holders
  • able-bodied men to women with disability.

Service access and engagement barriers for perpetrators

The lack of help-seeking among men is a serious issue in the Victorian community.

Men’s help-seeking for emotional distress is consistently lower than that of women. This directly contributes to mental illness and maladaptive coping.

For example, men are almost three times as likely as women to have a substance abuse disorder[84] and are at greater risk of suicide.[85]

These issues can be linked to gender socialisation and gendered values associated with masculinity, such as stoicism and invulnerability.[86]

Research has explored the extent to which constructs of masculinity are either protective buffers or risk factors to men’s health. It finds that conformity to masculine norms are risks to men’s overall health outcomes, principally due to less help-seeking and negative attitudes towards psychological treatment.[87]

Although initial presentation to services is an important indicator, help-seeking should be understood as broader than the act of asking for help or seeking out a service.

Once a man has entered a service or begun a course of treatment, masculine norms related to self-sufficiency may interfere with treatment processes and lead to deficits in the therapeutic alliance.[88]

Fundamentally, service users engaging in services must believe that they cannot fix their problem alone. For men who hold ideals of invulnerability, the treatment process poses very particular challenges and threats to identity and self-concept.

Men who use or are at risk of using family violence are often able to identify a need for early intervention before their behaviour reaches the point of police and court-based intervention.[89]

However, this does not always translate to help-seeking, with a common barrier shown to be a lack of knowledge about the specific points, places, and contexts in which opportunities to engage with help might exist.

A proportion of men are willing to access professional help, but the ways that such help is presented to them is of particular importance.

12.1.2 Family violence against parents/carers (usually mothers/women) [90]

Perpetrators’ use of family violence impacts on non-violent parents who are usually women, other caregivers, kin or guardians.[91][92]

Perpetrators often use various harmful tactics to deliberately undermine, manipulate and damage the mother/carer–child relationship.

This may be based on social norms and gender stereotypes about women as primary carers who are responsible for children’s health, wellbeing and development.

This will be affected further if the perpetrator has control over financial resources required for parenting.

Professionals need to be aware of these tactics to avoid making judgements about women’s parenting.

The way a woman may resist the violence can be misinterpreted by professionals and others as ‘poor parenting’.

Tactics perpetrators use to damage the mother–child relationship can include:

  • threatening to use the family law and child protection system to attack and undermine the mother–child bond
  • creating an environment of instability and harsh discipline in the home
  • conditioning children to misinterpret their use of coercive and controlling tactics and its impact on the family in a way that leads children to blame their mother, minimise the abuse and distance themselves from her (this is sometimes called ‘maternal alienation’)
  • actively belittling women in front of their children through emotional abuse, name-calling, intimidation and humiliation (such as expressing sexual jealousy)
  • isolating women from their friends and family and preventing them from accessing services to support their parenting.

Impacts of perpetrator behaviours

These perpetrator tactics have significant emotional, social, health and financial impacts on women and their mothering, causing women to lose confidence in their parenting; and affecting their ability to be as engaged with their children as they want to be.

The experience of family violence is exhausting, distressing and isolating. As a result, women may be less attuned to their children’s needs.

The perpetrator’s tactics of coercion and control may affect a woman’s ability to parent in a number of ways.

Several studies have found that perpetrators’ use of family violence results in women having a reduced sense of control over their parenting.

This is often made worse because of a perpetrator’s control of financial and material resources, leaving women with few resources to look after their children, such as paying for nutritious food or school excursions.

In this environment, the woman may find it difficult to be an available, energetic, patient parent, to focus attention on her children’s needs, and to keep track of all the various tasks that parenting requires.

Also, if a woman’s parenting is being heavily criticised by her partner, she may lose confidence and develop an indecisive parenting style.

She may also overcompensate for the perpetrator’s abusive or controlling behaviour towards children by not creating or maintaining healthy boundaries for them.

The constant stress and pressure experienced by women who are struggling to care for and protect their children while being targets of violence may manifest as depression, anxiety or substance abuse. This can further affect their parenting and relationships with their children.

Children experiencing family violence may also display behavioural issues and have complex emotional needs that present further parenting challenges. Sometimes this results in further criticism of her parenting by the perpetrator, professionals or others.

Identifying and responding to situations where these behaviours present as adolescent family violence is described in the victim survivor–focused MARAM Practice Guides.

Practice considerations

Practice considerations for responding to parent/carers experiencing family violence include, but are not limited to the following:

Increased risk of harm

  • The perpetrator’s violence often escalates when the woman/partner is planning to leave or has left the relationship, with an increased risk of assault, stalking and murder for both women and their children.
  • Many family violence homicides occur during the separation period.

Decreased availability to children

  • The perpetrator is jealous of her time/attention given to her children.
  • The perpetrator interrupts breast-feeding, meal-time, story-time, sleeping routines.
  • The perpetrator actively draws her attention to him when her attention is being given to the children.
  • The perpetrator expects her to do all the care of children and household tasks without assistance from him.

Financial pressures

  • The perpetrator withholds money and other resources.
  • Loans and other debts or credit contracts may be taken out in her name.
  • She may have to leave her job if she needs to be relocated for safety.
  • This affects children because of the lack of material resources to support them.

Conflicting concerns and priorities

  • Not wanting to disrupt her children’s lives, education, and links to family and community.
  • Believing it is in her children’s best interests to be close to their father.
  • Believing she is protecting her children from the violence by ‘hiding’ it from them.
  • Continuing to care for her partner and hoping he will change (many women do not want to leave the relationship – they just want the violence to stop).
  • For some Aboriginal women, the fear of risking their connections to extended kinship and family networks and to land or country.
  • For some women with disabilities, reliance on, or the fear of losing a family member from whom they receive disability support.
  • For some immigrant and refugee women, the fear of losing their visa status or residency entitlements.
  • Wanting to avoid the stigma associated with being a single parent.

Social isolation and its effects

  • The perpetrator prevents her from leaving the house, engaging socially or with family, or accessing support to parent.
  • Feelings of shame and guilt about the violence and its impacts on her children, or believing it is her fault.
  • Fear of being isolated or ostracised by her community or culture.
  • Fear of being judged by others, particularly about her parenting.
  • Difficulty making decisions because she has been cut off from friends and family, is exhausted, and/or lacks confidence in her own judgement.

Barriers to accessing the system

  • The perpetrator attends all appointments with her or does not allow her to access services.
  • Women experiencing family violence may not know there are support services that can help them.
  • Women may not know about the kinds of support available to them; they may feel that services will not be able to help with their situation.
  • Women may be concerned that services or professionals will judge their parenting negatively.
  • Women may not have access to money and may not know where financial support is available.
  • A lack of safe, accessible and affordable housing means women may have limited options or may not be aware of their available options.

Recognising common perpetrator presentations and narratives

Family violence often commences or increases in frequency and severity during pregnancy. At this time, perpetrators can feel that their position or role in their partner’s life is threatened and that their partner is emotionally detaching from them.

They may also feel fearful of decreased connection and/or intimacy and create unhelpful thoughts about rejection.

Lack of intimacy and emotional connection, including during sex, can feel threatening to some men and the loss of this can leave them feeling abandoned. Increased controlling behaviours can commence or escalate quickly at this time.

Some men will openly disclose deep resentment about their partner, stemming from the time of pregnancy. They may express this with statements like: ‘she’s been cold’, or ‘everything changed when she got pregnant’.

Following the birth of a child, men may disclose feeling that they are not ‘needed’ or are ‘superfluous’ to the emotional sphere in the family home.

They may feel that their ‘expectations’ or feeling of entitlement to sexual connection and intimacy are no longer being met by their partner.

Perpetrators often take the role of parental expert, pointing out the other caregiver’s shortcomings. They may present these narratives through criticism, including:

  • how the mother or other caregiver is failing the children and them in their parenting
  • blaming the mother/caregiver’s parents for their partner’s parenting approaches and learned skills
  • dismissing the other caregiver’s parenting and ridiculing them in front of the children or others
  • presenting as the expert in a very logical way in public that further humiliates the other caregiver, including making complaints to schools and child protection
  • focusing on children’s medications and health issues and the perceived inability of the mother or other caregiver to manage the issue
  • removing or reducing the mother’s ability to breastfeed by destroying stored breast milk or forced weaning
  • disappointment or anger at the lack of physical intimacy since having children or increased pressure for sexual intercourse
  • blaming adolescent children’s challenging behaviours on the mother/other caregiver, claiming they are responsible for ‘not bringing the children up in the right way’ and being ‘too soft on them’, and that this is the reason for current behaviour.

Service access and engagement barriers for perpetrators

People using family violence can often feel resentful towards their partner or other caregiver if pushed to engage with services.

These narratives serve to block the process of responsibility-taking, inviting collusion from professionals.

Men’s Behaviour Change Program participants have been found to hold varied attitudes towards their current or former partner, ranging from wanting to restore their relationships to verbalising significant anger and resentment.[93]

People using family violence have varied levels of motivation to take steps towards safety and change for the benefit of their partner or other caregiver. For professionals who have a role to work with parents who use violence, the focus of intervention is creating a safe and appropriate co-parenting relationship, for the promotion of children’s safety and wellbeing.

Acknowledging pregnancy and new father/parenthood is a useful opportunity for the person using violence to discuss how they are feeling, thinking or responding to their new situation, and for professionals to hear the narrative they are constructing about their partner and about themselves in this new role.

12.1.3 Family violence against children and young people

Children are victim survivors of family violence in their own right, whether they are directly targeted by a perpetrator, or they are exposed to or witness violence or its impacts on parent/carer and/or other family members.

Exposure to family violence is a significant risk factor that impedes the development, safety and wellbeing (including education) of children and young people.

Children and young people do not have to be physically present during violence to be negatively affected by it, or to be considered victim survivors.

Exposure to violence can include:

  • hearing violence
  • being aware of violence or its impacts
  • being used or blamed as a trigger for family violence
  • seeing or experiencing the consequences of family violence, including impacts on availability of the primary caregiver and on the parent–child relationship.

Essentially, where a child is part of a family in which a perpetrator is using family violence, they must be considered a victim survivor of that violence in their own right, even if they are physically removed from the situation (such as staying with friends or another family member).

It is important to note that children have historically not been understood as victim survivors in their own right, and their specific wellbeing and safety needs have not been adequately identified or addressed.

For example, a disciplinary approach may be taken by professionals to children or young people displaying challenging behaviours, without considering that this behaviour may be the result of exposure to family violence or other abuse.

Infants are especially vulnerable due to their reliance on adult caregivers, yet they are least likely to receive a service response.

This has reduced the evidence and data available, and it means outcomes for children are not well understood and therefore only limited specific practice responses have been developed.

Siblings are likely to be affected differently by the experience of family violence, and it is important to understand the different developmental impacts of family violence across the life span.

For example, a toddler may not be able to speak about their experience of family violence but may display cognitive or behavioural changes or issues.

Younger children are also likely to have different risks and needs to an older child or young person, given their stage of cognitive, social and emotional development.

Guidance on observable signs of trauma that may indicate family violence are outlined further in victim survivor–focused Responsibility 2.

In the MARAM Framework, ‘unborn children’ refers to those in-utero during pregnancy, ‘children’ are considered to be those under the age of 18, and ‘young people’ specifically refers to older children, typically adolescents and pre-adolescents 10 years of age and older.

Because children and young people are dependent on adults, and as they are still developing physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially, they are especially vulnerable to the long-term impacts of family violence.

While this section specifically refers to people younger than the age of 18, the characteristics, impacts and barriers discussed in this section may apply to other age groups.

For example, the term ‘young person’ is commonly used to refer to people aged up to 21, or sometimes 25, noting that many young people older than 18 years of age remain in the care of their parents and are not living independently, and that brain development continues at least up until age 25.

There is now a strong evidence base that shows:

  • the effects of physical and emotional violence and abuse experienced by women during pregnancy can affect the unborn child and their brain development at a very early stage
  • negative experiences in the first three years of life have long-lasting effects on brain development, especially where a child’s primary attachments (that is, their relationships with their primary caregivers, usually parents) are undermined or compromised
  • because early childhood attachment, safety and wellbeing provide the foundation for physical, social and emotional development, learning, behaviour and health through school years and into adult life, trauma during this period can have significant lifelong effects. For example, later in life, they are more likely to abuse substances, be involved in crime, lack skills in maintaining respectful relationships with others including partners, and have poor parenting practices
  • multiple negative and traumatic experiences can have a compounding effect where the impact of each trauma is multiplied, which is sometimes referred to as ‘cumulative harm’
  • young people who experience family violence (or other forms of abuse) have a higher risk of either experiencing further violence in their future relationships, or perpetrating violence themselves.

Impacts of perpetrator behaviour and use of family violence on children’s familial relationships

The attachment of children and young people to parents and caregivers is key to their development, safety and wellbeing, and can be significantly impaired by family violence.

The relationship between a caregiver, who is a victim survivor, and their child is often affected by the perpetrator’s pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour.

For example:

  • children might feel unable to trust that their mother will protect them, particularly as perpetrators often undermine her parenting or manipulate the children’s perception of their mother. This may be compounded if the impact of the violence on children has not yet been acknowledged
  • women may believe they are protecting their children from violence by ‘hiding’ it from them. Conversely, older children and young people may also try to hide these impacts from their mother, seeking to protect her from further distress
  • professionals may interpret children’s behaviour as ‘difficult’ or ‘defiant’ without realising that children and young people are experiencing significant psychological, emotional and behavioural consequences of family violence, including anger, fear, trauma, sadness, shame, guilt, confusion, helplessness and despair. Additionally, older children and young people may withhold information from professionals because of a sense of shame or guilt
  • children and young people may also feel a sense of loyalty towards the perpetrator, especially when the perpetrator is their father, which can create significant stress and tension for them. Sometimes perpetrators can appear caring and loving to their children, while manipulating the children’s attitudes towards their mother, or may be alternately loving and abusive to the children.

As children and young people’s emotional maturity is still developing, they may be less equipped to understand and cope with the complexity of a situation where one parent is using violence against another (or against the child themselves). This poor modelling can affect their understanding of healthy and unhealthy relationships.

This can contribute to an intergenerational cycle of violence, with children and young people who have experienced abuse or violence at higher risk of experiencing victimisation (women) and perpetration (men) in their own intimate relationships.[94]

Trauma-informed approaches to children experiencing family violence

Where young people have experienced family violence, abuse and/or neglect, it is important to use a trauma-informed approach that is appropriate to their age and developmental stage.

This means considering how past experiences may affect their behaviour and wellbeing, and what kind of support is required to assist them effectively. Indicators of trauma for children and young people are outlined in victim survivor–focused MARAM Practice Guide for Responsibility 2.

Young people who use violence in the home or with an intimate partner must be provided with responses that prioritise the safety of victim survivors and ensure the young person takes responsibility for their harmful behaviours, while providing developmentally appropriate wellbeing supports to that young person.

Young people using violence may also be victim survivors at the same time.

Family violence is a key cause of stress in children and young people and can significantly disrupt healthy brain and personality development.

Recent evidence indicates that ongoing exposure to traumatic events as a child, such as witnessing or being the victim of family violence, results in chronic overactivity of the body’s stress response and changes to the brain’s architecture.

This can lead to behaviours such as hypervigilance and hyperactivity, affecting them throughout their lives. In serious cases, this can lead to deficits in learning, behaviour and physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Service access and engagement barriers for victim survivors

  • Children and young people are often not considered to be victim survivors in their own right, instead being considered primarily or solely through their relationship to an adult victim survivor, leading to inappropriate or inadequate responses.
  • Children and young people are often not directly engaged by services, due to professionals lacking confidence, or holding a view that children’s safety and wellbeing is not directly their responsibility (for example, the responsibility of the parents, or another service such as child protection).
  • Responses to children and young people who use violence in the home may not be developed to respond to their specific and potentially ongoing therapeutic needs.
  • Children and young people may continue to experience significant impacts of family violence after the violence has ended, because they often must continue to navigate a relationship with the perpetrating parent in shared custody arrangements.
  • Often the parents’ desire for contact with their children — or the child’s expressed wishes to see their father, for example — are prioritised by families and courts over the safety of the child, even where there are intervention orders in place. This decision may assume that continued contact with their father is beneficial for the child .[95]
  • Those under the age of 18 years face particular difficulties in accessing services in their own right and are more or less reliant upon an adult parent or guardian’s decision-making.
  • Children and young people may legally have their will and preference overruled by adult consent, even where their response to the family violence differs.
  • Children and young people have limited means to deal with their exposure to violence or express that they are experiencing violence. This may be compounded if they do not understand perpetrator behaviours as being ‘family violence’, especially if this behaviour has been normalised for them.
  • Perpetrators may actively prevent children or young people from accessing services (or prevent their mother from taking them) or threaten or coerce them into not disclosing to professionals.

Practice considerations

When responding to children and young people experiencing family violence, practice considerations include but are not limited to the following:

  • Children and young people must be considered victim survivors in their own right, with their own experiences of family violence. This includes having specific threats, risks, protective factors and risk management approaches. All interventions must be considered for their impacts on every victim survivor, including children and young people.
  • Responses to children and young people should take into account their age and developmental stage, as risk is likely to present quite differently depending on the age and maturity of the child.
  • Where it is safe, appropriate and reasonable, a child or young person should be directly engaged with to ascertain their assessment of their risk, their identification of risk factors and their consideration of risk management strategies.
  • Where it is not safe, appropriate and reasonable to engage directly with a child or young person, services should seek to collaborate with the parent who is not using violence or other professionals who interact with that child (such as schools) to ensure accurate and detailed information about the child or young person’s experience is collected and assessed.
  • The child or young person’s relationships with other family members must be a core consideration of their risk assessment and management plan. This should include prioritising their safety in the context of any relationship with the perpetrator and promoting and supporting positive relationships with other family members, particularly the parent who is a victim survivor.

The wellbeing and safety needs of all children should be considered a core element of any response to family violence, and services should collaborate as appropriate to address these needs.

Recognising common perpetrator presentations and narratives

Men/parents who use family violence often have significant, ongoing parenting roles with children in their care.[96]

In your engagement with parents who use violence, it is important to identify whether there are children in their care, and the nature of the relationship, including contact and parenting arrangements.

While some parents/fathers disengage completely from the family following family violence and separation, there is higher risk associated with those who continue to have relationships with their children, or a strong desire to, despite parenting or intervention orders preventing or limiting this.

This is due to the proximity and opportunity to continue to use violence against children in their care, and/or use the parenting role as a continuation of violence against an adult victim survivor/parent.

When working with fathers/parents who use violence, you should focus the intervention on the expectation of high parenting standards to increase children’s safety and wellbeing.

When working with parents/fathers, you may hear or observe attitudes and narratives that indicate potential risks of them perpetrating family violence, including:

  • a sense of entitlement or self-centred attitudes relating to children/parenting role
  • overcontrolling or harmful parenting behaviours
  • overuse of physical forms of discipline (hitting, smacking)
  • anger demonstrated towards their children
  • holding unrealistic expectations and poor understanding of child development
  • denying any problems in their relationships with their children
  • considering themselves to be good fathers
  • acknowledging ‘mistakes’ in their parenting, often explaining this as a one-off (or minimising, justifying or blame-shifting to the other parent/carer)
  • believing that their use of family violence had little impact on their children
  • strong gender roles and expectations that differ between male and female children
  • negative beliefs or attitudes in the value of non-biological, particularly male, children.

Some men also present as trying to ‘rescue’ their female partners from her single-parenting duties or previously violent relationships.

This may indicate a level of precursor controlling behaviour from entitlement and role as ‘protector’.

For example, a perpetrator may threaten a partner’s capacity or ‘right’ to children.

This may take the form of attacking the mother/parent–child bond, undermining their ability to parent, and by exacerbating fears linked to negative experiences of government service interventions.

This is particularly acute among Aboriginal communities who have experienced current and historic discriminatory government policies removing children from their families and communities.

In working with fathers/parents who use violence, it is important to understand the different behaviours or parenting approaches that are directed towards each child within the family unit.

At times, there will be particularly stark differences between the type of violence or control directed at:

  • biological children versus stepchildren or other children in their care
  • male compared with female children
  • children with identities that are different to one or both parents.[97]

Service access and engagement barriers for perpetrators

The perpetrator’s role as a parent can be a significant motivator for behavioural change.[98]

The Royal Commission noted that ‘for men new parenthood is a time that they may be more open to receiving information and skills development, as well as to considering alternative models of masculinity as they move into a new parental role’.[99]

Engaging and intervening with people who use family violence who are birth parents or have an ongoing parenting role is an important component of promoting children’s safety, wellbeing and development and supporting the non-violent parent to keep children safe.

However, interventions designed for working with parents/fathers may at times be misused by the perpetrator.

This may present as an opportunity to continue using controlling and abusive behaviour, in particular when they attempt to use attendance at a program as ‘proof of their competence as a father/parent’.[100]

Despite this challenge, when services do not proactively engage parents/carers who are using violence, a greater burden and unwarranted focus is placed on non-violent parents/carers and children who are engaging with the service.

This can result in non-violent parents/carers, often mothers, being blamed for ‘failing to protect’ their children and provided inappropriate interventions, rather than holding the parent/carer using violence responsible for exposing children to harm or directly using violence against their children.

If parenting is identified as a potential motivator, you should consider if it is safe, appropriate and reasonable in the circumstances to use this motivator, given the risk level for adult and child victim survivors, and the wellbeing and needs of the child or young person.

You should also be aware if there are system interventions, such as court-ordered parenting arrangements in place or intervention orders preventing contact.

Refer to the perpetrator-focused Responsibilities 3, 4, 7 and 8 for further guidance on using parenting as a motivator for engagement and change.

12.1.4 Family violence against Aboriginal people and communities

Aboriginal definitions of the nature and forms of family violence are broader than those used in the mainstream and reflect that Aboriginal families include extended family, kin and other community members who may not be directly related.

Family violence contributes to overall levels of violence reported by Aboriginal people and the trauma experienced within families and across family and community networks.

The use of family violence is not part of Aboriginal culture. The assumption that family violence is part of Aboriginal culture is an oppressive statement that creates barriers to people accessing services and taking accountability for changing behaviour.

This can also be internalised by young Aboriginal men, who may have grown up experiencing or witnessing family violence.

Since colonisation, Aboriginal people have experienced high levels of family violence, largely perpetrated by non-Aboriginal people against Aboriginal women and children at significantly higher levels than that experienced by non-Aboriginal women.[101]

Aboriginal women are 32 times more likely than other women to be hospitalised and 10 times more likely to die from violent assault.[102] Aboriginal men can also experience family violence.

Higher prevalence of family violence against Aboriginal people, particularly Aboriginal women, is due to a number of factors, many of which relate to the generational impact of colonisation, invasion and dispossession on Aboriginal culture and communities.

Aboriginal people experience multiple and intersecting forms of inequality and discrimination relating to culture, gender identity, sexuality, ability, spirituality and age which can compound barriers to accessing services and increase disengagement with formal supports.

Service access and engagement barriers for victim survivors

There are many barriers to seeking help for Aboriginal people experiencing family violence.

These can include past and recent experiences of systemic, individual and collective racism, judgement, unconscious bias or privilege or a lack of cultural competency from services.

Systemic discrimination in the form of current and historical policies continue to affect Aboriginal people, families and communities. This creates mistrust and uncertainty in what to expect from services and their cultural relevance.

When working with Aboriginal people, families and communities, it is also important to recognise the impact of current and historical forcible child-removal policies, including family separation and disconnection from culture and country.

This presents a barrier for Aboriginal people to engage with or trust mainstream community services, as well as statutory services and justice agencies. It is important to also recognise the ongoing impact of institutionalised abuse and neglect suffered by many removed children that continues to affect Aboriginal people, families and communities.

This is reinforced with experiences of discrimination, oppression and racism within and across the community from the predominantly white dominant culture/community.

You will need to consider what this means in the context of risk and impact to the person experiencing family violence, or the person using violence.

You should also proactively remove barriers by considering and applying the principles outlined in this guide and victim survivor and perpetrator-focused Responsibility 1.

Practice considerations

Practice considerations for responding to family violence used against Aboriginal people include the following:

  • Use a strengths-based, self-determination approach that values the strengths of Aboriginal people and the collective strengths of Aboriginal knowledge, systems and expertise — and refer to and apply the Dhelk Dja principles for addressing family violence.
  • Be aware that the person using family violence or the person experiencing family violence may not be Aboriginal. The majority of family violence against Aboriginal adults and children is perpetrated by non-Aboriginal family members.
  • Family violence against Aboriginal people can include perpetrators denying or disconnecting victim survivors from cultural identity and connection to family, community and culture, including 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. Isolation from community and culture are significant concerns and are highly impactful for Aboriginal people.
  • Aboriginal people may be reluctant to seek help that involves leaving their families and communities, given previous policies of dispossession and removal, including the Stolen Generations, and current high rates of child removal.
  • Aboriginal children are overrepresented in child protection matters, particularly in the context of family violence. Professionals should support parents/carers seeking assistance and acknowledge and respond to fears about child protection and the possibility of children being removed from their care.
  • Aboriginal people may be concerned 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. When assessing risk to Aboriginal people, you should keep in mind the context of violence and potential repercussions from other Aboriginal family members if action is taken.
  • Professionals should support both Aboriginal adults’ and children’s cultural safety when undertaking family violence risk assessment and management. This means recognising inherent rights to family, community, cultural practices and identity, including when working with Aboriginal children with non-Aboriginal parents and family members. Responsibility 1 provides further guidance on cultural safety.
  • Many Aboriginal people may prefer to use Aboriginal services. It is important to provide choice and service options for Aboriginal people experiencing family violence. If a family member is Aboriginal, whether they are a victim survivor or another family member, professionals can offer to connect with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations for family violence support (also refer to victim survivor–focused Responsibilities 4 and 5).

Recognising common presentations and narratives of people using violence

If the person using violence is non-Aboriginal, read this section in conjunction with the previous sections on the gendered drivers of family violence.

White men and men from dominant cultures and positions of power or privilege may seek to collude with professionals to exploit systemic discrimination and bias of systems and professionals against Aboriginal victim survivors.

All people using violence use common narratives including denial, minimisation, blaming the victim survivor for their use of violence, claiming to be the ‘real’ victim and justifying their use of violence.

These narratives may focus on the person’s own experience of family violence or trauma, to minimise or reduce responsibility for their violence against adult and child victim survivors.

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.

People using violence towards Aboriginal victim survivors may seek to prevent them from accessing their family, community or culture for support.

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.

Violence may also be occurring beyond intimate partner relationships, within the broader family or community.

Professionals must consider these extended family relationships and unique dynamics, to identify any other coercive and controlling behaviour.

Stereotypes of Aboriginal women’s use of violence

Some services and professionals may hold biases about Aboriginal women being violent.

In this context, it is important to consider the realities of violent resistance.

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.

Supporting women who use force requires a different risk management approach than responding to predominant aggressors/people who use family violence, due to intersecting structural inequalities, including those based on gender.

This approach must prioritise their risk management as victim survivors of family violence, and it can be supplemented with information on safety planning for self and their families.

Services must be aware that non-Aboriginal men using family violence may be more likely to exploit service stereotypes about Aboriginal women being violent.

By employing this stereotype, they can position themselves as the ‘victim’ (adopt a victim stance) and invite systems to collude with this narrative, leading to a misidentification of the (real) victim survivor.

Non-Aboriginal men who use family violence often use their position of privilege and confidence in using the service system to seek collusion from services and professionals to represent their own position or to further perpetrate systems abuse.

This may exacerbate barriers for Aboriginal victim survivors in receiving services, such as through increased fear of child removal for adult victim survivor parent/carers.

Service access and engagement barriers for perpetrators and people using violence

If working with a non-Aboriginal man using violence against an intimate partner, refer to guidance about service access and engagement barriers in previous sections. These include help-seeking and attitudes and feelings towards victim survivors including parenting responsibilities.

In addition to these barriers to engagement, non-Aboriginal people who use violence towards Aboriginal family and community may present with specific tactics that invite collusion from professionals and exploit their privilege to ‘make invisible’ their own violence.

Where services and professionals recognise these tactics and behaviours, it is important to respond using a balanced approach to keep the person engaged with the service system (refer to Responsibility 3). Identify opportunities to work collaboratively with other professionals to minimise further systems abuse and exploitation.

Aboriginal people who use violence also experience similar service access barriers that Aboriginal victim survivors experience. This is due to systemic inequality, barriers and discriminatory policies, practices and systems.

Aboriginal people using violence also live within the context of historical and current dynamics in which family violence occurs. This includes the impacts of colonisation, loss of culture, trauma accumulated across generations, access to employment, connection to Country and kinship relations, and the historical and current impacts of forced child removal.

Services and professionals must avoid stereotypes and biases related to family violence in Aboriginal communities to prevent additional barriers for Aboriginal people to access services.

Aboriginal-led programs have an essential role to play in modelling healthy, respectful relationships to support Aboriginal men to reconnect to culture and Country, and to maintain and preserve safe and respectful behaviours in their relationships.

Practice considerations for responding to Aboriginal victim survivors will also assist you to engage with an Aboriginal person using violence. Some additional things to consider include the following:

  • Apply Dhelk Dja principles, culturally safe, trauma and violence–informed practices, led by a self-determination approach and empowering individuals and community in all engagement to actively address service access barriers.
  • Focus on safety for self and safety for family and community, being aware of and supporting the need for Aboriginal-led holistic healing and therapeutic services for people who use violence, while holding and promoting accountability from the beginning of engagement.[103]
  • Use a person-centred, ‘person in their context’ approach, to consider the meaning and significance of connections to family, community and culture for the person using family violence. Seek cultural consultation to provide a culturally safe trauma-informed approach.
  • Reflect on the potential consequences of your engagement and actions to the safety and wellbeing of adult and child victim survivors and community.
  • Understand that Aboriginal people may choose to use mainstream services at times, for example to maintain anonymity, and all services must be prepared to provide a culturally responsive and safe response.

12.1.5 Family violence against older people (elder abuse)

Elder abuse is a form of family violence. In the Victorian family violence context, this is defined as any behaviour of a perpetrator as defined in the FVPA where it has occurred within any family or family-like (including unpaid carer) relationship where there is an implication of trust, and which results in harm to an older person.[104] This includes any family violence risk factor that applies to an adult victim survivor from a perpetrator’s behaviour.

There is growing recognition of elder abuse as a form of family violence, and greater attention on how the family violence service system responds to older people. This is enhancing the evidence base of prevalence and best-practice responses.

It is important to recognise that older people are a diverse cohort. All older people can experience family violence.

Most older people live independently and do not require care or support; however, they can still experience violence from adult children and other family members.

Given the prevalence and impact of family violence from adult children, this guidance has a particular focus on older people who do require care and support – as well as where an adult child is themselves in a period of transition and is relying on an older person for care and support.

As with all family violence, some forms of abuse may constitute criminal acts, such as financial[105] , physical, sexual abuse and neglect.[106]

An adult child who misappropriates their parent's finances may have committed a crime such as theft if they have not sought permission to take the funds and have no intention of returning them.

Elder abuse may be the continued experience of family violence from intimate partners which may have occurred over a number of years. It may have commenced or escalated more recently. For older people experiencing intimate partner violence, the perpetrator profile is generally the same as if they were a younger person experiencing intimate partner violence.

The use of power and control by a perpetrator of elder abuse is similar to that used by perpetrators of intimate partner violence. However, some forms of elder abuse can have a different perpetrator profile.

Older people can also experience forms of elder abuse from other family members, such as intergenerational abuse (for example, from an adult child to parent/s or grandchild/ren to grandparent/s).

Women remain over-represented as victim survivors of elder abuse generally, however, more men experience abuse as an older person than in other contexts. The perpetrator profile can also differ, where for example, women are more likely to be perpetrators in situations of intergenerational abuse than in other contexts.

In addition to gender, the drivers of elder abuse can also include ageism. When not perpetrated by an intimate partner or carer of the person experiencing family violence, elder abuse is most commonly recognised as perpetrated by adult children.

It commonly manifests as financial abuse from adult children or other family members arising from ageist attitudes of entitlement to a parent or relative’s assets.[107]

Older people are recognised as an at-risk age group as they may be in a period of transition, which can increase dependence on family/carers.

This transition may create real and/or perceived ‘vulnerabilities’ that are targeted by perpetrators of elder abuse. This may also lead to discrimination from services or by society at large due to broader ageist attitudes.

Perceived vulnerabilities can include:

  • recent loss of a spouse
  • declining or diminished mental capacity or physical health from age-related diseases
  • becoming marginalised and devalued due to ageism
  • social and community connections diminishing over time, leading to isolation which increases susceptibility to mistreatment and abuse
  • loss of economic power, or the accumulation of substantial assets
  • language or financial literacy barriers reducing access to information, services and resources
  • dependence on others
  • poor or limited housing options.

Dependence is not a defining characteristic of family violence. In some situations, the older person may be independent but is supporting the person using family violence, particularly in providing housing or financial support.

For example, adult children with a history of perpetration or who are currently using family violence towards their partner or another family member, may return home and perpetrate violence against their parents.

Adult children may be receiving support from their parents in relation to use of alcohol and drugs, gambling and/or criminal activity.

Older people may feel obligated to support their children in these situations.

Service access and engagement barriers for victim survivors

Older people sometimes want to protect their family relationships and will put the needs of other family members before their own.

They may be more likely to seek alternatives to legal pathways when reaching out for assistance, as they simply want the perpetrator’s behaviour to stop.

Older people may try to avoid any further justice or legal consequences for the perpetrator in the hope of preserving the relationship, reducing further abuse or not wanting the perpetrator to ‘get into trouble’ from police and justice interventions.

How older people are considered within family and community relationships can be deeply bound to culture or faith.

Violence against older people must be informed by a recognition and understanding of their family structure, cultural or faith background.

There may also be gendered and normative expectations of women to remain in abusive relationships, or that family violence matters should be dealt with privately or within the family.

Some older people may believe abusive behaviour is a normal part of relationships or of ageing or hold fears that if an abusive caregiver is removed, they will lose access to care, or will face an unchosen change in living circumstances.

Violence against older Aboriginal people must be informed by an understanding of the context of Aboriginal family violence. This includes their many-layered experiences, the importance of familial and community roles that Aboriginal people and Elders hold, and the relationships of Aboriginal families and communities. You can work collaboratively with other services with expertise in this area to improve your understanding and response, if needed.

Other family members may also notice controlling or abusive behaviours but may feel unclear about who to turn to for support. They may also not want to exacerbate family tensions or other relationship issues.

This may signify unconscious biases and ageism, leading to a perception that elder abuse warrants less attention or need for intervention than equivalent forms of family violence occurring in other relationships and community contexts. This can be particularly true for intimate partner violence between older people. Family members or services may have an assumption that:

  • intimate partner violence does not exist in older relationships
  • violence from an older intimate partner is less severe than that perpetrated by younger intimate partners
  • that ageing limits a person’s sexual expression or the likelihood of sexual abuse.[108]

These incorrect assumptions can be blind spots that affect the way services provide access, and assess and respond to risk, as professionals may not recognise behaviour as controlling or abusive.

Seek secondary consultation with specialist services to provide safe responses to older people, including Aboriginal Elders or older people from diverse communities, and refer to victim survivor–focused Responsibilities 5 and 6.

Specific practice considerations relating to all MARAM Framework risk factors for older people are outlined in victim survivor–focused Responsibility 7.

Practice considerations

Practice considerations for responding to older people experiencing family violence (elder abuse) include, but are not limited, to the following:

  • Be aware of ageism from services and your own potential for unconscious bias and ageism. This can include not recognising their experience as family violence or undermining the person’s agency, such as by not engaging with them directly but instead engaging and potentially colluding with adult children who might be perpetrators.
  • Be careful not to assume someone is incompetent or has cognitive disability (including dementia) based on how they present or communicate, particularly as they may be experiencing trauma or grief or depression. Capacity and competence should always be presumed unless the engagement, information gathering and secondary consultation suggests this is affected. Key principles and obligations under the Medical Treatment Planning and Decisions Act 2016 (Vic) and Guardianship and Administration Act 2019 (Vic) should guide response to older people with a disability or whose cognitive capacity is affected. These include:
    • A person should be presumed to have capacity unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise.
    • Capacity can fluctuate — a person may have decision-making capacity for some decisions and not others, and this may be temporary or permanent.
    • A person has decision-making capacity if appropriate supports and adjustments can overcome any capacity issues.
    • Professionals should not make assumptions based on the person’s appearance or the perceived merits of decisions they make.[109]
  • For older people with cognitive disability, capability to engage with services, including self-assessed levels of risk may be affected. Ensure appropriate supports and adjustments are provided for older people with disabilities or whose cognition is affected to address any issues with capacity.[110] This may include communication supports (for example, speech pathologists), formal or informal advocacy, and different communication strategies (written, Easy English, and verbal reiteration).
  • Be careful not to assume someone is incompetent or has dementia based on how they present when they may be experiencing trauma, such as how this is expressed as grief.
  • There are few specialist services working with older people experiencing family violence. Universal services might not be aware of relevant services and how to connect service users to them. Professionals can connect and collaborate with different services in relation to issues arising from family violence, such as financial and legal services to put in place financial counselling, enduring powers of attorney, wills and advance care directives.
  • Victoria Police can conduct welfare checks at the request of service providers. They can also provide support relating to financial abuse.

Recognising common perpetrator presentations and narratives

Any behaviour that is recognised as a family violence risk factor can be perpetrated against an older person.

The most commonly identified and visible form of elder abuse is the perpetration of financial abuse.

This may stem from the perpetrator’s ageist beliefs or attitudes (linked to the devaluing of older people in society). The perpetrator may also have a self-perceived entitlement to the older person’s resources, placing their own needs or desires above the needs of the older person.

Perpetrators often use psychological or emotional abuse to enact the financial abuse.

Some perpetrators use family violence in the form of neglect, such as intentional acts or omissions of care from family members who are responsible for care, including under guardianship arrangements.

People who perpetrate elder abuse may exhibit some of the following behaviours or narratives:

  • Perpetrators may exploit or exacerbate actual or perceived ‘vulnerabilities’ to isolate and control the older person. This may include an adult child perpetrator leveraging a stereotype about older women and their capacity to manage finances in order to take control of decision-making, which is presented as ‘helping out’.
  • Perpetrators may use community perceptions about their own virtue as a ‘carer’, their competence and worthiness, to present themselves to services as trustworthy, and to undermine a victim survivor’s confidence. They may undermine the victim survivor’s efforts to access system supports, such as health and aged care services, or not support or prevent them from independently accessing services. Sometimes, a perpetrator will purport to be a carer (and claim associated payments and/or accommodation) but not undertake any caring responsibilities.
  • People who have caring responsibilities may seek to justify or attribute their use of family violence to ‘carer stress’, feeling that their caring work means they are entitled to additional control over the person they are caring for.[111] They may also seek to justify the violence because of perceptions of ‘sacrifice’ due to taking on caring responsibilities. Some people who use justifications of ‘carer stress’ may also resent their responsibilities and the older person, which can influence their self-perceptions about their use of violence (minimising their violence or blaming the person they are caring for). Ageism and perceptions about providing care and support for older people can contribute to the perception that certain behaviours are 'helpful' or inherent to the caring role, which in other contexts would be considered 'controlling'.
  • A perpetrator might exploit stereotypes of older people being less competent than younger people and less able to make decisions for themselves as a way to justify controlling an older person’s access to communication, mobility or medical needs.
  • A perpetrator may undermine the victim survivor’s cognitive functioning and play upon community perceptions of perceived vulnerability to justify control.
  • A perpetrator may exclude the victim survivor from being present in hearings or major decisions about their lives by saying ‘they would be upset’ if they were involved.

Service access and engagement barriers for perpetrators

Perpetrators of elder abuse who are adult children or carers will have varying types of contact or engagement with the service system overall. They present with different circumstances and psychosocial needs – which may relate to their use of family violence.

These issues can introduce barriers to help-seeking or access to services that would enhance their motivation or capacity for behaviour change.

This may include circumstances and psychosocial needs of the perpetrator, including:

  • mental health or wellbeing
  • drug and alcohol use
  • financial instability and gambling
  • unemployment
  • housing instability
  • social isolation.

Points of contact might be through the health advocacy service supporting the older person victim survivor. These might include general practitioners, nurses and other health professionals, NDIS or other disability supports, pharmacists, social clubs, and banking and financial institutions.

Older people who use family violence may experience difficulties in accessing and maintaining engagement with services due to feelings of shame or other health issues, for example, dementia and other behavioural or cognitive issues, and mobility restrictions.

Practice considerations enabling access for older people who are experiencing violence should be considered to enable access to services for older people who are using violence.

In addition to above engagement of adult children and carers, refer to the practice considerations for responding to older people experiencing family violence (elder abuse), as to how they may also assist you with engaging an older person using violence.

12.1.6 Family violence against people from culturally, linguistically and faith-diverse communities

There are some commonly experienced risk factors for people from culturally and linguistically diverse and faith communities.

These can include:

  • perpetrators' use of threats relating to immigration, visa status and sponsorship as forms of isolation, controlling behaviours and forced dependence on the perpetrator. This can occur across all relationships and identities. For people from LGBTIQ communities, this may include perpetrators exploiting fears about persecution, discrimination or rejection from family for the victim survivor if they were forced to return to their country of origin. A person’s culture and immigration status might also affect their experiences of family violence and willingness to disclose the violence
  • family networks supporting the perpetrator's use of violence or feeling it is justified. This might include those family networks also perpetrating violence towards the victim survivor (multiple or proxy perpetrators) or socially isolating them from community and culture for choosing to address it
  • service access barriers relating to a lack of services’ understanding of the complexities of family violence for particular communities and faiths
  • victim survivors sympathising with perpetrators because of difficulties they are facing, such as experiences of racism.

Service access and engagement barriers for victim survivors

People from culturally, linguistically and faith-diverse communities can experience systemic barriers to seeking support including those relating to the following:

  • speaking no or limited English or having limited access to interpreters (which may be more pronounced in rural and regional areas)
  • limited access to information about family violence and support services, particularly in their preferred language
  • limited information about Australian laws and services
  • reservations about engaging with authorities or services due to past experiences or current fears and misconceptions. You can address these fears by providing support to understand why questions are being asked about their personal life and about their children’s safety, stability and development. You should spend time explaining how the system works in ways that are relevant to the person
  • lack of cultural awareness and safety from service providers.

Practice considerations

Practice considerations for responding to people experiencing family violence from diverse cultural, linguistic or faith backgrounds, including people from migrant or refugee backgrounds, include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Consider the cultural context of the person or family and how this may affect their experience of family violence. For example, the person may:
    • face cultural stigma, taboos and social and community pressures
    • be isolated from social or family networks as a result of family violence, particularly where they are newly arrived migrants, and may be dependent on partners or family members for financial support and transport
    • have cultural or faith-based beliefs that discourage separation or divorce
    • hold parenting norms and practices that are influenced by many factors, including culture and faith-based beliefs.
  • Consider the effects of recent experiences of racism and discrimination in Australia (this extends to their children and other family members).
  • Consider experiences of significant trauma prior to migrating to Australia, particularly where they are from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds.
  • Be aware of how visa or immigration status can impact on access to services. For example, they may be living in Australia on a temporary or provisional visa and fear the implications of visas being cancelled if family violence is disclosed. This fear can also extend to access to their children, where their children are Australian citizens, or where the perpetrator makes threats to take the children overseas. They may also fear facing punishment or being killed if they return to their country of origin. Perpetrators may exploit these fears.
  • Be aware of fears about engaging the legal system or police. This may be due to lack of trust based on experience in their country of origin (if applicable), or because they have experienced or heard about others in their community experiencing racism from Australian police or legal systems. Some may also have particular fears and misconceptions about engaging with legal systems in Australia relating to residency and citizenship status.

Recognising common perpetrator presentations and narratives

While there are common narratives and presentations across all cohorts of people who use family violence, some nuances around beliefs and attitudes exist for people who use family violence from culturally, linguistically and faith-diverse communities.

These can relate to gender and family roles, relationships to extended family, responsibility for financial control and entitlement, dowry entitlement, parenting, visa access and stability, and age-related expectations.

Culture or religion should never be accepted as justifications for a person’s violence towards family members.

Perpetrators can feel protected by the community and community leaders, including at times where they feel their beliefs or attitudes about gender and family roles and acceptable behaviours are shared or colluded with, or pressure is placed on victim survivors not to report violence.

Service access and engagement barriers for perpetrators

When working with people who use family violence from culturally, linguistically and faith-diverse communities, you should seek to understand the varying and diverse cultural and spiritual dynamics in which family violence occurs.

Factors that may compound a perpetrator’s risk of using violence include:

  • beliefs and expectations around family, family life and roles
  • dynamics of perpetration by multiple family members, including extended family and in-laws in Australia or overseas
  • the experiences of trauma associated with migration and asylum seeking
  • experiences of racism, social isolation and distress related to immigration
  • lack of access to formal and structural supports due to lack of culturally response services and visa status.

Some people experience increased barriers to accessing support around the use of violence.

As for all people who use family violence, the experience of shame impairs decisions for help-seeking, particularly from leaders within their own community.

Consider ways to enable access to services for victim survivors from culturally, linguistically and faith-diverse communities. Enabling service access by reducing barriers and structural inequality is also essential when working with people using violence from the community.

If working with a person using violence who is not from a culturally, linguistically or faith-diverse community, refer to guidance about service access barriers, as appropriate to the person’s identity, throughout this section.

People using violence who are from white, dominant culture backgrounds may present with specific tactics that invite collusion from professionals and exploit their privilege to ‘make invisible’ their own violence.

Where you recognise these tactics and behaviours, it is important to respond using a balanced approach to keep the person engaged with the service system (refer to perpetrator-focused Responsibility 3).

Identify opportunities to work collaboratively with other professionals to minimise further systems abuse and exploitation.

12.1.7 Family violence in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) communities

The majority of experiences of family violence among LGBTIQ communities mirror those within heterosexual and cisgendered relationships.

The impact of biphobia, homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism and heteronormativity on the experience and response to intimate partner violence in LGBTIQ relationships is pronounced.[112]

Heteronormativity is the internalisation of heterosexism at the individual, cultural and institutional level, as well as expectations about gender and sexuality, and their presentation in LGBTIQ relationships.

These forms of discrimination can also be used by LGBTIQ people to exercise power and control in their relationships.

Additionally, some LGBTIQ people may not recognise their experience as family violence. This is because it is primarily recognised across the community as experienced by cisgender women and children from cisgender men, and LGBTIQ people’s experiences fall outside of this traditionally recognised power dynamic.

While awareness of family violence in LGBTIQ relationships and communities is mixed, evidence suggests higher identification and self-reporting when presented with specific forms of violence experienced from an intimate partner or a family member rather than in general terms.[113]

A 2018 Our Watch literature review found that:[114]

  • rates of intimate partner violence (IPV) against LGBTIQ people are as high as the rates experienced by cisgender women in intimate heterosexual relationships. However, rates of IPV may be higher for bisexual, transgender and gender-diverse people
  • lesbians are more likely than gay men to report having been in an abusive relationship
  • it is unknown how rates of IPV and/or family violence against people with intersex variations compare due to a lack of research
  • violence from other family members may also be higher. Some examples are:
  • young people subject to homo/bi/transphobia being kicked out of the home after coming out about their sexuality or gender identity
  • gender diverse LGBTIQ people who rely on others for care and support because of age or disability having their means of gender affirmation denied, such as through the withholding of hormones by their children
  • older, dependent transgender people being denied access to hormone treatment by their children.

The 2020 Private Lives 3 survey further indicates that, among participants:[115]

  • more than 4 in 10 people identified ever being in an intimate relationship where they felt they were abused in some way, with emotional abuse, verbal abuse, physical violence and sexual assault commonly reported experiences
  • almost 4 in 10 people identified ever feeling abused by a family member (either birth or chosen family), with verbal abuse, LGBTIQ-related abuse, emotional abuse and physical violence commonly reported experiences
  • non-binary participants and trans men experienced higher rates of intimate partner violence and violence from a family member than cisgender women, cisgender men and trans women
  • more than half reported the perpetrator of intimate partner violence to be ‘cisgender man’, and in reports of family violence almost three-quarters identified the perpetrator as ‘parent’
  • while only 1 in 10 people reported LGBTIQ-related abuse from an intimate partner (e.g., threatening to ‘out’ the victim survivor, withholding hormones or medication), experiences of violence from family members was reported by survey participants as significantly linked to sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression or intersex variation/s.

There are a number of family violence risk behaviours that are unique to intimate partner violence in LGBTIQ relationships. These include:

  • threats to out, or actual outing of the partner, when they have not disclosed their sexuality, gender, intersex or HIV status, as a method of control
  • threats to a partner’s capacity or right to children. This may be undermining or exacerbating fears about the legal status of children in same-gender relationships
  • threats to limit or refuse a relationship with their children if they leave the relationship, when the other person is a non-birth or non-biological parent
  • isolating the partner from contact with the LGBTIQ community and organisations, making it difficult for the abused partner to seek help, including using the victim’s intersex status, sexuality, transgender, gender expression or HIV status to threaten, undermine or isolate them from their family or community
  • abusive and undermining gendering or misgendering in relationships, such as those relating to binaries of masculinity/femininity ‘butch’/’femme’
  • exploiting deep feelings of unworthiness or shame the victim survivor might hold about being ‘deserving’ of the violence linked to experiences of discrimination, violence, and internalised biphobia, homophobia and transphobia
  • controlling their partner’s access to health treatments and medications (such as access to hormone therapy for people transitioning to affirm their gender identity)
  • if the perpetrator has a chronic illness, using guilt to manipulate or keep the partner in the relationship; threatening to, or actually infecting their partner where the illness is one that can be transmitted; deliberately placing their partner of significant risk by not taking reasonable precautions to prevent transmission
  • using technology to facilitate sexual violence and harassment.

Service access and engagement barriers for victim survivors

LGBTIQ people may mistrust the service system due to previous experiences of historical institutional or interpersonal abuse, discrimination or uneducated responses.

There are a range of ways barriers to access and engagement present, including:

  • avoiding services or only seeking them out during times of crisis for fear of further stigmatisation
  • not reporting violence to police
  • preferring to access LGBTIQ services rather than mainstream services
  • seeking support through the community rather than the service system
  • fear of revealing sexual orientation, intersex status, sex or gender identity to a service, leading to inappropriate responses
  • poor levels of understanding by mainstream service providers of key issues including common patterns of violence against LGBTIQ people, and how to respond/refer. Examples of myths include:
  • that the more masculine partner is the more violent
  • that women cannot be violent
  • that biological parents have a more significant connection with children. This can lead to risk being underestimated, violence minimised and/or the victim not being believed or responded to
  • the lack of crisis services for male, transgender and non-binary victim survivors (particularly crisis accommodation), and programs for female and non-binary perpetrators
  • a limited understanding of homo/bi/transphobia from family of origin as being recognised as family violence and appropriate referral pathways.

The number of LGBTIQ family violence services is limited.

However, it has expanded since the Royal Commission, and the family violence sector as a whole is building knowledge and capacity around LGBTIQ family violence inclusion in mainstream services.

Practice considerations

Practice considerations for responding to LGBTIQ people experiencing family violence include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Recognise how the dominant understanding of family violence as only involving heterosexual cisgendered male perpetrators and their cisgendered female partners contributes to low levels of identification and reporting and is a key factor in the ‘invisibility’ of family violence against LGBTIQ people.
  • Be mindful of the diversity of identities and experiences across ‘LGBTIQ’ to consider the individual’s specific identity and what this means for risk assessment and management.
  • LGBTIQ people may fear isolation or losing community support or connections by reporting family violence, particularly as they may have less support from their family of origin.
  • There may be pressure not to identify violence or abuse within LGBTIQ relationships for fear it may fuel homo/bi/transphobia — particularly following the high levels of homo/bi/transphobia against LGBTIQ people during the 2017 Marriage Equality debate.
  • Consider current and historical discriminatory laws against people on the basis of sex, sexuality and gender identity (among other attributes), such as where they conflict with religious beliefs, contributing to fears of discrimination from services.
  • Be mindful of failing to recognise LGBTIQ victim survivors’ identity or relationships, for example providing personal safety intervention orders instead of family violence intervention orders.
  • Children and young people who experience family violence are more likely to suicide at all points along the journey from seeking safety to recovery and health. The risks of suicide are extremely high in young LGBTIQ people, particularly trans and gender-diverse young people. For LGBTIQ young people, this additional high risk is compounded by an increased risk if they have experienced family violence.[116]

Recognising common perpetrator presentations and narratives

Many stereotypes exist about LGBTIQ intimate partner violence. These can both influence professionals’ responses and form the basis of narratives provided by perpetrators to minimise or justify their behaviour.

In the context of relationships across LGBTIQ communities, cisnormativity, heteronormativity, and social norms and understandings around gender and sexuality can be internalised and imported into LGBTIQ relationships, leading to particular forms of coercive and controlling behaviours.

While similar patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour occur, heterosexist attitudes can also play out within LGBTIQ relationships along masculine and feminine relationship dynamics.

The general tolerance of violent expressions between heterosexual cisgender men within society has provided the foundation for normalising abuse, as well as making invisible the real prevalence, seriousness and impact of risk associated with family violence in relationships between male-identifying people, which is often not ‘seen’ or is downplayed.

There may be an assumption that only straight, cisgendered men are violent. Similarly, where there is violence between cisgender women or female-identifying people, this may not be visible or may be downplayed as ‘less serious’ or perceived as less likely/believed than violence between cisgender men.

Common presentations of behaviours and narratives among perpetrators include:

  • the violence is a result of ‘mutual violence’
  • the violence is ok because ‘men fight equally’, ‘boys are being boys’ and have comparable strength
  • violence doesn’t occur in female-identifying same-gender relationships, presenting the belief or narrative that violence is only perpetrated by cis-men
  • avoiding responsibility for violence through using chronic illness and ‘weakness’ to deflect the possibility that they could be abusive or controlling
  • claiming the other person is a perpetrator of violence based on their physical stature or physical conformity to heteronormative expressions of gender and sexuality
  • expressing previous experiences of trauma as anxiety to justify control over a current partner
  • outing them to family, community networks, employers etc.

Guidance on responding to narratives of ‘mutual violence’ is outlined under guidance on identifying predominant aggressors in Section 12.2.1, and in the victim and perpetrator-focused Responsibilities 3, 5, 6 and 7.

Service access and engagement barriers for perpetrators

The same practice considerations for enabling access to services for LGBTIQ victim survivors apply for perpetrators.

In engaging or working with people from LGBTIQ communities who are using family violence, you should understand how multiple layers of discrimination, stigma, marginalisation and oppression are experienced and perpetuated through systems and services. In your practice, you should seek to work against these factors.

Key considerations for working with people using family violence include the following:

  • Remove barriers leading to stress and the reduction of help-seeking (e.g., housing).
  • Understand the dual nature of victimisation and perpetration of violence experienced by this community.
  • Use inclusive language
  • Understand the broader issues faced by LGBTIQ people, without affirming stereotypes.

12.1.8 Family violence against LGBTIQ people by families of origin

Family violence against LGBTIQ people by family members is widely unrecognised across the service system.

Recognising common family of origin perpetrator presentations and narratives

This form of family violence may present in a range of ways, including:

  • undermining sexual orientation or gender identity and the value of intimate relationships, calling it a ‘phase’ or not a real relationship
  • refusing to acknowledge the status of the relationship or the partner by ignoring them
  • refusal to use or correcting their pronouns (including the pronouns of their partner)
  • using beliefs about faith or religion, gender, sexuality, family and relationships to de-legitimise or undermine identity of an LGBTIQ person, particularly young people. This could lead to relationship breakdown, housing and financial distress and parental/family abandonment
  • minimising or justifying violence and harm under the guise of ‘protective parenting’ or ‘rights’ to parental control and discipline, rather than as family violence and targeted harm that is based on their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity (also refer to perpetrator-focused Responsibility 2– observable narratives and behaviours).

Note that coercive and controlling behaviours including pressure to participate in conversion practices and services. These are recognised examples of family violence under the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 and of harassment under the Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act 2010.

Service access and engagement barriers for perpetrators

In engaging or working with family of origin who are using violence, it is important to keep the following in mind:

  • Often violence from family members related to identity and relationship recognition is not seen as family violence, making it harder to raise awareness and link to behaviour change supports.
  • Some barriers to service engagement are related to minimising and justifying in relation to beliefs in ‘rights’ of parental control and discipline. These narratives may legitimise biphobia, homophobia or transphobia based on personal and faith-based beliefs not held by the victim survivor. For example, this includes a parent’s belief in their ‘legitimate’ right to object to their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

People using violence who are not from LGBTIQ community may present with specific tactics that invite collusion from professionals and exploit their privilege to ‘make invisible’ their own violence.

Where you recognise these tactics and behaviours, it is important to respond using a balanced approach to keep the person/family engaged with the service system (refer to perpetrator-focused Responsibility 3). This includes identifying opportunities to work collaboratively with other professionals to minimise systems abuse, exploitation and further violence.

12.1.9 Family violence against people with disabilities

There are more than one million people with a disability living in Victoria.[117] This includes a wide range of disabilities that can affect how people access and participate in services, family and community in different ways.

Disabilities can be cognitive, physical, sensory, result from acquired brain injury, be neurological, or related to mental illness.

Further information about the relationship between family violence and acquired brain injury can be found in the ‘Acquired brain injury as a result of family violence’ section below. Section 12.1.10 discusses family violence and mental illness. Section 12.1.17 discusses perpetrators with complex needs, including cognitive disability and acquired brain injury.

Family violence is the leading cause of death, disability and ill health in women aged 18–44.[118] People of all genders with disabilities are also at higher risk of experiencing family violence.

The intersection of gender and disability increases the risk of violence against women and girls with disabilities.[119] International and Australian evidence shows that women with a disability experience violence more intensely and frequently than other women.[120]

The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence acknowledged women with disabilities experience all forms of violence at higher rates than women without disabilities.

People with disabilities are also affected by current and historical practices of institutionalisation, and trauma stemming from this needs to be considered, along with any barriers they may present to future services engagement.

The social model of disability can help you respond to marginalisation and discrimination. This model recognises that disability is not only a person’s condition, but the result of disabling social structures, attitudes and environments.[121]

You should have a general awareness of different types of disability and ask people with disability about any support requirements or adjustments they need.[122]

Service access and barriers for victim survivors

People with disabilities may face several barriers affecting their ability to seek support including:

  • lack of economic resources and/or sufficient income
  • lack of support options (or lack of awareness regarding support options)
  • lack of access to refuges and other suitable long-term housing alternatives
  • lack of access to interpreters, communication devices, assistance to communicate and information in an appropriate format
  • bias of professionals in their recognition or engagement with people with disabilities.

Specific barriers to receiving appropriate and effective services include services lacking knowledge and confidence in working with people with disabilities, and professionals believing they are ill-equipped to respond.

Professionals can address this by working in a proactive and collaborative way, including through secondary consultation and referral with organisations specialising in working with people with disabilities (refer to victim survivor–focused Responsibilities 5 and 6).

People with disabilities experience barriers that arise from particular dynamics and forms of family violence, which among other things can affect a willingness to disclose family violence. These can include the following:

  • People with disabilities may be reluctant to report the violence because the perpetrator may be controlling or isolating them through their assistance with essential activities, such as personal care, communication, mobility, parenting or transport.
  • Perpetrators might use particular tactics towards victim survivors with a disability to exploit and exacerbate general fears relating to experiences of discrimination in the community. This might include threatening victim survivors with being sent to institutions or support services as a way of undermining both the victim survivor and their relationships with children.
  • Some people with disabilities may normalise the experience of being controlled and abused, especially if this has been accepted by service providers. For example, where a carer is asked or encouraged to ‘speak for’ the person with the disability.
  • People with disabilities can experience social isolation stemming from the marginalised position of people with disability in society.
  • Professionals should be aware of issues relating to failure to address family violence perpetrated in a community residential or other care settings (for example, where a resident uses violence against another, or a long-standing carer in a ‘family-like’ relationship uses violence against a person with disability).
  • People with disabilities can be the subject of negative stereotypes or discrimination, which can mean people are not believed when they report violence and tailoring your approach to reassure the person against these assumptions and stereotypes. These stereotypes can impact:
    • perceptions of their capability as parents
    • perceptions of the likelihood of the person lying or misunderstanding situations as violent
    • perceptions of their capacity to provide evidence, including competent testimony in court
    • increased risk of having their child removed from their care for parents with a disability, or experiencing a mental health issue, homelessness or who live in a regional area.[123]

For example:

  • Women with disabilities are often undermined about their parenting skills and abilities as a common tactic used by perpetrators, which can be reinforced through conscious or unconscious bias by professionals.
  • Women with children with disabilities can experience additional barriers to service or risk management responses where there is lack of ‘responsibility’ taken by services in providing coordinated responses.
  • Children with disabilities may not have their experience of risk from a perpetrator’s behaviour adequately identified or assessed, including behaviours that are targeted directly to them or indirectly by witnessing or being exposed to its impacts, particularly on their caregivers.
  • Women with disabilities have commonly experienced discrimination, structural inequality (including in the form of physical and communication barriers) and bias when seeking to access services.
  • Women with disabilities may experience lifetimes of discrimination and violence, preventing them from opportunities to experience safety and make free choices.

Practice considerations

Practice considerations for responding toand attempting to overcome these barriers for people with disabilities experiencing family violence include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Use a respectful, strengths-based approach. Believe the person and take their experiences seriously. While this is important for all victim survivors, it can be particularly important for people with disabilities in the context of these barriers, fears, assumptions and stereotypes.
  • Recognise how experiences of marginalisation and discrimination might affect the person’s engagement. Address any physical or communication access barriers. Person-centred responses that adjust the environment to fit the needs of a person with intellectual or other cognitive disabilities will improve the person’s capacities to respond to the demands of the context.[124] This includes providing access to communication supports and adjustments if needed, such as Auslan interpreters for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, communication aids and accessible formats.
  • Ensure responses are guided by principles and obligations under the Medical Treatment Planning and Decisions Act 2006 (Vic) and Guardianship and Administration Act 1986 (Vic) when working with people with a disability or whose cognitive capacity is affected.
  • Some people with disabilities may have a guardian or administrator. The guardian must act as an advocate for the person, act in their best interests, take into account their views and wishes and make decisions that are the least restrictive of the person’s freedom of decision and action.[125]
  • Design interventions to provide support to enable people with cognitive disability to participate in services. Such interventions and supports include issues pertaining to Universal Design for Learning, multi-tiered systems of supports, and promoting the self-determination of people with disabilities.[126]

Acquired brain injury as a result of family violence

Acquired brain injury (ABI) can result from a perpetrator’s use of external force applied to the head (including with weapons, striking the head, shaking or being pushed into an object or to the ground) and from stroke, lack of oxygen (including from choking or strangulation) and poisoning.

ABI can result in a range of physical, cognitive and behavioural disabilities that can impact adults, children and young people in a variety of ways, including their capacity to engage in safety planning and risk management.

Recent Victorian research found that the association between family violence and ABI in Victoria is significant.[127]

It is likely to be more significant even than this research suggests, as this data is unlikely to reflect all cases of ABI.

Most victim survivors will not seek medical attention or attend a hospital when they have sustained a brain injury as a result of a perpetrator’s actions. Even if they do, their brain injury may not be detected.

This includes childhood head injuries that may never have been attended to, resulting in long-term impacts.

Aboriginal women are at very high risk of traumatic brain injury, with research suggesting they are 69 times more likely to be hospitalised for head injury due to assault.[128]

Children are more vulnerable to brain injury from physical assault because of their smaller size and rapidly developing brains. Inflicted brain injury (which includes ‘shaken baby syndrome’) is the leading cause of death and disability in children who have been abused. Infants are at the greatest risk.

It is important to remember that victim survivors may be concerned about the stigma of disclosing ABI concerns. In particular, they may fear that this could lead to questions about their personal agency or autonomy, decision-making and parenting capacity.

You should also be sensitive to the concerns that victim survivors may have if they had not previously understood the impacts of violence on the brain, for themselves and their children.

Victim survivors may also find the possibility of being diagnosed with an ABI confronting, especially if they have not previously identified as a person with disabilities.

Perpetrators may also have ABIs, as a result of experiences of violence, including family violence.

This can affect their response to interventions or risk management strategies, so it is important to consider this possibility during risk assessment.

Recognising common perpetrator presentations and narratives

An intimate partner, carer, adult child or other family member may be using family violence against a victim survivor with disability.

They may target perceived ‘vulnerabilities’ or use ableist beliefs to weaponise the structural inequality, barriers or discrimination experienced by the victim survivor.

A person using violence may use these tactics as a way to methodically gain power and control over the victim survivor and avoid taking responsibility for their use of violence.

Stereotypes about disability can form the basis of narratives provided by perpetrators to minimise or justify their family violence behaviour.

These ableist stereotypes and beliefs can also affect professionals’ responses to people with disability, through colluding with the narrative of the person using violence.

Common presentations of family violence behaviours and narratives among people who use violence against people with disability include:

  • exploiting community attitudes of carers being ‘virtuous’ and ‘helpful’ as a tactic of system collusion, undermining the victim survivor’s involvement in the service. They may present to the service in a way that the professional believes the victim survivor is ‘lucky’ to have them in their life. Similarly, the perpetrator may blame ‘carer stress’ as a way to avoid taking responsibility for their actions or behaviours, or minimise their violence or its impacts on the victim survivor
  • undermining or pathologising a person’s cognitive capacity, for example, through statements such as, ‘They’re crazy, you need to speak with me because they don’t understand things.’
  • weaponising community assumptions about people with disabilities as parents and threatening to institutionalise the victim survivor, and/or to have the victim survivors’ children removed
  • withholding food, water, medication or personal care, or threatening to do so, to coerce and/or control the victim survivor
  • tampering with the victim survivor’s support devices (e.g., removing parts of a wheelchair) to further exert control.

It is important to be aware that people using violence will target a victim survivor’s specific disabilities.

People who use violence who are carers may also exploit confusion around navigating support systems such as the NDIS or Centrelink to maintain control as ‘gatekeepers’ to service access.

This type of behaviour can manifest in a variety of ways.

For example, the person using violence might:

  • be the NDIS nominee and exploit this to make decisions for the person with disability, isolating them from support and misuse their finances
  • reinforce or exploit the victim survivor’s fear of using disability services, perpetuating a narrative that interventions will subject them to discrimination and harmful stereotyping
  • present to services with the victim survivor and answer on their behalf and not allow the victim survivor to respond
  • constantly express dissatisfaction with services or carers who are sent to provide in-home care. This constant dismissal of services could be another tactic of isolating the victim survivor and maintaining control.

This ‘gatekeeping’ of service access can lead to system collusion. You should be aware of the presentations and narratives you observe and respond to them as family violence risk to the victim survivor with disability.

Service access and barriers for perpetrators

People who use family violence towards people with disabilities are most likely to be identified through their engagement with the service system on behalf of a person with disability.

When you recognise narratives and invitations to collude, you can seek to engage with the person/carer using violence by drawing out information about their perception of their carer role.

A person using violence who is in a caring role may have additional ‘barriers’ to engagement, such as stoicism, inability or reluctance to accept alternative options for care, and beliefs about the role of family in the person’s care (rather than services).

Opportunities to reduce barriers to service access for both themselves and the person with disability may present through processes of reframing caring responsibilities to include other supports available.

Practice considerations enabling access for victim survivors with disabilities should be considered to enable access to services for people using violence with disabilities.

If working with a person using violence against a person with disability, refer to guidance about service access barriers, as appropriate to the person’s identity and relationship to the victim survivor, described throughout Section 12.1.9.

People without disabilities who are using violence may present with specific tactics that invite collusion from professionals and exploit their privilege to ‘make invisible’ their own violence.

Where you recognise these tactics and behaviours, respond using a balanced approach to keep the person engaged with the service system (refer to perpetrator-focused Responsibility 3). Identify opportunities to work collaboratively with other professionals to minimise opportunities for systems abuse, exploitation and further violence.

Section 12.1.17 outlines recognition of perpetrators of family violence with cognitive disabilities, including ABI.

12.1.10 Family violence against people with mental health issues and mental illness

People with mental health issues and mental illness and psychological distress experience particular barriers and forms of family violence.

A perpetrator’s use of family violence can exacerbate existing mental illness, cause mental disorder and mental illness, and impact negatively on recovery.

Perpetrators may be carers who are intimate partners, parents, children or other family members or carers who have a family-like relationship to the victim survivor.

The main mental health impacts of family violence are anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.

Eating disorders, problematic alcohol and drug use as a coping mechanism, postnatal depression, self-harm, post-traumatic stress or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicide are also associated with family violence.

High rates of mental health issues and mental illness following family violence demonstrate the need for support that takes these mental health impacts into account.

Many victim survivors, especially women, experience family violence following a mental illness diagnosis.

Perpetrators can use this perceived vulnerability to target women with mental illness, resulting in their experience of multiple forms of violence that lead to greater mental health impacts.

The more recent and the longer the violence has occurred, the greater the mental health impacts. The same has been found for childhood (sexual) abuse and its short to long-term impact.

Prevalence rates of any form of abuse for people who access psychiatric services are high — between 30–60 per cent of people have a history of family violence and 50–60 per cent have experienced childhood sexual or physical abuse.[129]

Some studies have found that up to 92 per cent of female psychiatric inpatients have histories of childhood abuse, family violence or both.[130]

People, especially women, experiencing psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder have experienced high levels of abuse.[131]

Many people with a diagnosed mental illness have experienced both childhood abuse and family violence as an adult.

Women who have also experienced childhood trauma are more likely to experience depression for a longer time, pointing to the cumulative effect of multiple traumas.

Women who have experienced severe abuse are more likely to be diagnosed with one or more mental illnesses in their lifetime. Levels and severity of depression tend to decline over time as women feel safer.

Women accessing family violence support services, especially crisis services, experience high levels of mental health issues, including anxiety (at rates three times higher than the general population) and depression (twice that of the general population).

In Victoria, one-third of people who die by suicide had a history of family violence.

Family violence had been present for half of the women (identified as likely victim survivors) and one-third of men who died by suicide (identified as likely perpetrators).

Further, as noted in Section 12.1.15, threats or attempts to self-harm or commit suicide are a risk factor for homicide–suicide.[132] This factor is an extreme extension of controlling behaviours.

Practice considerations

Practice consideration for responding to people experiencing family violence who have mental health issues or mental illness include, but are not limited to:

  • Experiences of significant stigma and discrimination can have a worse impact than the mental illness itself.
  • People with mental health issues and mental illness, particularly women, and their family members are at greater risk of being isolated from support networks and lack of adequate support by organisations, including mental health and family violence services.
  • People with mental health issues and mental illness, particularly women, are more likely to disclose family violence to a healthcare professional than the police, and they are unlikely to do so unless they are asked. At the same time, many people with mental illness or mental health issues, particularly women, report problematic responses by professionals following disclosure. Inadequate support can increase distress and leave people with mental illness or mental health issues in unsafe situations.
  • People with mental health issues may be at higher risk of sexual assault and may not be believed if they report abuse.

Barriers to accessing support from the service system include:

  • People with a mental illness may not be believed by professionals, especially if they experience psychosis or psychotic illnesses, or professionals might judge them as untrustworthy in their account or narrative of their experience.
  • Perpetrators may use a mental health diagnosis to ‘gaslight’ a victim survivor, meaning that they may not easily recognise the violence they have experienced, or may struggle to feel entitled to accessing services.
  • Service providers who are not mental health services lack confidence and consider themselves poorly equipped to work with a person with a mental health issue or mental illness.
  • Organisations having a narrow understanding of their role. For example, mental health services have historically not embraced their role working with victims of family violence.
  • A lack of understanding of the links between trauma and mental illness by the service system. The dominance of the bio-medical model means that trauma and mental illness are frequently separated, and distress is pathologised as mental illness, rather than a normal reaction to trauma.
  • Service providers may not understand how trauma manifests, for example, through anxiety or depression, and may be influenced by stigmatised views of mental illness.
  • Service providers may misunderstand a victim survivor’s distress and pathologise a normal reaction to violence as mental illness.
  • People with multiple presenting needs, such as a mental illness and alcohol or drug issues, are more likely to experience barriers to service responses unless professionals are well linked and understand the interrelated nature of their presenting needs.

Section 12.1.17 provides guidance on perpetrators with complex needs, including mental illness.

12.1.11 Adolescents who use family violence

This section provides guidance on the presentation of and high-level response to adolescent family violence.

The victim survivor–focused MARAM Practice Guides emphasise that adolescents who use violence are also likely victim survivors who should be assessed and supported with risk management responses.

Adolescents who are using violence should have a different response from adult perpetrators.

The adolescents using violence MARAM Practice Guides provide more information. These also address adolescents who use violence who have disability or cognitive impairment.

Most incidents of violence are committed by male adolescents against mothers, which may progress to using violence against women as adults.[133]

Violence in the home from an adolescent towards a sibling is a specific form of violence.

There is evidence that sexually abusive behaviours by adolescents is more often directed towards younger siblings.

The most common type of sibling sexual abuse is between a brother and a sister, with the brother as the abusing sibling, and brother towards brother sexual abuse is the second most common form.

Children who display problematic sexual behaviours towards their siblings may be acting out trauma as a result of having been sexually abused themselves.[134]

Responses to children and young people should consider their age and developmental status, attachment and relational history, their strengths and protective factors, their care situation and their overall context. This includes whether they have experienced or are currently experiencing family violence.

Responses to sexually abusive behaviours requires a specific and targeted response that should include sexually abusive behaviours treatment services.

When working with adolescents who use violence, avoid labelling them as ‘violent’ or ‘perpetrators’. This can lead to them internalising these labels, and it can also make it harder for you to recognise their behaviour as part of a trauma response or to use a relational trauma lens supporting behaviour change.

At the same time, you should provide clear and consistent messaging that violence is not acceptable and support them to take responsibility for and change their behaviour.

When assessing a victim survivor’s level of risk, guidance outlined here relating to working with perpetrators may also be applicable to considering the impacts of violence by an adolescent on a victim survivor.

Violence by an adolescent against a parent/carer may result from an impact of trauma, for example the inability to process emotions, self-soothe and deal with conflict.

Nevertheless, an important learning for an adolescent recovering from the impact of trauma is to be accountable for the use of violence and to learn skills and abilities to move away from the use of violence.

Having a trauma-informed approach can be held at the same time as working with an adolescent to be accountable. This is important for the adolescent’s own development and to ensure others who are in close relationships with the adolescent are safe. This work is done with respect, and in a sensitive non-blaming manner.

Professionals working with adolescents need to be mindful of collusion.

This is particularly relevant if a professional is working with an adolescent without the presence or input of a parent/carer.

Adolescents, like adults who use family violence, may minimise their use of violence and its impacts, justify and deny their use of violence and blame others, particularly parents/carers for ‘causing’ them to use violence.

You need to be able to challenge these constraints to taking responsibility and making change.

Collusion occurs when a professional sides with the adolescent against other family members or gives a message (even inadvertently) that the use of violence is understandable.

Collusion can occur where a professional over-identifies with an adolescent or their experience.

The adolescent may describe a picture of being the victim and provide convincing reasons for why they are unfairly being blamed for the violence. Professionals need to carefully assess the family dynamics and patterns so as not to over identify or collude with the adolescent.

Collusion can also occur with a parent/carer where the parent/carer has been abusive or violent to the adolescent.

A parent/carer may describe an adolescent’s behaviour in a way that does not account for family history, experience and dynamics.

Careful assessment to fully understand the family patterns and dynamics is important so as not to collude with any family members using abuse or violence.

Working with adolescent family violence needs to be a ‘both/and’ approach. This means the adolescent may be living in a family context where parenting is abusive, they may have experienced family violence, or they may be dealing with complex and distressing life events and issues.

The professional needs to address these contexts as well as hold the line that violence is not acceptable.

In this context, professionals need to work with the adolescent to take responsibility for their use of violence, and to also work with other issues of concern.

Further guidance on working with adolescents as victim survivors is provided in the victim survivor–focused MARAM Practice Guides.

Young people aged 18 to 25 years should also be considered with a developmental lens and to ensure any therapeutic needs relevant to their age and developmental stage are met.

The adult perpetrator-focused MARAM Practice Guides include relevant information for working with young people aged 18 to 25 years who are using family violence to assess and manage their risk.

12.1.12 Family violence against men [135]

Family violence against male victims is significantly gendered . Most men experience family violence from other men, including across age groups, relationship types and communities.

In Australia, approximately 94 per cent of female victims of violence and 95 per cent of all male victims of violence report a male perpetrator.[136]

The gendered nature of family violence stems from the dominant gendered culture, which reflects structures of power and privilege as created and perpetuated by cisgender, white ‘masculine’ men.

Many men are influenced by dominant norms and expectations about masculinity, or ‘ways to be a man’.

They may measure themselves and others against stereotyped characteristics, such as suppression of emotion or, expression of aggression, dominance and control.

Dominant gendered culture plays out in various and complex ways across communities and relationships.

It drives norms and expectations in relationships and can shape the use of family violence by men towards other men in the family, or in same-gender relationships.

A smaller number of heterosexual, cisgender men do experience violence from cisgender female intimate partners.

Professionals should exercise caution when responding to family violence where this relationship dynamic is reported.

There may be potential for perpetrators and victim survivors to be misidentified where male perpetrators report or present as a victim survivor, adopting a victim stance.

Male perpetrators may adopt a victim stance generally, or in relation to their experience of violent resistance from a victim survivor.

Men who experience violent resistance from victim survivors (violence that responds to their own ongoing use of family violence risk behaviours, such as coercive and controlling behaviours) are not victim survivors.

Refer to Section 12.1.13 for further guidance on women who use force, and Section 12.2.1 on determining the perpetrator/predominant aggressor.

Non-specialist professionals should have some understanding that these issues might present and refer to specialist family violence services for comprehensive assessment where there is uncertainty about how to determine who is the victim survivor or the perpetrator/predominant aggressor.

For men who are determined through MARAM risk assessment to be a victim survivor, the victim survivor–focused MARAM Practice Guides are appropriate for use.

If they are determined to be the predominant aggressor/perpetrator, the perpetrator-focused MARAM Practice Guide is appropriate for use.

12.1.13 Women [137] who use force in heterosexual intimate partner relationships

There is no consistent prevalence data for cisgender women who use force in intimate relationships, either in Australia or internationally.[138]

Research suggests women who use force in heterosexual intimate partner relationships often have a history of experiencing family violence from their male partners.[139]

They tend to use force to gain short-term control over threatening situations, rather than using already held power to dominate or control their partner.

This motivation is distinctly different from men’s use of violence, which is characterised by a pattern of coercive, controlling and violent behaviour.

Women use force for a range of reasons, including to protect themselves and their children or in self-defence or violent resistance.

Where ‘mutual violence’ has been identified (that is, a woman has used force and their male partner is using family violence), violence is often asymmetrical, with men demonstrating stronger patterns of coercive controlling and violent family violence risk behaviours than women.[140]

In this context, women are often misidentified as a perpetrator/predominant aggressor.

This occurrence is reflected in the high rate of misidentification of women as perpetrators. For example, emerging evidence suggests that approximately 1 in 10 women named as respondents to police applications for family violence intervention orders are subsequently assessed to be victim survivors.[141]

Because of this, caution is required when working with cisgender women who are identified, at any point in the system, as perpetrators of family violence, particularly if:

  • there are cross-accusations of violence between heterosexual cisgender people, and/or if a cisgender woman is identified as the person using violence towards a cisgender man
  • a woman is identified as a respondent to a family violence incident.

Guidance on identifying the predominant aggressor is outlined in Section 12.2.1, and in the victim survivor and perpetrator-focused MARAM Practice Guides for Responsibilities 3, 5, 6 and 7.

You should use the victim survivor–focused MARAM Practice Guide when working with women who are determined through MARAM risk assessment to be a victim survivor.

If they are determined to be the predominant aggressor/perpetrator, the perpetrator-focused MARAM Practice Guide is appropriate for use.

12.1.14 Perpetrators’ experience of shame and use of externalised violence

Shame, as both an emotion and a process, occupies a challenging space for responding to people who use family violence.

Although Victoria’s system-wide response depends on holding perpetrators to account for their behaviour, confronting a perpetrator about their use of violence through ‘shaming’ processes can increase risk for victim survivors and result in further denial of responsibility.[142]

Studies have found that shame is often associated with increases in aggression and a tendency to hide away and externalise responsibility for socially unacceptable behaviours.[143]

While a perpetrator’s feelings of shame can maintain violent and coercive controlling behaviours and work as a barrier to help-seeking, addressing shame is a central aspect of specialist perpetrator intervention work towards change and personal accountability.

Not all professionals working with people using violence will address shame, however, it is important to be aware of its experience and consequences, and what it may mean for engagement and increased risk.

Shame may be compounded by gendered drivers, dominant culture and social norms such as masculinity. This may reinforce tendencies to externalise distress and blame and reduce the person’s capacity to take responsibility for their behaviour, to express themselves honestly and to seek help.[144]

When shame becomes toxic, people who use violence may experience reduced self-esteem and worth (for example, at the loss of a relationship with a partner or children).

A sense of hopelessness and worthlessness may become exacerbated, increasing the risk of harm towards self and violence towards others.

This can be identified as depression or reduced mental wellbeing for people at risk of suicide, which may also present as aggression/anger and violence towards adult (usually intimate partners) and child victim survivors.

Understanding the context and outcomes of shame assists in identifying the connections between the risk of self-harm and suicide with the risk of homicide or homicide-suicide.

Stigma associated with perpetrating violence is a barrier to help-seeking and engaging in services.

Feeling ‘judged’, ‘attacked’ or ‘threatened’ by services or programs is common, and so forming trusting and positive professional relationships is essential.

12.1.15 Suicide risk of adult perpetrators and adolescents using violence

Some risk factors for family violence are largely ‘in common’, or the same as those for risk of suicide for adult perpetrators and adolescents using violence.

The risk factors that are ‘in common’ are understood through the correlation of increased risk of suicide for adult perpetrators and young people using violence.[145]

Recognising increased risk of suicide of people who use violence

Between 2009 and 2012, around one-third of all suicide deaths of men in Victoria involved men with a history of interpersonal violence, of which more than half had been identified as perpetrators of violence. Some were also victim survivors of violence, usually as children.[146]

The National Homicide Monitoring Program has found that 80 per cent of homicide–suicides in Australia since 1989 occurred in the context of family violence.[147]

Homicide–suicides are most likely to be perpetrated by men who:

  • are older
  • exhibit paranoid thinking and depression
  • use alcohol to harmful levels
  • have histories of impulsivity and violence
  • have prior suicide attempts
  • extreme minimisation and/or denial of family violence perpetration history
  • obsessive behaviour, including stalking
  • prior forced physical confinement and restriction of movement
  • experience despair and hopelessness.[148]

Despair and hopelessness are key indicators of escalated risk and the need for immediate risk management.

Responsibilities 3 and 4 have further guidance on identifying and responding to suicide risk.

There are many ‘in common’ risk factors for suicide and family violence, which reflects the high rates of family violence perpetrators in cohorts of people who die by suicide. These include alcohol or drug abuse, anger, reckless behaviour, and talking about death (threatening suicide).

Risk factors for suicide are outlined below, with factors in common with family violence indicated with the + symbol:

  • previous suicide attempts
  • history of substance abuse+
  • history of mental health conditions+ –depression, anxiety, bipolar, PTSD
  • relationship problems+ –often described as ‘conflict’ with parents and/or romantic partners, or separation
  • legal or disciplinary problems
  • access to harmful means, such as medication or weapons+
  • recent death or suicide of a family member or a close friend
  • ongoing exposure to bullying behaviour
  • physical illness or disability.

Further guidance on identifying and understanding common risk factors between suicide and family violence risk is outlined in the perpetrator-focused MARAM Practice Guides for Responsibilities 3 and 7.

Indicators of serious and escalating risk among this cohort that must be acted upon immediately include:

  • expressing feelings of losing control of the relationship, in particular, observing obsessive and desperate behaviours and victim-stance narratives
  • losing connection with protective factors, such as employment, connections with social and other supports
  • declining mental wellbeing and statements about inability to cope, expressions of feeling hopeless
  • perpetrator narratives that empathise with other men who have killed partners or children, for example ‘I now understand what they went through when they killed their partner/child’.

Each of these indicators is linked to suicide and homicide–suicide risk.

Suicide risk among adolescents who use family violence

Adolescents who use family violence have unique suicide risk factors in addition to those experienced by adult perpetrators. This is compounded by increased risk of suicide for young people who have experienced family violence as victim survivors.

The 2019 Commissioner for Children and Young People report Lost, not forgotten identified that:

… as children grow older and their trauma starts to manifest in challenging behaviour, disengagement from school, risk taking, violence or mental ill health, professionals lose empathy. The children become seen as the problem and referred to as ‘difficult’, ‘needy’, ‘angry’ and ‘bad.’[149]

This report found that between 2007 and 2019:

  • 94 per cent of children who were known to child protection (particularly repeat reports) and who died by suicide had experienced family violence, and most had parents with mental illness and/or substance use issues[150]
  • 84 per cent were either diagnosed or suspected to have mental illness[151]
  • 83 per cent were recorded as having engaged in deliberate self-harm[152]
  • 51 per cent of the children who died by suicide in this period had contact with police in the 12 months before their deaths, 43 per cent within six weeks of death[153]
  • of those who had police contact, 44 per cent were alleged to have used family violence against a family member.[154]

Practice considerations when identifying suicide risk

To date, assessment tools for assessing proximal suicide risk have been considered both ‘imperfect’ and ‘one of the most stressful tasks for clinicians’.[155]

Therefore, emerging suicide prevention research and practice places less emphasis on ‘risk assessment’, and more on identifying the drivers of suicidality and an individual’s intent.[156]

Professionals working with people who use violence are well placed to consider the ‘in common’ risk factors.

In family violence risk management practice with adult perpetrators and young people who are using violence, suicide safety planning, or a mental health referral response where the common risk factors are identified, is a standard minimum response across the service system and particularly for specialist practitioners.

Also consider referrals to manage social distresses that increase suicide risk, such as employment, financial and housing issues and drug and alcohol addition/use.

Common family violence and suicide risk factors, and protective factors, are considered under Responsibilities 3 and 7.

12.1.16 Family violence perpetration at the time of or following natural disasters and community-wide events

Emerging research highlights the links between prevalence of gendered violence and emergencies. This is because traditional norms associated with masculinities are reinforced or strengthened in times of crisis.

At these times, where family violence has previously occurred, it is likely to increase. Where family violence has not previously occurred, it is likely to commence.

Key considerations for understanding the context of family violence at times of crisis include:[157]

  • the real and felt pressure experienced by men to fulfil the ‘protector and provider’ role within community, and feelings of failure and loss of control arising from a perceived failure to fulfil this role
  • increased stress on people and relationships due to grief, loss, displacement, social isolation and financial instability
  • within the community, unwillingness to hear about family violence and tendencies to discourage reporting and/or excuse the behaviour of perpetrators due to the stress or trauma they have experienced or because they are ‘heroes’
  • community monitoring and judgement of roles performed by those within and interacting with the community
  • the belief that anger is more acceptable than tears
  • increased reluctance to seek help, which is commonly linked to reverting to rigid and traditional notions of masculinity, heightened sexist environments, with increased behaviours associated with hypermasculinity including erratic driving, excessive drinking and jokes
  • potential increased control and isolation from the person using violence, which means it may be more difficult for services to keep risk ‘in view’
  • increased unemployment and suicidality.

It is critical for anyone working in areas impacted by disaster to be aware of family violence risks for victim survivors and wellbeing and suicide risks for perpetrators.

Particular narratives or behaviours that may indicate the presence or increased risk associated with family violence include:[158]

  • increased anger and quickness to anger
  • increased drinking
  • using behaviours that are not part of their ‘normal’ behaviours
  • attempts to regain a sense of masculinity and disclosure of ’failing’ as a man
  • desire to be part of a hero narrative created through perceptions of bravery.

12.1.17 Perpetrators with complex needs

People using family violence can present with and experience a multitude of complexities in their health, wellbeing and cognition. These can influence and exacerbate family violence attitudes and behaviours.

These complexities will inform your understanding, assessment and management of risk. However, they are not a reason, excuse or cause of a perpetrators’ choice to use violence.

Complex needs can include drug and alcohol use, mental illness or mental health condition, or cognitive impairment. People may have more than one complex need.

The EACPI Final report notes that not all perpetrators who present a serious risk have complex needs, and not all perpetrators with complex needs necessarily present a serious risk of family violence reoffending.

However, ‘complex needs can increase the risk of family violence (re)offending, as well as affect a perpetrator’s ability to respond to treatment for family violence offending (responsivity)’.[159]

The report also notes that ‘interventions for this cohort should address violent behaviour as well as other contributing or reinforcing factors’.[160]

You should assess and respond to people using violence using the ‘person in their context’ approach. This will support you to consider their co-occurring presenting needs and circumstances and how these impact on serious family violence risk behaviours.

Some complex needs are recognised as MARAM evidence-based risk factors, including mental illness or depression, and drug and/or alcohol misuse/abuse.

In and of themselves, these are not risk behaviours; however, they may influence the likelihood and severity of a perpetrator’s family violence behaviours.

Responding to complex needs is a key aspect of risk management.

It can support the person’s individual capacity to engage in interventions and increase the likelihood of eligibility for further interventions required to address their use of violence.

Victoria Police data cited in the EACPI Final report reveals alcohol use is involved in around 40 per cent of family violence incidents, and mental health issues as present in approximately 1 in 5 family violence incidents, with a strong association between mental illness and recidivist perpetrators.[161]

It is important to note that the reliability of this data depends on the ability of the attending police to identify it as such.

While most people with a mental illness are not violent, poor mental health and wellbeing can have a significant influence on family violence risk and suicidality. Refer to Section 12.1.15 for further information on suicide and homicide–suicide risk in the context of family violence.

Unless it is your role to diagnose a mental illness, you should not attempt to do so.

In your engagement with a person using violence, you may be able to recognise presentations of mental ill health which can inform your assessment of risk and where appropriate, may prompt you to refer the person using violence to a mental health professional.

It is important to remember that for people with mental illness who use violence, the risk presented is impacted by fluctuations in mental state.

Disturbances in mental state may be linked with likelihood, escalation, frequency and severity of violence.138

If the person is also using substances, this will further impact or cause fluctuations in mental state.

Service access and engagement barriers

The overlapping nature of these complex needs may mean it is difficult for the person to receive available treatment and support from services.

If they are referred to services that are unable address their multiple presenting needs, they may disengage and fall out of ‘view’ of the system.

In this case, carers/families can be left with the responsibility of supporting the person, which can increase risk if the person is using violence towards people who are providing care for them.

People using family violence are less likely to engage with services or follow up on referrals when they:

  • present with escalating or unpredictable behaviours as a result of inconsistent or increased use of illicit drugs, alcohol, prescription drugs or inhalants
  • have complex and multi-layered presentations that are difficult to discern from one another and respond to
  • are moving in and out of potential psychosis
  • have had traumatic experiences of institutions where violence was normalised and may have presentations of PTSD that may limit their willingness to engage with further service interventions.

Responding to perpetrators with complex needs

Professionals responding to people using violence with complex needs should be aware of appropriate referral pathways to address specific needs.

Risk management plans should include interventions that reinforce each other and are appropriately sequenced, to avoid overwhelming the person.

This can include:

  • identifying any care/treatment plans that are in place and understanding the person’s engagement/compliance/adherence with the plan
  • reinforcing these plans through family violence risk management plans and safety planning conversations
  • exploring prior engagement with systems or services (such as justice or mental health institutions)
  • considering narratives that may indicate systems manipulation or traumatic experiences that create a barrier for future engagement
  • addressing these experiences/narratives when planning your risk management response
  • identifying patterns or fluctuations in mental state that may be linked with escalation, frequency and severity of use of violence and may require a specific response, and any specific planning that may be required at these times.

Recognising family violence use by people with cognitive disabilities

People with cognitive disabilities have impaired cognitive functioning.

Cognitive disabilities may include acquired brain injury (ABI), neurological impairment, developmental delay, intellectual disability, mental illness or psychosocial disability and dementia, as well as cognitive impairments because of stroke or alcohol and drug use.[162]

Cognitive disabilities can affect a person’s thought processes, interpersonal skills, behaviour regulation, movement, emotions, judgement and communication. This can adversely affect the person’s independence, self-management or capacity for social, economic, cultural and educational participation.

People with cognitive disabilities may not readily present or be identified as having a disability. They might not know they have a disability, and they might not identify as having a disability.

Further, presentation and experiences can differ greatly across different types of cognitive disabilities and age groups.

For example, the developmental, life experience and necessary adjustments for a person born with an intellectual disability will differ greatly from those for a person who acquires a cognitive disability later in life.

Some cognitive disabilities may not be visible, so it is important to be aware of indicators you might observe through your engagement.

Indicators are not determinative without professional assessment, as they may indicate a range of things, including intoxication, sleep deprivation, or mental ill health.

Indicators may prompt you to ask a question or seek an assessment of cognitive disability.

These indicators of cognitive disability may include:

  • distractibility and difficulty understanding concepts
  • trouble with speaking and memory
  • difficulty understanding or engaging with complex systems, legal information and the consequences of interventions
  • unacknowledged or unrecognised delayed learning
  • indications that the person is pretending to understand but does not.

If you suspect a person has a cognitive disability based on your observations or available information, you can ask some general questions about the person’s history and circumstances. This may indicate whether it is possible the person has a cognitive disability and whether they require supports or adjustments.

There is a wide range of types of cognitive disabilities, associated life experiences, and adjustments and practice considerations that may be needed.

Seek secondary consultation with disability organisations with expertise in understanding different types of disability to inform your response (refer to victim-focused Responsibility 5 and 6).

As described in Section 12.1.9, you should be guided by a social model of disability, focusing on the effects of disabling social structures, attitudes and environments and making adjustments to address these.

People with acquired brain injury who use violence

Some of the most common forms of ABI include traumatic brain injury, stroke, hypoxic brain damage, infection, tumours, and alcohol related brain damage.

ABI can result in physical, behavioural and cognitive disabilities.

People with ABI are overrepresented among both victim survivors and perpetrators of family violence.[163]

Brain Injury Australia reports that there are few studies of the prevalence of brain injury among perpetrators of family violence.

However, the evidence available indicates that rates of ABI are disproportionately high among perpetrators of family violence, compared with matched non-violent community samples and the general population.[164]

The rate of ABI among samples of male perpetrators of intimate partner violence is around 60 per cent, double the rate found in matched community samples.

Additionally, ABI is a risk factor for violent crime generally due to damage to the parts of the brain that control emotions and regulate behaviour – the behavioural outcomes of this is sometimes referred to as ‘challenging behaviours’.[165]

Due to this high prevalence, it is particularly important to ensure responses to people with ABI who use violence include necessary supports and adjustments.

ABI is characterised as damage to the brain after birth and throughout the lifespan.[166]

A person with an intellectual disability might also acquire a brain injury later in life, impacting their life in different ways.

Acquired brain injury can have a range of physical, cognitive and behavioural effects including issues with involuntary movements, balance, physical functioning and mobility, cognition (such as concentration, memory, attention), and emotional/behavioural dysregulation/impulsivity. Refer to perpetrator-focused Responsibility 3 for more detail.

Despite the strong association of challenging behaviours with ABI, the same behaviours can be equally present in those without ABI (for example, behaviours associated with poor regulation of emotions).

This highlights the importance of identifying whether there are underlying causes that contribute to the behaviours, which may inform your approach to risk assessment and management.

Service access and barriers for perpetrators

People with cognitive disabilities can experience barriers to service access and engagement, requiring alternative strategies to ensure participation on an equal basis with others.

In the context of working with people who use family violence, people with cognitive disabilities may face particular challenges when engaging with interventions such as behaviour change groups, accommodation services or in understanding information such as conditions of intervention orders.[167]

Some people with cognitive disabilities may also feel unsafe talking to police or other services, as these services might not have the training or knowledge to understand cognitive disabilities, sensitive engagement and making adjustments.

It is important to use practice techniques, such as asking the person to repeat back information in their own words. This ensures people with cognitive disability understand statements or conditions and are not just agreeing to be compliant or to ‘help’ the professional.

Having this understanding is important to inform the type and approach to interventions, and to ensure people using violence can participate, understand what is occurring and stay engaged with the service system.

As a starting point, you should always ask the person about their preferred communication method.

Adjustments might include using plain English materials, allowing the person to use any communication aids, using clear, concise language and short sentences, repeating information to confirm understanding, avoiding jargon including around medical and legal information, and providing breaks.

You may also need to conduct risk assessment conversations over time/a series of appointments, to ensure you can work with the person at their pace.

Refer to perpetrator-focused Responsibility 3 for more information on identifying cognitive disability.

Balancing practice approaches and understanding

Professionals should practice in a way that balances accountability for the use of violence with an awareness of the person’s experiences of structural inequality, which includes lack of access to resources and opportunities, ableism, ageism and disabling environments.[168]

Recognising and responding to people with cognitive disabilities who use violence requires sensitivity to the ‘lack of able-bodied privilege that these perpetrators experience in many aspects of their lives’.[169]

While experiences of marginalisation and discrimination do not excuse a person's use of violence, it is important to recognise how individuals can be both using violence and experiencing barriers of systemic ableism at the same time.

Where a person has capacity, the choice to use violence still rests with them.

The EACPI Final report outlines that complex needs, including cognitive disability, are not usually the cause of the person using violence, but require adequate identification and management to reduce the risk of the person using violence.[170]

As such, you should understand that people with cognitive disabilities can use violence while also requiring care and adjustments to increase capacity for behaviour change.

You can provide support to address both needs and behaviour concurrently.

People with cognitive disabilities may perpetrate violence towards another person with a disability or person without a disability, including intimate partners, children, carers and other family members.

You must be aware to not align with the myth that people with cognitive disabilities cannot perpetrate family violence due to their disability and are not more likely to be violent because of their cognitive disability.

People with cognitive disability need to be assessed on an individual basis without preconceptions. People with cognitive disabilities can still have capacity, and therefore responsibility, for their family violence behaviour.

The level of capacity can be conceptualised as a continuum – the severity of a person’s impairment is linked to the degree of decreased capacity.

Recognising common perpetrator presentations and narratives in relation to cognitive disability

Some common presentations that may indicate the presence of a cognitive disability or family violence behaviours[171] include:

  • obsessive and controlling styles of behaviour and increased high dependence being expressed as ‘not being able to distance themselves from their partner or carer’, which relates to trying to keep partner in the relationship
  • anxiety and controlling behaviours, thinking their partner will leave them due to their disability
  • non-recognition of own behaviours or their impact, and to what extent they are linked to diagnosed/ undiagnosed conditions
  • antisocial or risk-taking behaviours
  • inability to empathise or understand the other person's perspective
  • abusive behaviours that are linked to poor impulse control or reduced self-regulation
  • lack of awareness or care of the consequences of actions due to inability to connect actions to reactions.

A person with a cognitive disability may use violence towards another person and minimise their responsibility by stating that the victim survivor ‘upset’ them and ‘made them use violence’.

For example, a person with ABI may avoid taking responsibility for their violence with statements like, ‘I can’t help it, I have a brain injury.’

In this case, it is important to also address their use of violence in a way that recognises their cognitive capacity and provides tailored support to them to change their behaviour.

Further guidance and approach to risk assessment and management

The perpetrator-focused MARAM Practice Guides for Responsibility 3 and 7 provide further guidance on recognising and responding to people using violence who have a cognitive disability. These focus particularly on the high prevalence of ABI and links to higher likelihood of violent crime.

Responsibility 7 provides specific guidance on strategies and adjustments in risk assessment, such as providing breaks and clear, structured questioning.

Any person using violence with suspected cognitive disability, including ABI, should be referred to a general practitioner to coordinate a referral to a rehabilitation professional for further neuropsychological or other relevant assessment (e.g., a neuropsychologist, occupational therapist, clinical psychologist).

Other referrals and supports could include linking to an occupational therapist, as well direct service and advocacy organisations that can assist with providing information on different disabilities and necessary supports and adjustments.[172]

You can seek secondary consultation for support on adjustments to service environments and interventions that meet their needs, refer to perpetrator-focused Responsibility 5.

12.1.18 Recognising high-risk perpetrators’ use of family violence

The EACPI Final report notes that some perpetrators who commit acts of family violence that cause severe physical injury or even death do not have any previous history of family violence offending.[173]

However, EACPI also cites Crime Statistics Agency data showing that most high-risk perpetrators have known histories of family violence perpetration against intimate partners.

Around 40 per cent of high-risk perpetrators are also identified as using violence against other family members and have a history of non–family violence offending.[174]

This means that many family violence perpetrators are already known to the system.

In these cases, the ongoing challenge for services is how to intervene effectively to reduce repeat violence and prevent the escalation of violence.

Recognising common high-risk perpetrator presentations

High-risk perpetrators will present to the service system with a range of co-occurring high-risk factors and behaviours. These include:[175]

  • if they are younger perpetrators, displaying high risk–taking behaviours
  • if they are older, having entrenched violent behaviours
  • expressing strong victim stance, overwhelming sense of hopelessness and blaming of other party for their behaviour or its impacts
  • holding little to no regard for legal sanctions or processes, resulting in:
    • persistent breaches to legal sanctions, including intervention, corrections and family law (parenting) orders
    • long criminal history, with frequent periods of imprisonment
    • connections to criminal groups and gangs.
  • exhibiting extreme gendered expectations and attitudes
  • showing little to no capacity for empathy, present with psychopathy or sociopathy, or personality disorder
  • stalking and predatory behaviours, indicated by an intense control of movement or surveillance of the victim survivor
  • using sexual violence through coercion and manipulation, including attempting to ensure the victim survivor is continuously pregnant as a form of control
  • having multiple victims now or over a long period of time, and/or targeting victims with actual or perceived vulnerabilities related to their needs or identity.

Some of the common presentations above are consistent with the evidence base on homicide and/or homicide–suicide in the context of family violence. Refer to Section 12.1.15 and perpetrator-focused Responsibility 3 for further information.

Service access and engagement barriers

There are very few needs-based responses available to serious risk offenders. Their contact with the service system mainly occurs through justice settings.

People operating at this level of violence often have very low voluntary engagement with services and may actively avoid contact.

Men in this cohort commonly experience feelings of system injustice and discrimination.

Responding to high-risk perpetrators with proactive and coordinated intervention

Professionals’ responsibilities to undertake active and coordinated interventions are outlined in the perpetrator-focused Responsibilities 4, 8, 9 and 10.

While opportunities for change among high-risk perpetrators are low, you should still actively manage risk through coordinated interventions.

You should identify points of potential conversation and engagement that are outside of ‘usual’ service delivery, and work collaboratively with professionals across the service system to leverage opportunities.

Any opportunity to have contact with and engage a perpetrator should be maximised. Give priority to assessing and addressing criminogenic needs.

This includes developing exit planning strategies for those leaving correctional facilities.

Perpetrators in positions of authority and impact on victim survivors

Any person in a position of power in a community or professional setting, or any role that directly relates to authority, can use that position to target their use of violence, use systems abuse or reduce access to support for victim survivors. In a community setting, these roles may include cultural, religious leaders or community social group leaders. In small metropolitan, rural or regional communities, perpetrators may be well respected and have social standing that imbues them with power, such as a school principal, local counsellor, firefighter or community sports leader.

In professional settings, perpetrators who are in significant positions of power within society, including those working in the justice system such as policing, armed and correctional services, or other recognised positions of authority or standing in the community, can present specific risks to victim survivors.

Perpetrators in these positions of authority and power may:

  • have control over their family due to the nature of their employment, such as frequent redeployment, causing the victim survivor to be socially isolated and economically dependent on the person using violence[176]
  • operate within a workplace culture where rigid social norms around hypermasculinity may be elevated. Workplaces where dominating and controlling behaviours are considered as leadership traits and held in high regard (i.e. military services),may diminish or discourage traits that are deemed feminine such as empathy, fear or sadness[177]
  • have capacity due to their position to access information that increases risk to the victim survivor and impact on the victim survivor’s willingness to seek help(such as state-owned record management systems)
  • encourage their peers to collude:
    • with their narratives and behaviours to minimise or justify their use of violence[178] and/or
    • limiting the service response options available to the victim survivor
    • use their access to weapons to control the victim survivor.

As part of the narrative, perpetrators in positions of power may minimise, justify or shift responsibility fort heir behaviours due to the impact of their work on their health or wellbeing, or experience of trauma.They may be less likely to accept responsibility for family violence behaviours or support for related needs (such as mental illness)due to associated stigma and potential consequences such as being discharged or deemed unfit to deploy.[179]

As a result of these types of controlling behaviours and the position of authority the perpetrator is in, the victim survivor is likely to feel isolated or particularly fearful of reporting their experiences to authorities and services due to:[180]

  • Fear that they will not be believed if they seek help in the community, or that as a consequence of seeking help for experiencing violence they will be ostracised from their community
  • Minimisation or normalisation of the person’s use of violence due to the high level of stress they endure in their workplace. Societal acceptance that a range of occupations involving exposure to traumatic situations with often life-threatening and violent outcomes, has previously made family violence less visible and ‘normalised’ within some relationships
  • Being reliant on support including housing, compensation and resources to meet basic needs (for example from ADF).Access to these may be contingent on maintaining a relationship with the person using violence, which can include accepting the role of carer to support the person using violence in their military duties, such as where the person using violence may have experiences of PTSD[181]
  • Fear that the person using violence will be able to use their occupational knowledge and expertise to locate them if they leave, avoid prosecution, or manipulate the system into not believing them. People using violence in positions of power may exacerbate fears of victim survivors that system intervention cannot guarantee their safety and confidentiality
  • Fear of retaliation from the perpetrator for disclosing violence where there are impacts on their employment, such as the perpetrator’s behaviour becoming known to their workplace and facing disciplinary actions or losing their job. There may be fear of increased severity of violence if the person has access and licence to use firearms
  • Capacity for people in positions of power to intimidate and seek collusion from colleagues to further perpetrate, threaten or coerce a victim survivor to drop charges or withdraw family violence intervention or other orders.

Stronger positions of power and systems awareness enables perpetrators to exploit their position and standing in the method, narrative and behaviour they use to seek collusion from other professionals and services. People using violence in positions of power may have more knowledge, skill and capacity to use systems abuse behaviours to reduce victim survivors’ access to services, and navigate or weaponise systems as a method of coercive control.

People using violence in positions of power may have more knowledge, skill and capacity to use systems abuse behaviours to reduce victim survivors’ access to services.

Stronger systems awareness enables perpetrators in positions of power to understand how to seek collusion from other professionals and services with their narrative and behaviour, exploiting their position and capacity to navigate and weaponise systems as methods of coercive control.

12.2 Informing our practice

12.2.1 Perpetrator/predominant aggressor and misidentification [182]

Family violence risk assessment and management practice includes identifying:

  • the person experiencing family violence (the victim survivor)
  • the person using violence (the perpetrator)
  • the ongoing risk of victimisation and perpetration of violence.

Correctly identifying each party is critical. This informs all immediate and ongoing strategies to reduce the risk of harm.

Harm includes the perpetrator’s use of violence and coercive control, the impact of family violence on victim survivors, and the unintentional harm or trauma created through system responses.

Identifying the person who has used a pattern of coercive, controlling and violent behaviour over time is key to identifying the perpetrator.

Where there is cross-disclosure, cross-accusations or observations of ‘mutual’ or ‘bi-directional’ violence (for further information, refer to below), the person who exhibits this pattern would be identified as the ‘predominant aggressor’ in the family relationship.

The predominant aggressor is the person causing the greatest family violence harm to a partner or family member.

Failure to identify the predominant aggressor may result in the misidentification of the victim survivor as the perpetrator.

Misidentification can lead to a number of system responses such as civil or criminal orders.

This can have long-lasting negative consequences on the victim survivor. It can lead to mistrust of police and the intervention system, resulting in reluctance to report subsequent violence.[183]

Misidentification can be due to a number of different factors. These factors include perpetrator behaviours, such as using vexatious claims or systems abuse as part of a pattern of coercive control, as well as system failures, for example, low levels of understanding about LGBTIQ relationships in parts of the service system.[184]

Perpetrators may be misidentified as victim survivors for a range of reasons.

They may use the criminal justice system to control the victim survivor by contacting the police and making false accusations.

They may also believe that they have a right to control the victim survivor by whatever means they choose, and they may express their dissatisfaction in losing control by misrepresenting themselves as a victim survivor.

Some perpetrators of family violence report being victim survivors.

A perpetrator can overtly present themselves as the victim of the violence to manipulate services, including police, and get them ‘on side’ with their narrative, resulting in the ‘real’ victim being misidentified as a perpetrator.

This tactic is a form of systems abuse and has significant impact on victim survivors.

Presenting in this way is consistent with the victim stance that many perpetrators adopt to justify and excuse their behaviour.

Perpetrators may also aim to convince service providers that they are the victim survivor or use a range of behaviours to avoid or deflect their responsibility for using family violence.

Perpetrators may also present with narratives of injustice from system interventions, which may be related to their own experiences of violence, marginalisation and discrimination.

Research evidence suggests that misidentification of victim survivors is more likely in some circumstances than others.

Those at higher risk of being misidentified include victim survivors:

  • from Aboriginal communities
  • from culturally, linguistically and faith-diverse communities (especially where there is a language barrier)
  • with a disability
  • identifying as trans and/or gender diverse
  • with a mental illness
  • in same-gender relationships.[185]

Some victim survivors may be misidentified as a perpetrator where they have used self-defence or violent resistance in response to their experience of the perpetrator’s pattern of violence and coercive control, or for actions taken to defend another family member.

Victim survivors are also misidentified as a perpetrator based on misinterpretation of their presentation or behaviour.

This can be due to direct and deliberate misrepresentation by the perpetrator, or due to bias on behalf of professionals and services, such as gender norms and stereotyped expectations of, for example, women’s behaviour.

Women’s behaviour is often misinterpreted in relation to:

  • their response to the impact of violence on them (such as trauma responses)
  • having mental health issues
  • the influence of alcohol or other drugs
  • perceived or actual aggression towards police or at initiation of police contact.

You should be mindful of your own biases and how these might contribute to their understandings of what a victim is ‘supposed’ to look like.

Evidence suggests notions of the ‘perfect victim’ can be highly racialised, gendered and classed, with beliefs held that a victim survivor is not supposed to fight back and be submissive to authority.[186]

There is significant evidence, however, that victim survivors are rarely passive victims of the abuse to which they are subjected.[187]

Misidentification may also occur when a perpetrator:

  • falsely accuses a victim survivor of using violence or misrepresents their self-defence as evidence of violence
  • cites substance misuse by the victim survivor as evidence to support their claim they are a perpetrator
  • undermines a victim survivor’s presentation or behaviour as resulting from mental illness or misrepresents a victim survivor’s disability as drunkenness or being drug affected. For example, the victim survivor may be in shock or distraught as a result of the violence, they may be calm and assertive, or they may fear reprisals from showing their reaction to the violence. The perpetrator may seek to deliberately leverage commonly held discriminatory attitudes to misrepresent the victim survivor’s true state and minimise the victim survivor’s opportunity to have their voice heard.

Misidentification can also occur where a victim survivor is experiencing barriers to communication with the police or a service provider (due to trauma responses, injury or from pre-existing communication barriers).

Key indicators for identifying a predominant aggressor include:[188]

  • the respective injuries of the parties
  • whether either party has defensive injuries
  • whether it is likely one party has acted in self-defence
  • in predicting or anticipating violence, whether it is likely one party acted with violent resistance
  • the likelihood or capacity of each party to inflict further injury
  • self-assessment of fear and safety of each party, or, if not able to be ascertained, which party appears more fearful
  • patterns of coercion, intimidation and/or violence by either party.

Other indicators include:

  • prior perpetration/histories of violence (from a range of services, including specialist family violence services, health services, etc.)
  • accounts from other household members or witnesses, if available
  • the size, weight and strength of the parties.[189]

Where the identity of the predominant aggressor or perpetrator is unclear or not yet determined, you should record your reasoning in organisational data collecting systems so that the information can be made available to other services through information sharing.

In these situations, seek assistance from a professional with specialist skills in family violence risk assessment.

Guidance on identifying the predominant aggressor (perpetrator) is outlined in victim survivor–focused Responsibility 7 and perpetrator-focused Responsibilities 2, 3 and 7.

Challenging narratives about ‘mutual violence’ or ‘bi-directional violence’

Professionals should not use mutualising language to describe family violence, including using the terms ‘mutual violence’ and ‘bi-directional violence’ to name or describe the situation.

Mutualising language in the context of family violence can occur when:

  • there are cross-accusations by parties of the other/multiple parties using violence in a family context
  • professionals accept an immediate presentation of violence without further assessment and analysis of the situation
  • situations are complex and the process of correctly identifying a predominant aggressor is elongated, challenging and uncertain.

Using mutualising language risks colluding with a perpetrator/predominant aggressor and undermining the safety of victim survivors.

Understanding who is causing the greatest harm can be complex in circumstances where both, or multiple, parties report they are the victim of the other.

Where there are cross-accusations, presentations or narratives that the violence is ‘mutual’ or ‘bi-directional’, take care you are not colluding with a predominant aggressor/perpetrator’s narrative to position a ‘real’ victim survivor as a perpetrator.

If a perpetrator’s victim stance is not recognised and they are provided with opportunities to collude, they may intentionally seek to manipulate professionals and services and use systems abuse to further their use of violence against the victim survivor.

Using mutualising language also risks decontextualising the experience and use of family violence from the broader situation or pattern of events.

It is important to account for the complexity and crucial distinction between violence driven by ongoing, patterned, coercive and controlling behaviours versus self-defence and violent resistance.

The perpetrator may exploit the latter through gaslighting and confusing the victim survivor, so that they view themselves as a perpetrator.

You should listen carefully to the service user’s narrative to identify situations where:

  • a person reports they are using violence within a relationship, however, their disclosures indicate they experience the other person’s pattern of violence and coercive control
  • a person suggests they are a victim survivor; however, their narratives indicate their use of family violence behaviours.

Presentations can be complex, and allegations of ‘mutual violence’ can occur across age groups, intimate partner and family relationships and communities, including within a family of origin context.

Responding to disclosures or cross-accusations requires specialist family violence service support.

You can seek secondary consultation and share information with specialist services for further assessment (refer to the perpetrator-focused MARAM Practice Guides – Responsibilities 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7in particular).

12.2.2 Accountability to victim survivors’ lived experience

Accountability to victim survivors is the collective responsibility of a whole service system response to family violence.

Everyone has a role to play.

A system that is accountable to victim survivors is also accountable to perpetrators, other professionals and the community more broadly.

This underpins the model of Structured Professional Judgement discussed in Section 10, which is premised on understanding the ‘expertise’ victim survivors have in the assessment of their level of safety.

It centralises victim survivors’ expertise in identifying the perpetrator’s pattern of behaviour. It builds on strategies they have already used to keep themselves safe to enhance immediate safety.

Perpetrators have an individual responsibility to be accountable for their user of violence. Specialist family violence services work with them to first acknowledge that they are using family violence before they can consider the need to stop.

Perpetrators must be personally ready to change their behaviour, and they must be stable enough in life to benefit from intervention.[190]

Perpetrators may demonstrate their readiness to change by making a personal commitment to their family’s safety and:

  • acknowledging that they are using violence
  • recognising their patterns of violence, rather than focusing on a few ‘signature’ examples
  • developing an internal motivation to change and understanding what aspects of their behaviour and attitudes they should change
  • demonstrating a capacity to change (for example, professionals can respond to needs-based issues such as homelessness and criminogenic needs that can otherwise act as significant barriers and limits to capacity for a perpetrator to change their behaviour)
  • demonstrating shifts in deep-seated attitudes, starting to think differently, and applying these new attitudes in behaviour towards family members
  • discarding influences that might work against these revised attitudes
  • making amends for some of the damage caused
  • demonstrating maintenance of any change in attitudes and behaviour achieved.[191]

Contributing to perpetrator accountability across the system

All points of the service system must take responsibility for the way in which interactions with the perpetrator can potentially make families safer, while ensuring they do not inadvertently increase risk.[192]

In aligning to the MARAM Framework, you are committing to working with a shared understanding of family violence, family violence risk, and collaborative approach to risk management.

When working with people using family violence, accountability to victim survivors’ lived experience at a systems level means:

  • provide consistent information and messages that family violence is not tolerated or accepted, and that support is available
  • working with others to situate the responsibility for the violence with the perpetrator
  • contributing to collaborative risk management strategies that do not undermine other parts of the system response to work directly with victim survivors
  • monitoring a perpetrator’s use of violence by keeping them ‘in view’
  • understanding when you should seek secondary consultation or share information with specialist family violence services for comprehensive risk assessment and management, including services that work with perpetrators of violence
  • reporting criminal offences or collaborating on risk management approaches before reporting
  • reporting concerns about any children to Child Protection or other relevant authorities to enhance partnering with non-violent parents/adult victim survivors and increasing perpetrator accountability.

Concepts of consistent messaging, consequences and ‘in view’ are further described below.

In view

Keeping perpetrators engaged and ‘in view’ can provide current information about the level of risk presented by individual perpetrators and how this can fluctuate over time.

With this information, the service system can intervene in a timely way to identify, assess and manage dynamic and real-time risks presented by perpetrators to their family members in the short term and over time.

Perpetrators may held be ‘in view’ of the service system from many different perspectives.

Coordination and collaboration among service providers and sharing perspectives and expertise about the risk individuals present to their family members will support a comprehensive and timely ‘view’ of a perpetrator’s likelihood to use or escalate their use of violence.

Perpetrators (whether identified as such or not) will have varying motivations to engage with the service system.

These may include:

  • in the normal course of using universal services, such as accessing therapeutic supports health care, education, housing or other community programs that are not related to family violence occurring within their family. These services are most likely to have more regular engagement with perpetrators, and so have an ongoing role in identification, risk assessment and management
  • to seek services or justice intervention as a way of maintaining their control over the victim survivor, such as
    • taking out an intervention order against the person they are perpetrating violence against
    • reporting a family member to Child Protection
    • destruction of property or incurring fines on behalf of the victim survivor in order to gain additional control of their resources and living requirements
    • changing or making threats related to child parenting arrangements
  • to seek support for themselves to address the implications of their use of family violence. These services are most likely to be accessed when needs are acute and ongoing engagement may not occur. This may include:
    • reaching out to community networks such as religious or community groups
    • accessing therapeutic supports such as phone counselling services to assist with parenting, mental health or housing support
    • men’s sheds or specialist perpetrator’s family violence services
  • to seek support for the victim of their violence. These services are most likely to be accessed when needs are acute and ongoing engagement may not occur. Seeking support for the victim survivor may be an extension of coercive and controlling behaviours. It may also be motivated by fear of the impact of their violence on the victim survivor and/or to retain the appearance of a concerned family member. This may include:
    • calling emergency services
    • taking a victim survivor to a hospital emergency department or health service following physical or sexual violence.

The way in which you learn of a service user’s perpetration of family violence will influence the way you engage safely with the person to:

  • hold them ‘in view’
  • provide consistent messages that the behaviour is unacceptable
  • avoid collusion.

Consistent messaging and consequences

At a systems level, all professionals should provide consistent and reinforcing messages that violence is unacceptable in ways that are clear and respectful.

As a service system, there is a shared responsibility and aim to support and enable a perpetrator to assume personal responsibility for the use of violence and its impacts and desist from using violence.

However, the use of violence in family relationships is based on deeply held attitudes and is an intentional pattern of behaviour.[193]

Where a perpetrator comes to the attention of service providers or authorities, it is likely that they will experience external forms of accountability before (and if) they assume personal responsibility for their use of violence.

External consequences for using family violence can take a range of forms, including:

  • criminal charges and sanctions
  • civil remedies such as the imposition of intervention orders or family violence safety notices
  • court-mandated participation in perpetrator behaviour change programs or other programs that provide case management
  • a Children’s Court order for contact with their children to be supervised.

Outside the justice and statutory systems, perpetrators may feel held to account by:

  • service system interventions that reinforce their accountability such as case work or opportunities to participate in culturally informed perpetrator behaviour change programs
  • formal and informal community support and interventions that encourage people using violence to assume responsibility for and cease their use of violence.

Reviewed 21 July 2021

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