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What is family violence?

Family and domestic violence is any violent, threatening, coercive or controlling behaviour that occurs in current or past family, domestic or intimate relationships.

Family violence is a widespread and serious problem that causes significant and detrimental impacts on individuals, families and communities across all facets of society.  

Addressing family violence requires a whole-of-community response and a coordinated system working together to support adult and child victim-survivors, address risk and safety needs, and promote perpetrator accountability. 

There are also specific initiatives and targeted responses for men who experience family violence, and people from multicultural communities or ethno-specific groups, LGBTIQ communities, older people and people with disability.  

Family and domestic violence is any violent, threatening, coercive or controlling behaviour that occurs in current or past family, domestic or intimate relationships. 

Intimate partners, family members and non-family carers can perpetrate violence against people they are caring for. Young people can also use violence or be victims of violence within their family. 

The Family Violence Protection Act 2008 recognises these definitions of family violence, confirming that: 

  • Family violence is a fundamental violation of human rights and is unacceptable in any form. 
  • Family violence may involve overt or subtle exploitation of power imbalances and may consist of isolated incidents or patterns of abuse over a period of time. 

Under the Act, examples of behaviour that may constitute family violence include (but are not limited to): 

  • an assault 
  • a sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour 
  • stalking 
  • repeated derogatory taunts 
  • intentionally damaging or destroying property 
  • intentionally causing death or injury to an animal 
  • unreasonably denying the family member the financial autonomy that he or she would otherwise have had 
  • unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet the reasonable living expenses of the family member, or his or her child, at a time when the family member is entirely or predominantly dependent on the person for financial support 
  • preventing the family member from making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture 
  • unlawfully depriving the family member, or any member of the family member’s family, or his or her liberty.

What causes family violence? 

The causes of family violence are complex. There is no doubt that violence against women and children is deeply rooted in power imbalances between men and women. These imbalances are reinforced by gender norms and stereotypes, and attitudes and cultures that excuse violence and inequality.  

Ending Family Violence: Victoria’s Plan for Change recognised that individual and structural power imbalances are at the centre of family violence. People from Aboriginal and diverse communities can face additional barriers to and discrimination in getting the help that they need, which can create a greater risk of experiencing family violence. This can include culturally and linguistically diverse communities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer communities, people with a disability and people experiencing mental health issues.  

Gender inequality plays out in society in many different ways, including: 

  • 'everyday sexism' such as sexual and verbal harassment of women and girls 
  • demeaning and sexualised portrayals of women and girls in the media 
  • fewer women in leadership roles, giving men more control over decision‐making 
  • the gender pay gap, caused by men being paid more than women for the same or similar work 
  • women’s sport attracting less sponsorship, prize money and media coverage compared to men’s 

Other factors that can also be associated with family violence risk include: 

  • intergenerational abuse and trauma 
  • exposure to violence as a child 
  • social and economic exclusion 
  • financial pressures 
  • drug and alcohol misuse 
  • mental illness 

These factors can combine to influence the risk of an individual perpetrating family violence or becoming a victim of such violence. 

Family violence in Victoria 

The Victorian Government announced the Royal Commission into Family Violence in 2015. The Premier of Victoria The Hon. Daniel Andrews MP said it was: 

The most urgent law and order emergency occurring in our state and the most unspeakable crime unfolding across our nation. 

Family violence in Victoria was estimated to have cost $5.3 billion in 2015-16. 

Following the release of the Royal Commission’s report in 2016, the Victorian Government is working towards implementing all 227 of the Commission’s recommendations. 

The Victorian Government has invested approximately $2.7 billion to address family violence since 2014. 

Family violence statistics 

  • Approximately one quarter of women in Australia have experienced at least one incident of violence by an intimate partner. 
  • On average, 1 woman a week in Australia is killed by her intimate partner. 
  • Most victims/survivors of intimate partner violence are women. 
  • Approximately 1 in 5 Australian women (18% or 1.7 million) has experienced sexual violence. 
  • Partner violence often occurs when women are pregnant. 
  • Intimate partner violence is the greatest health risk factor (greater than smoking, alcohol and obesity) for women in their reproductive years. 
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience high rates of violence with significant health impacts. An estimated 3 in 5 indigenous women have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner since age 15. 
  • Over one-third of women with disabilities experience some form of intimate partner violence. 
  • Children can also be victims of family violence, this may be as the primary victim of family violence or through exposure of a parent or family member experiencing violence. Family violence is a factor in many child protection cases. 
  • Many women do not seek help about their experience of violence. Of women who have experienced violence by a current partner: 
    • Just over half (54% or 149,700) had sought advice or support about the violence they experienced. 
    • 82% (225,700) had never contacted the police. 

What is the family violence sector?  

The specialist family violence services operate as a multi-functional sector providing a range of complementary responses, including state wide telephone services, state wide and local support services, family violence accommodation services and therapeutic programs. Some specialist family violence services are stand-alone organisations, some are provided as programs within other types of community organisations, and some are working within co-located, multi-agency environments.  

Across the sector, specialist family violence services engage in numerous activities when working with victim-survivors. These include case management activities (such as crisis responses, brief interventions and intermediate to longer term or intensive approaches), family violence risk assessment and risk management processes, safety planning, counselling and support group work, community outreach support, and advocacy for victim-survivors’ rights and access to resources and service entitlements. Specialist family violence services provide secondary consultations and mobilise coordinated responses within the broader family violence system. They are also involved in researching and developing innovative responses to family violence and providing education about family violence to other sectors and the community  

Specialist family violence services hold expertise in assessing and analysing family violence as an abuse of power and control situated within complex patriarchal social conditions and intersecting oppressions. As such, specialist family violence services work not only to address the individual experience of violence but also to collectively transform the conditions of society that make violence possible in the first place, through primary prevention strategies, systemic advocacy, political reform and social change campaigning.  

Specialist family violence services are part of a broader family violence system that includes government departments, statutory agencies and community services working across the spectrum of prevention, early intervention and response. Specialist family violence services are primarily situated at the response-end of the system, although many services are also involved in leading or contributing to family violence prevention initiatives and early intervention programs. It is important that specialist family violence services play a leadership role in the family violence response system as their everyday work with victim-survivors, analysis of systemic trends and gaps, and specialist expertise provides a unique vantage point to assess the effectiveness and functioning of the system.