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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.

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 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.

Reviewed 20 May 2020

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