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Key Definitions and Types of Domestic and Family Violence

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is most commonly described as an act of violence that generally occurs between two people who are in an intimate relationship or have previously been in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence usually consists of violent, threatening and intimidating behaviour that is used as an ongoing tactic to exercise power and control. Acts of domestic violence may occur once, but most commonly, when there is no form of intervention, it continues in cycles for the life of the relationship, often escalating in severity and regularity. Perpetrators often escalate their violence when women declare their intention to leave the relationship or for short or extended periods following her leaving the relationship. While men can be victims of violence, women experience domestic, family and sexual violence at disproportionately higher levels, predominantly perpetrated by men. Violence perpetrated against women tends to be more severe and part of an ongoing pattern of intimidation and control. Men are more likely to be the victims of violence from other men and from strangers in public, and different strategies are required to address these different types of violence.

While alcohol, substance abuse, mental health issues and poverty can be contributing factors to violence, they are not the causal factors. Most people who consume alcohol or drugs, or who have mental health issues, do not commit acts of domestic or family violence.

Family Violence

Family violence is a broader term that generally extends to violence between family members as well as violence between intimate partners. The term ‘family violence’ is the preferred term to identify violence experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, where violence can occur between people from a range of marital and kinship relationships. Domestic and family violence can include a broad range of actions and behaviours, including:

While alcohol, substance abuse, mental health issues and poverty can be contributing factors to violence, they are not the causal factors. Most people who consume alcohol or drugs, or who have mental health issues, do not commit acts of domestic or family violence.

CALD Communities

Women from culturally and linguistically diverse communities can face specific challenges. In addition to gender discrimination, they can experience discrimination on the basis of skin colour, religious affiliation, ethnic origin and other identity characteristics such as dress codes. 

Some women who are newly-arrived to Australia from migrant or refugee backgrounds may face even greater challenges such as:

  • a lack of established family networks, support systems and community structures;
  • dealing with the distress of refugee displacement and prior experiences of torture and trauma;
  • language barriers and social isolation that can limit awareness of rights and available services;
  • uncertainty or fear around visa or immigration status;
  • differences in cultural beliefs and practices regarding respectful and equitable relationships between men and women;
  • shame or fear of exclusion from communities can also make it difficult to talk about violence and seek help, and this is even more pronounced when coupled with geographic isolation or socio-economic disadvantage.

LGBTIQA+ Communities

People who identify as LGBTI are often grouped under the convenient ‘LGBTI’ umbrella. However, it is important to note that there are several distinct, but sometimes overlapping, cohorts, each with their own distinct histories, experiences and needs. There has been minimal research into the types of family violence perpetrated against LGBTI people, outside of the intimate partner relationship context. Coupled with the binary sex and gender categorisations within a heteronormative framing, family violence against LGBTI people has been, to some extent, rendered invisible from the mainstream discourse and understanding of family violence, and research pertaining to violence and/or abuse of LGBTI people by family members is too rarely defined as ‘family violence’. This is particularly true for bisexual, trans and gender diverse people, and people with intersex variations.

Types of violence experienced by LGBTIQA+ people

In addition to the well-documented types of physical, sexual, psychological, financial and other types of family violence that are relevant to all, the following abuse-tactics have been identified as specific to LGB people:

  • threats to ‘out’ or reveal the victim/survivor’s sexual orientation to friends, families, and peers as a method of control;
  • abuse that is targeted at the victim/survivor’s sexuality, gender or biological sex questioning a partner’s ‘true’ sexual orientation and coercing a partner to ‘prove’ their sexual orientation;
  • exploiting the stigma that still surrounds violence in non-heterosexual relationships as a means to shame the victim/survivor into not disclosing the abuse, including telling the victim/survivor that ‘no one will believe you’;
  • threatening to disclose health related issues, such as HIV status, to family members, friends, or peers;
  • telling their partner that they will lose custody of the children as a result of being ‘outed’.

Women with Disabilities

There is a high incidence of violence against women with disabilities. It is extensive and of a pervasive nature. It is even more horrifying to know that women with disability are 40% more likely to experience domestic violence that their non-disabled counterparts, and that the rates of sexual violence against women with disabilities are 4 to 10 times that of those without disabilities. To our shame, nine in 10 women with an intellectual disability have been sexually abused. But, if she does happen to be living with a disability, this violence can take on additional forms and may include putting medicines out of reach deliberately, denying access to assistive equipment, or verbal abuse about the disability. Worse, the violence is often perpetrated over a much longer period of time. Where a home is adapted to her needs or she relies on that perpetrator for essential personal supports it is much, much harder to imagine how one could find any pathway to safety.

Yet until recent years, there has been a profound silence around the experiences of violence among women with disabilities. The issues for women with disabilities have largely been excluded from most generic policies and from responses to the issue of women and violence. All these factors combine to produce a situation where women with disabilities are relegated them to a position of extreme marginalisation and consequently, to increased risks and experiences of violence.

Domestic and family violence and its relationship to child protection

Whether children experience violence themselves or witness this behaviour, this violence can have long-lasting impacts on children’s wellbeing and development. The seriousness and prevalence of domestic and family violence mean that practitioners need ways to minimise risk to children and adult victim/survivors and to support their safety and wellbeing.

Family violence impacts upon the fundamental human rights of children and families to live in safety and security. Children are now recognised as victims of Domestic and family violence in their own right.

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