Types of domestic and family violence

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The term 'domestic and family violence' means any ongoing acts used to exert power and control. People who use domestic or family violence could be partners, spouses, carers or family members. They are a crime and are always the fault of the offender.

Domestic and family violence consists of sexual, psychological, physical, spiritual, financial and social abuse against another person.

There is help available for people experiencing this violence.

What is domestic and family violence?

Domestic and family violence are broad terms covering a range of different behaviours. Importantly, domestic and family violence is a crime for which offenders are solely responsible.

There are many names used to mean domestic and/or family violence. Some people talk about partner violence, intimate partner violence, DV, spousal abuse, wife beating, child abuse, or incest.

We use the term domestic and family violence to describe a range of behaviours that are used by a person to dominate and control another, using tactics that include violence, manipulation, stalking, gaslighting and more.

'Domestic violence' usually refers to violence between people who are in an intimate or dating relationship (or who have previously been).

The broader term 'family violence' refers to violence between people who have a family relationship eg. brother, sister, cousin, parent, grandparent, etc. Family violence is the preferred term in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in which close relationships and kinship relationships extend far beyond the nuclear family.

Types of violence


Coercion and control

Coercion and control (sometimes called coercive control) is a pattern of behaviours directed at a person or group of people to control and dominate them.

Coercion and control behaviours include belittling, demeaning, undermining, threats, intimidation, social isolation, financial abuse, and monitoring movements online and offline.

Most domestic and family violence is coercive control. It is ongoing, cumulative, chronic and routine.

Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a common form of coercive control. It is a type of psychological manipulation in which an offender sows seeds of doubt and confusion. It causes the individual to question their own memory, thoughts, and even sanity.

Psychological violence

Psychological violence behaviour includes intimidation, humiliation, emotional blackmail, abusing pets, gaslighting, threatening to 'out' someone’s sexuality, transgender or intersex status and more. It also includes the effects of financial, social and other non-physical forms of violence.

Sexual violence

Sexual violence is any form of pressured/unwanted sexual activity or sexual degradation. It includes rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, forced prostitution, human trafficking, image-based abuse, reproductive coercion (e.g. controlling contraception, preventing or forcing an abortion).

Financial abuse

Financial abuse includes controlling access to finances. Examples of this are welfare theft (taking money from Centrelink or other agencies), preventing someone from working or studying, and dowry-related abuse.

It is common for people who experience financial abuse to have problems with debt and abuse of credit (eg. an abuser using credit cards to run up debt, or obtaining lines of credit in someone else's name).

Social violence

Social violence can include controlling or isolating a partner or family member from their family, friends or community. It might also include limiting social activities and relationships with friends and family, and their partner or family member from accessing support.

Offenders might undermine their partner or family member's other relationships by repeating gossip, outing their sexuality to their friends/relatives, or trying to alienate them from other people by making up lies or accusations.

Spiritual violence

Spiritual violence might include preventing someone from practicing their faith or culture. An abuser might ridicule spiritual beliefs and/or manipulate religious and spiritual teachings or cultural traditions to excuse their violence.

Some offenders use scripture to control an individual's clothing and appearance, rights and responsibilities in the home. They might use religion or culture to demand sexual acts, or excuse their controlling and abusive behaviour.

Physical violence

Physical violence mean any assault on the body including but not limited to slapping, hitting, punching, pushing, choking, sleep and food deprivation, burns and use of weapons.

Technology facilitated violence

Technology violence might include the use of text, email, phone to abuse, monitor, humiliate or punish. Offenders might make threats to distribute private or sexual photos or videos.

If you are concerned someone might be experiencing violence

When you discover that a friend or family member has experienced violence, we often find ourselves asking, 'why didn't I know?' It can be difficult to know if somebody is experiencing domestic violence. It is something that many people find difficult or unsafe to talk about. For others, they may not have recognised for themselves that their partner's behaviour is abusive.

The experience of domestic and family violence is very often tied up with feelings of embarrassment or shame. Secrecy is commonly reinforced by the offending person to protect themselves and to isolate their victim.

Remember, do not limit yourself to looking for physical signs of harm. The cornerstone of domestic violence is power and control. This is harder to spot, and often the most difficult aspect of the abuse to recover from.

Domestic and family violence offenders are usually very careful to make their violence invisible to others. You may not witness any obvious behaviours from the offender at all. You may even find them charming.

While there may be no outward signs that someone is experiencing violence, these signs could indicate that they may be.

This list is not complete, but can help understand how domestic or family violence might look to friends and family:

  • The offender controls decision making about family or social life and/or finances. An example of this might be noticing that this person has to seek permission from their partner or relative to make plans or to spend money. They might lack access to money.

  • In intimate relationships (like marriage) the offender shows extreme or unusual jealousy. They might checking their partners' phone and messages, accusing them of cheating or flirting. They might forbid them from speaking to people who they view as sexual or romantic competition.

  • The offender might be intrusively present or constantly 'checking up on' their partner or relative. For example, calling 15 times a day or turning up to events uninvited or unexpectedly.

  • The offender might undermine other important relationships in the person's life or 'come between' them and other friends or family. You may simply notice that your friend or relative stops spending time with you and other friends or family. For example, offender might tell you (or another friend or family member) that your friend has said something negative about you. This could create a divide between you and your friend or relative that undermines your relationship. This is a tactic used by offenders to isolate their partner or relative. It extends the offender's influence and control in their life and diminishes their independence and resources.

  • The person may appear nervous or anxious about how the offender will react to minor things like being late, bumping into a friend by chance, changes in plans, or unexpected bills.

  • One impact of control can be that the person's self-esteem or self-confidence deteriorates. They might start speaking negatively about themselves, saying things like, "Oh, I'm so stupid", expressing feelings of guilt and lack of confidence, or having difficulty making decisions.

You can say something, and it really can help.

How you respond to someone experiencing domestic or family violence can make an important difference.

In the first instance you can ask them about it. Let them know what you have noticed, and that it has worried you.

Don't be surprised or hurt if they don't open up to you or are embarrassed by of afraid of your questions. They may not be ready to talk about what is happening (or has happened) and they may feel ashamed.

If the person experiencing the violence is a man, he may feel particularly confused and reluctant to speak about the abuse, as it might be something that is considered a 'women's problem'. There is a common and wrong belief that men should be stronger and more powerful than women.

If they don't want to talk to you about it, reassure them that the line is always open for them to talk to you in future.

By asking them about what you have noticed in a way that doesn't judge or criticise them or their partner, you are letting them know you are a safe person for them to turn to if/ when they are ready.

Getting help

If you think you might be experiencing some of these behaviours, you could be experiencing domestic and/or family violence. Many support services are available.

You can discuss how to keep yourself safer and how to manage the impacts of violence with our trained counsellors.