What is domestic and family violence?
"All my energy was focussed on getting things right for him."
Domestic and family violence is when someone intentionally uses violence, threats, force or intimidation to control and manipulate a family member, partner or former partner.
A central component of this definition that is also important for defining the difference between relationship conflict and domestic and family violence is the aspect of power and control. Domestic and family violence is characterised by one partner or family member using abusive behaviours/tactics to obtain power and control over their victim. The abuse is intentional and systematic, and often increases in frequency and severity the longer the relationship goes on.
Many Indigenous and CaLD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) communities prefer the term ‘family violence’ which includes all forms of violence within intimate and family relationships.
This is the preferred term since it is not only partners, wives, or de-factos who are victims of violence and abuse but also mothers, sisters, aunties, children, some men, extended family and community.
A gendered crime
Domestic and family violence is a gendered crime. 95% of the victims of domestic and family violence are female and over 90% of the perpetrators are male.
Forms of abuse
"He wouldn’t hit me, but when he drank he’d just get aggro and punch holes in walls or smash stuff." – Vicki
- Physical abuse – any behaviour that is intended to cause harm e.g. pushing, slapping, punching, choking, kicking.
- Sexual assault/abuse – forcing you to participate in any kind of sexual activity that you are not comfortable with or do not want to do. Sexual abuse can also include denying sex.
- Financial abuse – taking or limiting your money, stealing.
- Social isolation – keeping you away from friends and family.
- Verbal – threats, put downs, insults, shouting.
- Emotional – mind games, manipulation, humiliation, making you feel worthless and no good.
- Spiritual deprivation – keeping you away from places of worship, forcing you to participate in spiritual/religious practice that you do not want to be involved with.
- Property damage – smashing objects in the home.
- Intimidation/stand over tactics – stalking, following, making you feel scared.
"I was not allowed to drive a car or talk to anyone". - Sharin
- Threatening to harm or actually harming/killing pets.
- Threatening to commit suicide.
- Withholding medical treatment.
- Driving dangerously with the intent to cause harm or fear.
How many people experience DFV?
"You have no idea how validated I felt when – it was a woman at Centrelink actually - she made me understand that it was abuse." – Lynette
The United Nations State of World Population Report (2005) revealed that gender based violence globally is the most widely spread and socially tolerated of human rights violations. They found that internationally one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused, usually by a family member or an acquaintance at some point in their life.
The same report also found that in Australia domestic and family violence is the single greatest health risk for women (more so than smoking, alcohol, breast cancer, or any other kind of virus, disease or substance that might impact upon a woman’s health).
It is important to know that domestic and family violence is not something that is experienced only by poor women or only by women overseas. Domestic and family violence in Australia and around the world pervades all cultural, religious and economic brackets. It can and does affect women from all walks of life…
1 in 5 women in Australia are abused in an intimate relationship at some point in their adult life. In addition, 1 in 5 women also experience some kind of sexual violence/assault (ABS, 2006).
- Children and Young People
1 in 4 children witness domestic and family violence in the home and 1 in 3 young people who have a boyfriend or girlfriend experience violence and abuse in that relationship (Indermaur, 2001).
- Older adults
The exact prevalence of elder abuse in Australia is unknown. Research indicates that the rate of elder abuse varies from 1.2% - 5.5% (Curtin Division of Health Sciences, 2002). However, these figures are derived from service providers who have come into direct contact with victims of elder abuse and it is believed that there are many more older adults in the community who have or are being abused by their partner or adult children who have not come forward.
- Indigenous women
Indigenous women are significantly over-represented in statistics of domestic and family violence victimisation. In Australia Indigenous women are 45 times more likely to experience domestic and family violence compared to non-Indigenous women and make up 50% of Australia’s domestic and family violence victims (Ferrante, 1996). Because of the large amount of violence that is perpetrated against Indigenous women, Indigenous children are exposed to violence at a very high rate. Research indicates that 42% of Indigenous children witness domestic and family violence in the home (Indermaur, 2001).
- Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CaLD) women
Accurate statistics about CaLD women’s experiences of domestic and family violence in Australia are very hard to come by, however, researchers and service providers are agreed that the rate of violence perpetrated against CaLD women is very high (Boner & Roberts, 2006; Erez, 2000; Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association, 2000).
- People of diverse sexuality and gender
Research conducted by Pitts and colleagues (2005) surveyed 5476 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and found extremely high rates of intimate partner violence. Among gay men and lesbian women 27.9% and 40.7% respectively reported that they had been in a relationship in which a partner abused them. 61.8% and 36.4% of transgender men and transgender women respectively reported being abused in an intimate relationship; and 36.4% and 42.9% of intersex males and intersex females respectively also reported being abused in an intimate relationship.
- Women with a disability
Women who have a disability also experience domestic and family violence at very high rates. Recent research conducted by Cockram (2003) found that 72% of women who possess a disability have experienced some kind of emotional abuse, 55% have experienced social abuse, 58% experienced sexual assault, 50% physical abuse, 46% financial abuse and 39% experienced stalking.
ABS (2006). Personal Safety Survey. Australian Bureau of Statistics no. 4906.0.55.003
Boner, M., & Roberts, D. (2006). A review of literature relating to family and domestic violence in communities in Australia, Family and Domestic Violence Unit.
Cockram, J. (2003). Silent voices: Women with disabilities and family and domestic violence. Doctoral Dissertation, Edith Cowan University.
Curtin Division of Health Sciences (2002). Elder abuse in Western Australia: Report of a survey conducted for the Department for Community Development – Seniors Interests, Department for Community Development
Erez, E. (2000). Immigration, culture conflict and domestic violence/woman battering. Crime Prevention and Community Safety: An International Journal, 27-36
Ferrante, A., Morgan, F., Indermaur, D., & Harding, R. (1996). Measuring the extent of Domestic Violence. Sydney, NSW, Hawkins Press.
Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association. (2000). ‘Trapped in violence’ NESB women and children without income support: Results of a survey of NSW Women’s Refuges, Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association
Indermaur, D. (2001). Young Australians and Domestic Violence. Australian Institute of Criminology
Pitts, M., Smith, A., Mitchell, A., & Patel, S. (2006). Private lives: A report o the health and wellbeing of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender and Intersex Australians. Latrobe University.
UNFPA (2005). Chapter 7: Gender based violence: A price too high. In. State of World Population Report, UNFPA
How does domestic and family violence affect women and children?
"My girl, she was screaming and crying and I was just looking at her while he was flogging me and all I was thinking was not in front of her, not in front of her I just don’t want her to see that." – Marla
Domestic and family violence can have serious, pervasive and long lasting consequences for all aspects of women’s and children’s health and wellbeing.
In 2000 the World Health Organisation released a report that outlined the impacts of domestic and family violence on women’s physical and emotional health including:
- Unwanted pregnancy
- Gynaecological problems
- Sexual transmitted diseases
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Permanent disabilities
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Self-injurious behaviour (smoking, drug use, unprotected sex, self-harming)
- Low self-esteem
- Sexual dysfunction
- Eating problems
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Other consequences for women include isolation from friends and family members, disruptions at work and declines in concentration and productivity, and difficulties in learning to trust or connect to people outside of the home.
Domestic and family violence impacts upon children in a number of different ways, affecting their physical and emotional health and their social skills and behaviour. For children, the impacts related to witnessing or experiencing domestic and family violence begin as early as infancy and can last a lifetime.Physical
- Children who grow up in a home where there is domestic and family violence are 15 times more likely to be abused or neglected
- Some children and young people turn to drugs and alcohol or other self-injurious behaviour as a coping mechanism
- Many children and young people blame themselves for the violence and abuse that occurs at home
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Eating disorders
- Do not feel safe
- Confusion over their mixed feelings towards the abusive parent/family member
- Inappropriate use of violence and aggression (as a result of modelling/learning from perpetrators behaviour)
- Sleep disturbance
- Comfort eating
- Withdrawal vs. acting out (behaviours at either end of this extreme are common among children and young people who are exposed to domestic and family violence)
Research has also demonstrated that there is a strong intergenerational transmission of violence in that children and young people who are exposed to violence are significantly more likely to become involved in abusive relationships, either as the victim or perpetrator, when they enter adulthood.
The above information is based upon three research studies Indermaur (2000); Kitzmann (2003); Osofsky (1999)
Indermaur, D. (2001). Young Australians and Domestic Violence. Australian Institute of Criminology.
Kitzmann, K. M., Gaylord, N. K., Holt, A. R., & Kenny, E. D. (2003). Child witness to domestic violence: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71(2), 339-352
Osofsky, J. (1999). The impact of violence on children. Domestic Violence and Children, 9(3), 33-49
World Health Organisation. (2000). Violence against women. World Health Organisation.
Why do women stay?
It is a MYTH that it is easy for women who are being abused to leave the perpetrator, and while everyone’s reasons for staying are different some of the common explanations are outlined below:
I can actually remember thinking “I’m only getting beaten up once or twice a week it’ll come good again.” - Jenny
- Fear of what the abusive person might do. It is important to note here that these fears are in fact well justified as it is known that for many women and children separation is actually the most dangerous time in terms of threats to their physical safety and wellbeing.
- Economic dependence – many women feel that they are financially dependent upon their partner and that they couldn’t survive on their own.
- Low self-worth – many women feel that they are worthless and useless as a result of years of emotional abuse and degradation. These feelings keep many women in abusive relationships because they feel that they couldn’t cope or survive on their own.
- Feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness – often women who have been abused feel that they don’t have the power to make change or feel that even if they do leave it won’t make a difference (e.g. that the abuse would continue).
- Concerns about the children – concerns that children are better off in two parent homes.
- Misinformation/Brainwashing – many women are fed misinformation by their abusers e.g. that no-one would help them, that the violence is their fault, no-one would believe them etc.
- Shame/embarrassment – many women feel embarrassed and ashamed about the abuse that they experience and as a result this significantly reduces the likelihood of victims speaking out.
- Cultural and religious barriers – in some cultures divorce and separation is frowned upon, for women from these cultural backgrounds these beliefs keep them in abusive relationships for a long time.
- Fear that they won’t be believed – 80% of perpetrators of domestic and family violence are only violent at home and not in any other aspects of their life, indeed many perpetrators publicly present as being very charming and likeable. What this means is that many women fear that they won’t be believed if they speak out about the abuse and that in fact many women aren’t believed when they do speak out.
- Isolation from social support networks – one of the abuse tactics commonly used by perpetrators is to isolate victims from their friends and family. This increases feelings of hopelessness and reduces a victim’s ‘options’ in regards to them leaving the home and having somewhere else to go.
- Lack of knowledge about available DV support services and about their legal rights – many women do not know about the available support services for victims of domestic and family violence.
- Normalisation of violence – women who are from towns/communities where violence is highly prevalent can normalise the experience and begin to think that the abusive behaviours are acceptable.
I am scared to leave because only he know the visa and he tell to me if I make trouble they will take away my daughter. - Zana
He made me believe that I was lucky he stayed with me because no one else would have me. - Jean