Family violence can take many different forms including, but not limited to, physical abuse.
Family violence very rarely happens as a single incident. Rather, it is a pattern of ongoing behaviour that can include multiple tactics used to intimidate, control and abuse someone. The frequency and severity of family violence can escalate over time.
This abuse takes many different forms, none of which are mutually exclusive. While physical violence may be the most widely recognised, other forms such as sexual, emotional, spiritual and economic abuse can be equally harmful.
This information has been adapted from the Department of Communities Child Protection and Family Support Forms of Family and Domestic Violence factsheet.
- name calling, insults and put downs
- deliberately undermining someone’s confidence, or ability to trust themselves (sometimes referred to as ‘gaslighting’)
- threatening self-harm, or harm to the victim, another family member or a pet
- ridiculing, rejecting or shaming someone, such as their body, beliefs, skills, friends, sexuality, occupation, identity or cultural background
- intentionally embarrassing or undermining them in front of others
- making someone feel guilty
- threatening suicide
- threatening to ‘out’ someone’s gender, sexuality, intersex status or HIV status to their family, friends, community or workplace
- questioning someone in a hostile way
- handling guns or weapons in front of someone
- threatening to report someone to authorities such as Immigration, Child Protection or Centrelink.
- smashing, destroying or throwing things
- using intimidating body language such as angry looks or threatening gestures
- following someone or loitering near their home or workplace
- recklessly driving a vehicle with someone else in the car
- pushing, shoving, hitting, slapping, choking, hair-pulling, punching or using weapons
- physical neglect of someone reliant on care, for example an older person, child or someone with disability.
- rape, including being forced to perform unwanted sexual acts, or to have sex with others
- pressuring someone to agree to sex
- unwanted touching of sexual or private parts
- disclosing intimate knowledge, including threatening to share private photographs or information about sexual orientation to generate fear
- expecting someone to have sex as a form of reconciliation after using violence against them
- having sex with someone without consent, or who is unable to give consent due to age, ability or intoxication.
- excessive questioning
- monitoring movements, internet use and social communications
- being aggressive towards others who are viewed as ‘competition’, and acts of jealousy
- preventing someone from having contact with family or friends
- verbally or physically abusing someone in front of others
- preventing someone from having contact with people who speak their language or share their culture
- spreading rumours about someone through their support networks to discredit them
- using someone’s intersex status, sexuality, gender expression, transgender or HIV status against them
- forced marriage
Financial abuse can include:
- denying someone access to money, including their own
- stopping someone from earning their own money
- demanding that the family live on inadequate resources, or not contributing to household expenses
- incurring debts in someone’s name
- making significant financial decisions without consultation
- selling someone’s possessions
- stealing money or property
- dowry-related abuse.
- ridiculing or putting down someone’s beliefs and culture
- preventing someone from belonging to or taking part in a group or ceremony that is important to their spiritual beliefs, or practicing their religion
- manipulating religious teachings or cultural traditions to excuse violence.
Not all experiences or behaviours are easy to categorise and some fit into more than one form of violence. For example, threats to harm can be emotional, verbal or physical abuse. People experiencing violence might also see these categories as interchangeable or inseparable.
Some of these behaviours are criminal offences, such as stalking, physical assault, sexual assault, threats, animal abuse, property damage and theft. Behaviours that are not necessarily criminal may still be considered family violence and can be the subject of a family violence intervention order in Victoria. If this intervention order is breached this can also result in criminal charges.
Read about family violence safety notices and intervention orders on the Victoria Police website.
Coercive control is a defining feature of all family violence
Coercive control is not a distinct form of family violence. Rather, it describes the pattern of abusive behaviours perpetrators use to control, manipulate and dominate (Laing, L., Humphreys, C., & Cavanagh, K. (2013)). These tactics instil fear in victim survivors, wear down their sense of identity and independence, and entrap them in a violent relationship by closing off options for accessing safety and support.
Coercive control is complex. It includes behaviour that a victim survivor considers abusive but may be hard for others to identify. Things like body language, the click of a pen, a look or a deliberately chosen word can instil fear and dread when it’s part of a pattern of controlling behaviour. This makes it hard to consider as evidence or prosecute within the criminal justice system.