Family violence causes significant physical, emotional, psychological and financial harm to those who experience it, and can be lethal.
Because family violence can take many forms, occur in many kinds of relationships and involve many tactics, its impacts also vary.
- On average, one woman per week is killed in Australia by a current or former male partner (ANROWS, 2018; Australian Institute of Criminology, 2017).
- Intimate partner violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in Australian women aged 18–44, and contributes an estimated 5.1 per cent of the burden of disease for women aged 18–44 (ANROWS, 2016).
- All children and young people who experience family violence are affected in some way. Such exposure has long-term psychological, emotional and behavioural consequences (Family Safety Victoria, 2019; ANROWS, 2016).
- Family violence is the leading cause of homelessness in Victoria (Parliament of Victoria, 2021).
Impact on adult victim survivors
Besides the immediate and ongoing risk and safety concerns associated with family violence, there are long-lasting impacts on victim survivors’ emotional, psychological, spiritual, financial, physical, sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing (AIHW, 2019; On, M.L. et al., 2016; VicHealth, 2004). According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, this includes:
- acquired brain injuries, disabilities or chronic health issues
- mental health issues
- problems with alcohol and drug use
- pregnancy loss, health complications in pregnancy and impacts on the child-mother bond
- self-inflicted injuries and suicide.
Family violence can disadvantage a person’s income, employment, education, housing security and general participation in social and civic life (Our Watch, VicHealth and PwC, 2015). The impacts that family violence has on a person’s worldview can also create barriers related to self-blame, shame, isolation, a lack of confidence and autonomy, normalisation of violence, or hope for change in the perpetrator’s behaviour and improvements in family circumstances.
The person experiencing abuse is the expert of their experience and often knows more than anyone else about the risks posed by their perpetrator. Leaving an abusive relationship is often the most dangerous time for a victim survivor. For this reason, it can take many years and repeated attempts to leave a relationship before they can regain safety, control and independence in their lives. Someone using violence might also use the justice system, courts, child protection and other institutions to control, intimidate and further harm their victim.
This cycle can wear down a person’s sense of self-worth and agency. Living in an ongoing state of danger can impact the way people process information, communicate and make decisions.
While family violence can impact anyone, there are social factors that create barriers for people to access services, support and safety. There are structural and systemic barriers caused by historic and ongoing discrimination sanctioned against certain groups that has excluded them from services, government programs and equitable justice responses. Ageism, ableism, colonisation, criminalisation, homophobia, poverty, racism, sexism, transphobia and other forms of discrimination can all increase the severity and lasting impacts of family violence.
Social discrimination and systemic and structural barriers can make it very difficult for people to get the help they need. These include difficulty in obtaining information about their rights, entitlements and how to access services, particularly where there are communication and literacy challenges. Other barriers are related to a lack of access to financial resources, and geographic constraints impacting people living in regional, rural and remote areas. Impacts can include:
- entrenched poverty
- being misidentified as the person using violence
- child protection involvement
- being ostracised or isolated from family and community connections.
Impact on children and young people
Family violence has significant consequences for infants, children and young people as victim survivors in their own right.
The evidence demonstrates that family violence can have a lasting and significant impact on infants (including in utero), children, and young people. They can be impacted whether they are directly targeted with abuse, witness abuse or violence towards their parent or carer, or are exposed to the effects of family violence in their environment (DHHS, 2014). Filicides (where a custodial or non-custodial parent or step-parent kills a child) are the second most common form of family violence homicide, following intimate partner homicide (AIHW, 2019).
Family violence negatively and cumulatively impacts children’s:
- physical, neurological and emotional development
- sense of security and attachment in relationships
- mental health and cognitive and behavioural functioning
- ability to cope and adapt to different situations and contexts (Family Safety Victoria, 2019c, Appendix 1).
Children growing up in environments where family violence occurs may also be more likely to require additional support to meet milestones, regulate their emotions and behaviours, engage in education and sustain positive relationships with others. 1 Related to this is the significant impact of family violence on the development of positive attachment and bonds between children and their parents or carers (Katz, E., 2019).
While children can be incredibly resilient, the impacts of family violence can potentially have long-term consequences for friendships and relationships, as well as participation in social and civic life. 2
Impact on the community
Family and gender-based violence causes significant economic and social costs to the community.
According to a report from KPMG, the cost of family violence in Victoria was estimated to be $5.3 billion in 2015–16.
Without appropriate action, this cost puts pressure on state and federal budgets in terms of health, criminal justice interventions and loss of productivity.