Domestic and family violence is usually perpetrated by men against women, but it can also occur when women are violent to men or within same-sex relationships. Overwhelmingly, however, the perpetrator in situations of domestic violence is a man. Around 95% of all violence reported in Australia was perpetrated by men.
According to the Commonwealth Department of Human Services, family and domestic violence is conduct that is violent, threatening, intimidating, controlling or intended to cause you to be fearful.
It can include:
- physical violence
- verbal, emotional, sexual or psychological abuse
- controlling money
- serious neglect where you depend on their care
- harming an animal or property
- restricting your spiritual or cultural participation.
The Domestic Violence Handbook states that ‘Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling and abusive behaviour used by an abusive partner during a relationship or after separation’. However, it is not always physical and it can take many forms. Below are listed the common forms of domestic violence:
Using any physical force or object against a woman whether it leaves a mark or not. This can include pushing, holding, shoving, shaking, twisting limbs, restraining, punching, preventing sleep, slapping, choking or grabbing her neck, pulling the hair, or drugging.
Throwing crockery, breaking furniture or household goods, damaging doors or walls, smashing windows, destroying treasured possessions.
Hitting, kicking, punching, throwing, choking, neglecting, sexually abusing, starving, killing or threatening to kill pets.
Threats, intimidation and 'mind games. Making threats, stalking, or looking, acting or speaking in ways which are frightening or intimidating. This can include yelling, screaming, threatening punishment, ignoring her and acting like she is invisible, driving dangerously with her or the children in the car, threatening suicide or to hurt or kill her, the children, family or friends.
Using put-downs regarding a woman’s body shape, grooming, intelligence, mothering ability, home management skills etc. Telling her or making her think she is crazy, stupid, useless, worthless, and good for nothing. This can be in front of others or when she is alone.
Deliberately trying to destroy the relationship between children and their parent. This can include telling the children cruel, abusive and angry things about the parent when they are not there or sometimes when they are, or telling the children that the parent is incompetent, stupid or bad.
Forcing or coercing the woman into sexual acts against her will, physically attacking the sexual parts of her body, demanding sex, raping her, using bondage and/or objects against her will, treating her as a sexual object and not as a person.
Constantly criticising and being suspicious of her family and friends. Using tactics that make friends and family feel uncomfortable about visiting or spending time with the woman. Not allowing her to have her own friends and keeping her isolated from social contact other than with him.
Moving the family to an isolated area away from family and friends. Social isolation can also include restricting the use of a car, keeping her reliant on him for transport and not letting her use the phone or computer. Smothering, controlling and monitoring Controlling what she does, who she talks to and where she goes. Keeping in contact with her to “see how she’s going” when it is really to check up on what she is doing. Insisting on doing everything together so that she has no life of her own and insisting on knowing her whereabouts at all times.
Making hurtful, humiliating or embarrassing remarks about her in front of company, or blatant verbal attacks on her in public.
Requiring her to ask him for money all the time, keeping her ignorant of available funds, excluding her from financial decisions, providing inadequate funds for household expenses, threatening or coercing her to sign legally binding financial contracts, opposing her getting or keeping a job, making her account for every dollar spent. Deliberately spending bill money to sabotage her efforts to keep on top of the household expenses. Putting accounts in her name. Urging her to abuse the system such as making false claims to Centrelink. Making her pay for his business expenses.
Gambling the family income, selling or pawning things to pay debts, using credit cards to gamble, emptying the bank account, putting the family at financial risk.
Threatening Legal Outcomes Threatening her with court or a legal body, telling her she is mad and could be committed, telling her she has committed crimes which will send her to jail, threatening to give evidence against her and threatening that she will lose her children.
Forcing Legal Involvement
Using the Family Court against her. This can include lying about her mothering, calling her back to court over and over again, breaking legal agreements and blaming her.
Using scripture, ideas about God, pastoral 'care' and the church to justify violence and further control and abuse. These include denying access to faith communities, criticising spiritual beliefs, selective use of scripture to claim God’s blessing on violence, and warning of damnation if she leaves the relationship
Male Power Abuse
He thinks he is entitled to more: decisions, money and rights. He acts like 'the master of the house' and treats other family members like servants. He makes all the big decisions and demands that she complies.
People from all walks of life can be affected by family and domestic violence. It includes all types of relationships, such as:
- intimate relationships, past or present, regardless of gender or sexuality
- family members
- relatives and guardians
- children of an intimate partner
- parents and elders (Elder abuse is an issue for residential care facilities, and under Commonwealth legislation is mandated to be reported if it is occurring. https://aifs.gov.au/publications/elder-abuse)
- those who fall within Indigenous concepts of family or culturally recognised family groups.
People affected by violence may live in fear for themselves and their family, even when they have left an abusive relationship.
Usually the term 'family violence' refers to the more general violence which includes domestic violence, elder abuse, violence by a carer etc. Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples often prefer the term 'family violence' rather than domestic violence, as it better reflects their experience.
- On average one woman a week is killed by a current or former husband or partner in Australia.
- Around one in three women in Australia have experienced physical violence, and almost one in five have experienced sexual violence.
- Of the women who have experienced some form of violence, 36% experienced that violence from someone they knew and 15% had experienced that violence at the hands of an ex-partner.
- Some groups of women are more vulnerable – namely Indigenous women, and women with disabilities.
More information: ABS Personal Safety Survey 2016
Domestic and family violence is usually perpetrated by men against women, but it can also occur when women are violent to men or within same-sex relationships. Overwhelmingly, however, the perpetrator in situations of domestic violence is a man.
If you, or your children, are in real danger call 000 immediately.
This website lists contacts for each State and Territory in Australia (visit the Support page). Many of the contacts listed are 24-hour services. Please call the most appropriate one for you if your situation is urgent.
If you need to begin a confidential conversation about your situation, seek out someone in your friendship network or church community, whom you trust and whom you believe will be willing to listen to you, understand you and believe your story. There may also be professional people in your community who will listen to you. Social workers, psychologists or your general practitioner may be useful contacts.
Emergency shelters are as safe as possible and every effort is made to keep residents safe. The referring service that coordinates the emergency shelter is also well versed in keeping women and children safe from an e-tracking perspective.
Emergency shelters often have a child and family worker or counsellor to work with the children.
While in emergency accommodation, the coordinating service will work with the mother and her children to make referrals to other support services. This will include finding alternative, safe and longer-term housing.
YouTube video about one woman's positive experience at a Lutheran emergency shelter in Brisbane
Scripture has often been misused to justify male domination over women. Bishop Henderson wrote in the June issue of The Lutheran:
Any man among us who uses Christianity and the Bible to justify abuse of his wife or partner has clearly lost sight of his faith. If we are to use the word ‘subordination’ at all, it must relate to Christ’s voluntary submission to the will of his heavenly Father when he went to the cross. Such submission is freely given and never demanded. It’s a loving expression that marks the difference between Christians and the world (see the contrast Jesus establishes in Matthew 20:25-27). That does not mean that we encourage people, particularly women who at risk, to stay in abusive relationships. We plead with such women: please actively seek help and support to protect yourselves and your children.
One of the New Testament texts that has often been used to support male headship, and therefore male dominance, in marriage is Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:21–25).
There are two observations that can be made about this text. Firstly, Jesus’ understanding of headship has nothing whatsoever to do with dominance. Rather, it is the complete inverse. Jesus instructs his disciples ‘… the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves … But I am among you as one who serves’ (Luke 22:26,27).
Secondly, the Ephesians text is circumscribed by verse 21: ‘Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ’. There is no notion of headship here in the way the world may understand it’.
The Lutheran Church’s Statement on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage states:
The purpose of marriage is ... ‘to unite one man and one woman [that is, husband and wife] so that they become 'one flesh'. In this relationship the one person is the complement of the other (Matthew 19:5).
This statement is clear. There is no reference to male headship or subordination. The inference is that the marriage relationship is one of mutuality and the honouring of what each brings to the relationship. It is these values of mutual love and service that will inform the way we support women, who are most often the victims of domestic abuse, and confront men, who are most often the perpetrators.
For relationship counselling to be effective, both partners need to be able to be open in sharing their thoughts and feelings, and this is not possible if one person fears for their safety once they leave the session, or feels intimidated or totally controlled by the other.
For this reason most professionals and major counselling services will not conduct couple sessions until some individual counselling has been completed. This can also include initial referral to a men's behaviour change group program (see the question below), where a partner advocate is also available to provide support for the female and children.
There is no excuse for abusive words or behaviour, and your partner still has a choice to behave responsibly. This is still domestic violence and needs support or counselling to deal with both the alcohol issues and the violence that occurs when they choose to drink.
Yes, your partner may have these issues and require help, but you still have the right to be treated respectfully. Sometimes these issues may go beyond what a partner or spouse has the capacity to handle, and you should seek professional help for yourself and your partner. These issues can destroy families if they are not dealt with appropriately.
Children witnessing domestic violence is a serious issue and is considered as abuse. The results can include low self esteem, being bullied at school, issues with coping at school, depression and anxiety, withdrawal, acting-out behaviours, and psychosomatic problems. Even babies and toddlers are affected, even if they are not in the same room where it occurs.
Finding counselling and support for children and for you as their parent will help them to be able to understand it is not their fault, and to grow and develop into happy, healthy children.
To prevent violence against women and their children, men have to challenge the beliefs and behaviours that excuse, justify or condone violence and inequality.
While only a minority of men actually perpetrate violence against women, many men are often silent in the face of violence, sexual assault or attitudes, which excuse or minimise violence and control in relationships.
It can be hard to challenge behaviours and attitudes that have an impact on violence, especially when you are surrounded by mates or colleagues who don’t speak up, but it is important to take a stand.
What you, as a man, can do
- If you want to help end violence against women, start by looking at your own attitudes and behaviours towards women and men. Do you treat men and women differently? Do you expect them to act differently? Ask yourself why.
- If a friend, colleague or family member is behaving in a controlling manner towards their partner – like telling them who they can and can’t spend time with, checking up on them excessively, or criticising how they dress – check in with their partner and see if they’re okay. Being jealous and controlling is not a sign of love or commitment. It's a sign of violence.
- If someone makes a sexist joke or catcalls a woman on the street, say something. You are probably not the only one who thinks it’s wrong.
- If you hear someone blaming a victim of sexual assault by asking: 'What was she wearing?' or 'Was she drunk?' tell them that those kinds of attitudes contribute to a society that excuses violence against women. The only person responsible for sexual violence is the perpetrator.
In the first instance it is best to use one of the helplines that are available:
- The national helpline for men is MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
- In Queensland, DV Connect Mensline has a list of all the services that help and will refer men.
- For Victoria and New South Wales the helpline is No To Violence (NTV) Men’s Referral Service ntvmrs.org.au or phone 1300 766 491
- In New Zealand the HMA –Men’s Safety Project: MensSafetyProject.com
There are also a number of allied health professionals, including social workers and psychologists, who offer counselling for men who have used violence against their partners and children. Again, one of the helplines will be able to refer you to an appropriate service.
You may also look for a local men’s behaviour group program to support you in this change – see question below.
In Australia and New Zealand many organisations are funded to conduct Men’s Behaviour Change Group programs. They are generally small groups of men, meeting weekly over several months, with a male and a female facilitator.
Each session will 1) explore a topic through input, discussions and activities; and 2) will include a ‘check-in time’ for men to discuss how they are making changes in their day to day life, to eliminate violence and disrespect. Many men find this beneficial, as they not only have professional expertise, but learn from the struggles and experiences of other men with similar concerns.
In most states, programs will also provide a separate partner advocate (a female counsellor) who can provide confidential support to the man’s partner or former partne, while he attends the program.
Elder abuse is any act which causes harm to an older person by someone they know or trust, and can be deliberate or unintentional. The abuser may be a son, daughter, grandchild, partner, other family member, or close friend.
It can include emotional abuse, such as threats or intimidation, or financial abuse, where the abuser is using your money, property or assets illegally or forcing you to sign away your rights.