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Domestic violence is a person being subjected to an ongoing pattern of abusive behaviour by an intimate partner or family member. This behaviour is motivated by a desire to dominate, control or oppress the other person and to cause fear. Many people experience domestic violence within their family or intimate partner relationships.
Until recently, domestic violence was a hidden problem in Australian communities. Stigma and shame kept it bound in secrecy. It is only recently that people have begun to voice how widespread and complex the problem is. Changes in laws and public campaigns are now sending a clear message that domestic and family violence is not - and cannot be - tolerated in our society.
Domestic violence is complex because of the broad range of behaviours that define it. It isn't just limited to physical, sexual, and emotional violence; it also includes financial abuse, harassment, and stalking. Coercion is also an aspect of violence. When a person is threatened, the fear may force them to do things they don’t want to. So, in some homes, physical violence may be rare, yet victims may be living under the constant threat of being hurt or punished.
As more people speak out about domestic violence, we learn that it is more about coercion and control than poor anger management or relationship conflicts. Yet the true extent is unknown, as most people who have experienced it don’t report it. The most common reason for not reporting and for staying in the relationship is fear of revenge or further violence. People also stay in abusive relationships because of pregnancy, children, lack of money, low self-esteem, love, social pressure, among others.
Domestic violence and mental health
Domestic and family violence can have a significant negative impact on the mental health of the victims, or other family members who witness it. Constantly feeling unsafe in your own home or with the people who are supposed to love and care for you can lead to feeling afraid, unable to relax, powerless to change the situation, or ashamed to tell others. It may result in long-term physical and psychological trauma, and affect sleep, appetite, concentration or other relationships.
Domestic violence can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual identity, economic status, ethnicity, and religion. But it predominantly affects women, and it is considered to be one of the major risk factors affecting women’s health in Australia, resulting in anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Children are often the forgotten victims of family violence, and the long-term impacts on their mental health are only just beginning to be understood. Children who have grown up in a family with domestic violence have a higher risk of anxiety, depression, learning difficulties, relationship problems, and alcohol and drug misuse. They may also be more likely to become perpetrators or victims of domestic and family violence as adults.
Taking action for change
A good first step is to become aware of domestic violence behaviours
Recognise that healthy relationships are based on equality and respect
Most domestic violence doesn’t occur in a one-off event
Often victims of domestic and family violence find it difficult to ask for help
Learning how to stop violent behaviour
It’s unclear why some people are violent, abusive or controlling towards their partners or children. It may be because they learned these behaviours from their parents, have fixed attitudes about controlling their partner, or they may have mental health issues.
If you are abusing your partner, child, or someone else in your life, recognise that change is possible, but begins with admitting that you are responsible for your actions. Behaviour change programs can help, and have helped many people stop their violent and controlling behaviours. Take a look at the resources below for information and advice.
Supporting someone else
You can support someone who has told you they are experiencing domestic violence by believing them and listening without judging. Suggest that they get help from a specialised domestic violence support agency by calling or visiting their website. You might also offer to go with the person if they meet with a support service and keep in touch with them to see how they are going.
It’s not always easy to identify if someone you know is experiencing domestic violence. But there are many tell-tale signs in behaviour, as well as physical injury, that a person is being controlled by their partner. These include jealousy, possessiveness, put-downs, and threats. Some specific behaviours to look out for are if their partner threatens to hurt them or their children or pets, constantly criticises or humiliates them, decides what they wear or eat, controls how they spend money, monitors what they are doing, or prevents them from seeing friends or family.
If you have reason to suspect a child is experiencing, or is at risk of domestic violence or neglect, you have a community responsibility to contact the department of child safety or the police.
The resources below have information and advice on healthy relationships. You may also find our page on how to support someone useful.