What is family violence?

Middle-aged woman sitting at the shore, looking sad

*Miranda is a 52 year old woman who came to Homefront after leaving her husband of 20 years. During their relationship, Miranda’s husband was physically and verbally abusive towards Miranda – something she knew wasn’t right but didn’t have the funds or support to leave.

Miranda’s husband didn’t allow Miranda to work or have her own phone, only gave her a small “allowance” per week, and threatened to turn the kids against her if she left.

Following an extremely violent outburst, Miranda fled and was eventually referred to Homefront, Sacred Heart Mission’s six week crisis accommodation for women.

During her relationship Miranda had been isolated from friends and family and was not given space to make her own choices. At Homefront, Miranda was supported to consider what was important to her and empowered to make her own decisions about the future.

With the support of Homefront case management, Miranda secured a long term community housing property and was able reconnect with the people who mattered to her.

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1 in 3 women experience physical violence from a partner

In Australia one in three women has experienced physical violence from a current or previous partner. Out of all female homicides, seven out of ten women are killed by a partner (DVRCV, 2015). But what is family violence?

Family violence definition

We are all aware of what physical violence entails – but what about financial, spiritual or emotional violence? Often seen as ‘not as serious’, these types of domestic and family violence can be just as damaging as physical violence.

Family violence is about control and power and is a human rights issue. Withholding money, not allowing you to practice your religious or spiritual beliefs, undermining your self worth or stopping you from seeing friends or family are all forms of family violence.

The Family Violence Protection Act 2008 defines family violence as

  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Emotional or psychological abuse
  • Threats or coercive behaviour
  • Controlling or dominating behaviour.

More broadly, it is “any behaviour that causes a family member or fear for his or her own safety or wellbeing or for the safety or wellbeing of another person.”

Shift from domestic to family violence

The shift from the term ‘domestic’ to ‘family’ violence in recent times has broadened the recognition of different family structures and members who may experience family violence. Family members can include current or previous spouse or intimate partner, a relative such a parent or child or the child of a person who has, or has had an intimate relationship with the perpetrator of violence.

This term can also include carers which are particularly relevant when considering people living with disabilities or older family members who rely on other family members for care. Women with Disabilities Victoria state “women and girls with disabilities are twice as likely to experience violence as those without” (2014).

Women who have experienced family violence are survivors, not victims

In discussing family violence, more often than not women who have experienced family violence are referred to as ‘victims’. But they’re not victims, they’re survivors. They have survived, but this experience does not completely define who they are.

It’s an experience, or chapter of someone’s life and it is important for us to not label someone based on their experiences. She is not a family violence victim; she is a woman who has experienced family violence. While it may seem small, the use of language can make a huge difference when supporting a woman who has experienced family violence to be empowered to make her own choices and decisions about her life.

Women’s empowerment: taking back the power

Family violence is about power and control. This can mean a woman having her decisions made for her, her funds being taken from her, or her daily life managed and overseen by an abusive partner. The biggest part of supporting a woman experiencing family violence is to work towards empowering her to choose her path for herself – be that leaving or staying – and remaining safe either way.

Through our Women’s Services we encourage empowerment by:

  • Assisting women to identify their strengths, coping skills and personal resources.
  • Promoting women’s sense of entitlement to their own opinions and perspective regarding themselves and the world.
  • Acknowledging women as experts in their own lives and supporting them to make their own informed choices.
  • Recognising the complexity of each woman’s situation and that, while her partner’s abusive behaviour is unacceptable, her relationship may have positive aspects (Seeley & Plunkett, 2002).
Group photo of our Women's House team

Leaving an abusive relationship

On average, it can take five to seven attempts for a woman experiencing family violence to leave an abusive relationship. Leaving is often the most dangerous time for a woman experiencing violence, because abuse is about power and control.

When a woman leaves, they are taking control and threatening the abusive partner’s power, which could cause the abusive partner to retaliate in very destructive ways. This could include threatening suicide or harm to others; damaging property and destroying the woman’s personal belongings, or escalating physical violence to the point that it may result in the woman’s death.

There are many reasons why women choose to stay in abusive relationships:

  • Fear of the abusive family member,
  • Normalisation of abuse,
  • Fear of being outed,
  • Embarrassment or shame,
  • Low self-esteem,
  • Cultural/religious reasons,
  • Economical reasons,
  • Language barriers and immigration status,
  • Disability, or
  • Love.

Isolation from family and friends can be a key part of an abusive relationship. This means when a woman attempts to leave an abusive relationship, she does not have any support networks she can turn to or places she can stay.

As a result, family violence is the largest driver of homelessness for women in Australia.

Support family violence survivors
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Resources for people experiencing family violence

If you, or anyone you know, are experiencing family violence there is support and information available

  • In case of immediate danger call 000 for police assistance. To make emergency calls using TTY dial 133 667.
  • 1800RESPECT – for information, referral and counselling call 1800 737 732. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Safe Steps – contact Victoria’s Family Violence Response Centre at 1800 015 188 (toll free) for 24/7 support.
  • InTouch – the Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence provides free and confidential support services to migrant and refugee women living in Victoria.
  • No to Violence Men’s Referral Service – advice for men about family violence; call a counsellor at 1300 766 491 (24 hours in Tasmania and New South Wales; 9am-9pm Monday-Friday in all other states).

While we acknowledge that men can also experience family violence, statistics overwhelmingly show that family violence is most likely to be committed by men against women.

This article was written by Chloe Warren and Emma Henningsen, (former) Case Managers at Homefront. The names in this article have been changed to protect people’s privacy.

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