What is Domestic & Family Violence?

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The dynamics underlying domestic and family violence can be best described as an abuse of power, perpetrated mainly by men, in a relationship and after separating from a relationship. It amounts to a pattern of behaviour, which involves escalating levels of emotional abuse, intimidation, physical abuse and violent behaviour in order to gain or maintain control over the partner. It frequently involves various forms of sexual acts committed against the partner without their consent. 

Domestic and family violence  is also any behaviour or pattern of behaviour that unlawfully restricts the freedom, self-determination, movement or actions of the other person, with whom they have a relationship.

The most common forms of domestic and family violence involves emotional and psychological abuse and does not always include behaviour that results in physical violence.  This can result in a longer lasting impact on the victim with symptomatic related anxiety, trauma and depression.  This can often lead to other medical symptoms requiring frequent attendance to General Practitioners. 

Long term effects on victims may result in a dependence on alcohol or prescription drugs in an attempt to cope with the situation.  Recognising the underlying issue and the abuse is the start to stopping the abuse.

In most circumstances, the perpetrator is male and the main contributing factor for their abusive behaviour is the perception in their mind that they have a right of power over the victim. This perception of power over the victim represents a major factor in the perpetrator’s capability to commit abusive and criminal behaviour.

The perpetrator generally believes they can control the life of their partner by the use of emotional manipulation and threats. The pattern of abusive behaviour usually develops and escalates over time with periodic episodes of extremes of that behaviour, resulting in physical assault. The violence can also occur as a single act of a significant abusive behaviour that causes the partner to fear personal harm and fear for their future safety.

The mental state of perpetrators is also of critical importance.  Suicidal tendencies or fantasy with suicide needs to be taken seriously.

The most common form of domestic and family violence occurs within families consisting of married and de-facto relationships, intimate partners, ex-partners and frequently extends to the abuse of their children and parents. It also occurs in the form of parental abuse of children, older children abusing siblings and parents, as well as abuse of family elders.

Domestic and family violence  can also occur in same sex relationships where an imbalance of power and control develops between partners. In some cases, the identification of the perpetrator can be difficult to determine due to the dynamics of the specific relationship. Police follow the same procedures in responding to Same Sex domestic violence incidents as they do in responding to other domestic and family violence incidents.


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Does it only occur in the Home?

Not always. Wherever the abuse or violence is perpetrated, in the street, in the shopping centre, whilst driving, at a friend’s party or wherever it occurs, it is still domestic and family violence if the two parties are in an intimate and/or familiar relationship with each other. The relationship of the parties determines the category of the abuse and violence and enables the police to respond using special powers to intervene and provide protection for the victim.

  • Domestic violence affects the physical, emotional, social and economic wellbeing of individuals and families. Domestic violence is also a major factor contributing to homelessness in Australia, particularly for women and children.
  • The public interest strongly favours the prosecution of offenders for domestic and family violence related offences.
  • This will generally be the case even where the victim expresses a desire that police take no formal action against the perpetrator. This is unlike a minor non-domestic related assault, for which the decision not to prosecute can be justified as being the wish of the victim.


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Patterns of Abuse - Domestic & Family Violence

Dynamics of Abuse

  • The dynamics of domestic and family violence can mean that victims frequently live their lives concealing the fact that they are a victim of such abuse and violence.
  • Victims can find it difficult to seek-out assistance. The reasons can include:
    • fear of not being believed,
    • fear of the offender minimising the incident to police and to others after police attendance,
    • fear of increased abuse, violence or physical restrictions by the offender,
    • fear of having being left with no financial security or home,
    • fear of being alone and isolated,
    • fear of shame by exposing the family to outside scrutiny,
    • fear within the victim that causes them to minimise the abuse believing that the abuse is not serious enough to warrant outside assistance, (this belief increases over time and is evident in long term abuse)
    • the victim believing the perpetrator's promise that “It will never happen again ” (a stereotypical response in the cycle of violence)


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Early Warning Signs

Typical offender behaviours that can indicate the ‘Early Warning Signs’ of an abusive and violent partner, as shown in the ’POWER and CONTROL’ Wheel. (Portrays the typical patterns of domestic abuse together with the primary tactics and behaviours that perpetrators use in intimate relationships to maintain power and control over their partners. Adapted from the ‘Power and Control’ Wheel, Minnesota Program Development, Duluth, 1980).

Many of the uncomfortable feelings and signs that some women experience in relationships may actually be the ‘Early Warning Signs’ for future and escalating abusive and violent behaviour, which may include:

INTIMIDATION – Glaring looks, raising the voice and shouting, offensive gestures, smashing personal and joint property, displaying and threatening to use weapons and firearms, demonstrations of extreme anger when things don’t go the perpetrator’s way, furious and reckless driving to frighten the victim, and abusing or threatening to harm or kill family pets.

THREATS / COERCION – Threats to harm victim or children, threats to take children away, threats to leave or remove financial support, threats to make victim drop criminal charges and withdraw protection orders (AVO), threats to do illegal acts and threaten through acts amounting to ‘personal blackmail’.

HUMILIATION / EMOTIONAL ABUSE In the presence of others, do acts that amount to ‘name calling’, put-downs’, ‘making fun’, ‘mind games’, inferring the victim is ‘crazy’, ‘a bad mother’, inappropriate touching or grabbing, displaying obvious interest in others members of the opposite or same sex in the presence of the victim.

MINIMISING, DENYING AND BLAME – Making ‘light’ of the abuse, minimising victim’s concerns of situation, by denying that abuse occurred, shifting responsibility for abusive behaviour and blaming the victim for perpetrator’s behaviour.

ISOLATION – Controls or limits contact with family and friends, ‘them or me’ ultimatums, controls victim’s time, communicates with the victim through the children.

LIMITING INDEPENDENCE – Controls the type of clothing, make-up and hairstyles that are worn, limiting access to money, limiting recreation, limiting access to activities outside of the home, access to transport, car and other activities and includes, repeated acts of jealousy.

VIOLATION OF PERSONAL BOUNDARIES – Unwanted intimacy or sexual acts (sexual assault), listening to phone calls, going through personal items, wallet, purse, diary in an attempt to ‘dig up dirt’.

USING ‘MALE’ PRIVILEGE – Acts as though he is the ‘king of the castle’, treats victims like servants, as personal possessions, makes all the decisions, must have his permission first before victim can do something, defines ‘role’ of men and women, little respect for women and makes constant offensive remarks about women.


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Power and Control Wheel

The 'Cycle of Violence'



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What is the 'Cycle of Violence'?

The 'Cycle of Violence' consists of a set of behaviours and tactics a perpetrator uses to control an intimate partner, ex-partner, family member and their children. The various phases, listed below, are used in various combinations and to varying levels of intensity, with some phases overlapping.

Build-up Increasing tension, harassment and arguments
Stand-over Increases level of control and threats, creates and instils fear in victim and children
Explosion Uses extreme abuse, aggression and violence, malicious damage (used as an extreme controlling behaviour)
Remorse Attempts to justify and minimise actions, blames victim, demonstrates guilt and may include threats of self-harm
Pursuit Promises that it will not happen again, becomes the ‘victim’, blames other factors or substance abuse (alcohol)
Honeymoon Returns to the courting phase, increased caring, attentive and romantic phase (previous manipulative practices)

Developed following research by Dr Lenore Walker in 1979. The ‘Cycle of Violence’ theory suggests that violence generally rotates between relative calm and an explosion of abuse.


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