Family violence

In Victoria, family violence is the biggest cause of early death, disability and illness in women between the ages of 15 and 44.

It is also the main contributor to depression and anxiety in women. It can affect your social situation, your friendships, your ability to work and be involved in your community, and your financial circumstances.

On this page:

What is family violence and intimate partner violence 

According to the law, family violence can involve partners, siblings, parents, children and people who are related in other ways. Violence can happen in different kinds of families and different kinds of family situations. Some examples include:

  • a same sex partner who is violent   
  • young people who are being violent towards their parents or their siblings
  • elder abuse
  • carers who are violent towards those who they are caring for. 

At the Women's, we focus on violence against women and their children and on intimate partner violence (IPV). 

Intimate partner violence is any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, emotional, sexual, economic and social harm to those in the relationship. 

(See related information to learn more.)

Family violence, intimate partner violence or domestic violence all describe relationships where women are threatened, isolated, punished or controlled. While the vast majority of this violence comes from men, violence occurs in relationships across all communities, including in same sex relationships.

Women who have experienced or witnessed violence as children are more likely to be subject to violence and abuse in their adult relationships.

As well as being physically attacked, women in controlling relationships may be threatened, intimidated and abused. Ways used to undermine women's self-confidence might include:

  • criticism, public humiliation and putdowns
  • manipulative mind games
  • controlling her access to money; isolating her from family and friends; demanding to know where she is; accusations of being unfaithful
  • rape.


Describing violence

Violence is any behaviour that makes you feel scared, sad, isolated, worthless or disconnected from your family, community or your mob. Violence is also behaviour that threatens the safety, security and wellbeing of your children.

Violence can be:

  • physical – hitting, punching, slapping, pushing and yelling
  • sexual – rape or forcing you to have sex, forcing you to do sexual acts you don’t want to do, unwanted sexual comments or touching
  • emotional or psychological – putting you down, making you feel stupid, swearing at you and calling you names
  • controlling – stopping you from being with your family or friends, or participating in community or religious and cultural events.
  • economic – keeping money from you, not allowing you to have money of your own
  • coercive – using power over you to get you to do things you don’t want to do.


Family violence is a crime

Family violence is a crime. It is a violation of human rights. The law is clear:

  • women do not lose their rights because they marry or are in a relationship
  • family violence is a crime.

All states and territories have laws to protect women and children from family violence and governments fund services to provide resources and support.


What are the health impacts of family violence?

Intimate partner violence is responsible for more ill health and premature death in Victorian women under the age of 45 than any other known risk factor.

Women with a history of intimate partner violence are more likely to:

  • smoke and have alcohol or drug problems
  • have an abnormal Pap test or have contracted a sexually transmitted infection
  • be diagnosed with a mental illness
  • suffer from a chronic lung condition, heart disease, hypertension, stroke or bowel problems
  • experience chronic pain and fatigue.

The impacts of violence on health may vary according to the different stages of life:

  • Children have an increased risk of mental health problems, behavioural difficulties and developmental delays.
  • Young women are at increased risk of having an unplanned pregnancy, an abortion or a miscarriage.
  • Many women are assaulted when they are pregnant, increasing the risk of complications in their pregnancy and on their baby’s health.
  • In midlife, women who have lived with a violent partner are more likely to experience depression and anxiety.
  • Older women who have experienced violence use health services more frequently than other women, even after they are no longer exposed to violence.


Why do men commit family violence?

Men’s violence towards women is aimed at controlling or punishing their partner, and is supported by a sense of entitlement.


Issues for women from other cultures

Young women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and women with disabilities are at greater risk of male violence than women in the general population.

If you're a victim of family violence you might not want to talk about what is happening to you. This might be because you:

  • don’t want to believe it is happening to you
  • believe talking about it might lead to frightening life changes
  • are scared of what your partner/family member (the perpetrator) will do
  • want to protect your family and community.


Women in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women don’t often use the term ‘family violence’. You might say “we had an argument” or “he was acting up”. You might still have been really frightened, or felt abused or forced to do things you didn’t want to do.

In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities it is hard to single out one particular cause of family violence because the reasons are very complex.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women also have additional concerns about reporting violence to authorities or seeking help from health services. These concerns are deeply rooted in history and the fact that hospitals were once involved in removing babies from Aboriginal families. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women will still encounter racism and disbelief from individual staff in hospitals, and there will always be a risk that the perpetrator will not be adequately punished or child protection will be contacted about the welfare of your children.


Health workers are bound by the rules of privacy and confidentiality. Anything you tell the doctor or midwife about your past experiences of violence will be confidential. However, if you or your children are in immediate danger health professionals have to, by law, discuss your safety with other professionals; this will be done with your involvement where possible.

For a full list of resource and support services download the fact sheet Family violence - information for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women


Women from immigrant and refugee communities

Family violence is illegal in Australia. However, immigrant or refugee woman may face obstacles to getting help. In addition to language being a barrier, you may:

  • not know of services that can help you, such as health and welfare services, legal services and social support services
  • be socially isolated and dependent on the person who is causing the violence
  • find it difficult to trust authorities
  • have found services were insensitive to your culture
  • feel that it is your duty as a wife and a mother to tolerate your husband’s behaviour 
  • be uncertain whether what you are experiencing is violence (this can be particularly difficult with non-physical violence)
  • be concerned about being sent back to your country of origin
  • be worried about the welfare of your children
  • fear being judged by other people in your community.

Seeking support requires courage and determination but it may also be a first step to feeling safe.

For a full list of resource and support services download the fact sheet Family violence - information for womenThis fact sheet has been translated into a number of community languages.


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The Women’s does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or use of such information or advice) which is provided on the Website or incorporated into it by reference. The Women’s provide this information on the understanding that all persons accessing it take responsibility for assessing its relevance and accuracy. Women are encouraged to discuss their health needs with a health practitioner. If you have concerns about your health, you should seek advice from your health care provider or if you require urgent care you should go to the nearest Emergency Dept.

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