What is domestic violence?
Threats and Intimidation are key elements in domestic violence and are powerful ways to control you and make you feel powerless and afraid. This can include smashing things, destroying possessions, putting a fist through the wall, handling of guns, knives or other weapons, using intimidating body language (angry looks, raised voice), hostile questioning of, reckless driving of vehicle. They may also threaten to commit suicide or harm or take the children. It may also include harassing you at your workplace, persistent phone calls or sending text messages or emails, following you to and from work, or loitering near your workplace or home.
Includes screaming, swearing, shouting, put-downs, name-calling, and using sarcasm, ridiculing your beliefs, opinions or cultural background. It is aimed at destroying your sense of self.
Includes pushing, shoving, hitting, slapping, strangulation, hair-pulling, punching etc. and can involve the use of weapons including guns, knives or other objects.
Behaviour that deliberately undermines your self-esteem and confidence, leading you to believe you are stupid, or ‘a bad mother’, useless going crazy or are insane. Threats may include harm to you, self, children or others or silence and withdrawal as a means to abuse. This type of abuse humiliates, degrades and demeans.
Results in you being financially dependent. It includes being denied access to money, including your own, demanding that you and the children live on inadequate resources. It can also include being forced to sign loans and being responsible for debts that you have not incurred.
Includes a range of unwanted sexual behaviours including forcing or coercing you to watch pornography, forced sexual contact, rape, forcing you to perform sexual acts that cause pain or humiliation, forcing you to have sex with others, or causing injury to your sexual organs.
Includes ridiculing or putting down your beliefs and culture, preventing you from belonging to, or taking part in a group that is important to your spiritual beliefs, or practising your religion.
Other forms of abuse may include:
Includes dictating what you do, not allowing you to express your feelings or thoughts, not allowing you any privacy, forcing you to go without food or water.
Often after the relationship has ended violence may continue, this can be a very dangerous time for you because the perpetrator may perceive a loss of control and may become more unpredictable. During and after separation is often a time when violence will escalate leaving you more unsafe than previously.
Stalking includes loitering around places you are known to frequent, watching you, following you, making persistent telephone calls, emails, texts and sending mail including unwanted love letters, cards and gifts.
The use of social media, emails or technology to stalk abuse or intimidate you. It might include posting pictures, videos or information about you.
The death of the victim directly attributed to domestic violence. 7 to 10 women murdered in Australia are victims of family violence (Chan and Payne 2013).
Power and Control Wheel
Domestic violence generally occurs as a pattern of behaviours that are linked by power and control. This means that one person in the relationship intentionally and deliberately rules by fear, suppresses the others free will, intimidates, coerces and threatens to or actually does harm to the other, as a way and means to control or have power over them.
Power and Control is at the centre of the Wheel. Each spoke of the Wheel represents a particular tactic which may be used by the person who is using control. The rim of the Wheel that holds it together is actual and threatened physical and sexual violence.
Signs of an abusive relationship
The following is a checklist of warning signals that may assist you to identify if you are in an abusive relationship.
If you check any of the following boxes, it is likely that your partner may be choosing to use a form of power and control over you, and we encourage you to speak to a specialist domestic violence support agency.
- Does your partner call you names or make you feel bad about the way you look?
- Does your partner verbally degrade your self-worth by constantly putting you down?
- Has your partner ever humiliated you in front of friends, family or in public?
- Has your partner ever threatened to have you “committed” or tell others you are crazy?
- Has your partner ever played mind games with you?
- Has your partner ever pushed, shoved, slapped, pinched, punched, or physically hurt you?
- Does your partner have a history of using violence with others?
- Has your partner ever attempted to strangle you or grabbed you around the throat or neck?
- Has your partner ever physically harmed you while you were pregnant?
- Has your partner ever stopped you from gaining access to medication/medical assistance?
- Does your partner always see themselves as superior or always right?
- Does your partner treat you like you a possession that can be owned?
- Does your partner insist on making all the big decisions?
- Has your partner ever told you what to wear, read, or restricted where you can go and who you can talk to?
- Does your partner monitor and control the financial matters including spending, bills, assets, loans and bank accounts?
- Does your partner use force or coercion to make you do things against your will?
- Has your partner threatened to hurt the children, friends, family members or pets?
- Has your partner threatened to report you to Centrelink, Taxation Department, Immigration, Corrections, Police, Child Safety, Employers or others?
- Has your partner ever threatened to leave you, harm themselves or commit suicide?
- Has your partner ever insisted you dress more or less sexually than you want?
- Has your partner ever threatened to kill you and/or your children?
- Does your partner try to control your contact with your family and friends?
- Does your partner need to know where you are constantly?
- Does your partner insist that you are always at home, only let you out of the house if they are with you or insist on knowing where you are going?
- Does your partner monitor or limit your phone calls, conversations and Facebook, internet access, emails?
- Does your partner check the mileage on the car to see if they can work out where you have been or who you have seen?
- Does your partner check your browser history, phone calls or messages?
- Does your partner pressure you to have sex which is unpleasant, pressured or forced?
- Has your partner ever made you do something very humiliating or degrading?
- Has your partner ever made you have sex after emotional or physical abuse or when you are sick?
- Has your partner ever forced you to have unprotected sex?
- Has your partner ever forced you to engage in sexual practices without your consent?
- Has your partner ever drugged you, filmed you while having sex, shared images or uploaded sexual images of you to the internet without your consent?
- Has your partner ever forced you to have sex with objects, others or animals?
- Has your partner ever forced or coerced you into watching pornography or re-enacting scenes from pornography?
- Does your partner negatively compare you to women who are featured in videos or photos that are pornographic or sexually explicit?
- Does your partner blame you for their anger and violence, saying it was your fault?
- Does your partner say that you were “asking for it” after physically hitting or abusing you?
- Does your partner deny using violence afterwards?
- Does your partner say the violence “wasn’t really that bad”?
- Does your partner damage or destroy your belongings or break things around the house?
- Has your partner ever punched holes in the walls or doors?
- Is your partner easily angered and prone to sudden mood swings?
- Does your talking to others result in unfounded jealousy and suspicion that is out of proportion?
- Has your partner ever taken away your money or controlled how you spend it?
- Has your partner ever refused to pay the household bills or to give any money towards them?
- Has your partner ever threatened to withdraw financial support?
- Has your partner ever prevented you from working or jeopardised your employment?
- Has your partner told you that you would lose custody or never see the children again?
- Does your partner question the children to find out information about you?
- Has your partner ever forced or manipulated the children into hurting you physically or emotionally?
- Has your partner ever sought to destroy or undermine your relationship with your children?
- Has your partner ever made you, or made you feel you had to share your passwords with him?
- Has your partner used technology to track or monitor your movements?
- Has your partner ever posted embarrassing pictures or sent harassing or threatening messages on Facebook or other social media platforms?
- Has your partner ever changed your passwords without your consent to stop you having access to accounts?
- Has you partner ever stopped you from getting or sending emails to family or friends?
- Has your partner ever used your profile on social media and pretended to be you?
If you are worried about the behaviour of your partner please contact a specialist domestic and family violence service to discuss your concerns.
Effects of domestic violence
Domestic violence can have a significant impact on your health and well-being both in the immediate and longer term, continuing even after the relationship has ended. The psychological consequences of violence can be as serious as the physical effects.
They may include:
- Physical injuries - such as cuts, scrapes and bruises, fractures, dislocated bones
- Hearing or vision loss
- Miscarriage or early delivery
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Stress related illnesses
- Sleep disturbances
- Low self esteem
- Concentration difficulties
- Feelings of helplessness
- Alcohol and substance use/misuse
- Difficulty making decisions
If you are concerned about your health please talk to a health professional.
There is mounting evidence that domestic violence has long term negative consequences for survivors even after the abuse has ended.
(Campbell et al 2002)
For Aboriginal women
Aboriginal women continue to report higher levels of physical violence during their lifetime than non-Aboriginal women.
The close-knit nature of the Aboriginal Community with its kinship networks means that family violence has the potential to affect a wide circle of people. As an Aboriginal woman you may be concerned about shame and the impact speaking about or doing something about the domestic violence on your family and community. Your obligations and loyalties may make it even more difficult to leave.
A specialist Domestic Violence service can provide you with confidential information and support without pressure or judgement about your choices. They can help you work out ways that you and your children can be safer and help you, if you want to, make contact with an Aboriginal support agency.
For women from overseas
As a woman from a culturally and linguistically diverse background who has experienced domestic violence you may be feeling extremely vulnerable and isolated. You may also have experienced challenges and barriers in finding out about what to do or where you can get help. You may also be concerned about your residency or citizenship status and what might happen if you report the violence.
A specialist Domestic Violence service can provide support, information and referral and can assist you using a professional interpreter if you want to. There are a number of other agencies such as The Immigrant Women’s Support Service that have information available in languages other than English.
For people with a disability
People with a disability experience domestic and family violence at high rates and may also experience barriers to accessing support or justice outcomes.
Seeking support can be particularly complex particularly when the perpetrator is also your carer or support person. This can also make the decision to leave a violent relationship very difficult.
A specialist domestic violence service recognises and understands some of the challenges that a person with a disability who experiences domestic and family violence may face. They can provide you with support in relation to the domestic violence and assist you to link with disability support agencies and advocacy services.
Domestic Violence in LGBTIQ relationships is estimated to occur at approximately the same rates as heterosexual relationships. It is believed that incidents of violence are often unreported because people are reluctant to reveal their sexual identity or seek support from systems that are challenged by and not set up to support individuals who do not identify as straight or within existing gender constructs.
People who are in same sex relationships who are experiencing domestic violence may be threatened by “outing” as a means of control and coercion. They may also be concerned about seeking support, fearful of their privacy and the impact on their relationships with families, workplaces and friends.
While the tactics of power and control are the same for same sex and heterosexual relationships other tactics particular to same sex relationships include:
Using emotional abuse by humiliating you and questioning whether you are a “real” lesbian or woman
Using coercion and threats and threatening to out you to family, friends and colleagues or threatening to leave, harm themselves or suicide
Denying, minimising and blaming by accusing you of mutual abuse and trying to normalise it as normal behaviour in same sex relationships
Using privilege by defining roles or duties in the relationship and using the systems against you to cut off or limit your access to resources
Using intimidation by looks and actions used to reinforce homophobic or transphobic control
Using isolation and acting jealously about past partners and saying no-one will believe you about the violence or trust you because you are lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual
Using children by threatening to tell the authorities or ex -spouse that you are lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual and making you feel guilty about the children.
What about women who use violence?
Whilst the use of violence is never condoned it is helpful to understand that the violence used by women against their male partners can take several forms:
Self-defence when a woman uses as much force as is reasonably necessary to defend herself against an assault in an effort to protect herself from further violence.
Retaliatory violence describes a situation where a woman hits back after experiencing a long history of violence and abuse from her partner. Although she may use violence in this incidence, she is not the most powerful or most dangerous person in the relationship. She may continue to fear for her safety.
There are a small percentage of relationships where women use violence as a pattern of abuse using power and control against their partners. However, statistics compiled from Police reports, Hospital Accident and Emergency Departments, Court data, and Domestic Violence Counselling Services suggests these types of relationships are only a small minority.
As it is for women, it can be difficult for men to reach out to seek help to become safe as they may feel ashamed or are embarrassed to talk about it.
Domestic violence during pregnancy
Unfortunately for many women, pregnancy can be the beginning or escalation of domestic violence in their relationship. Research has shown that many women experience domestic violence during pregnancy and for some women their first experience of domestic violence occurs during their pregnancy.
If you are pregnant, the abuse is dangerous not only to you but also to your baby, especially if you sustain a blow to the abdomen. Studies show that intimate partner violence during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, low birth weight babies and foetal injury or even death.
Further studies also show that women who experience violence during pregnancy have an increased risk of experiencing post-natal depression.
- Does your partner act like he is jealous of the baby?
- Does your partner threaten to take your baby when it is born?
- Does your partner try to harm your baby by striking, pushing, poking or twisting your stomach?
- Does your partner prevent you from seeing your doctor or obstetrician?
- Does your partner question the paternity of the baby saying he is not the father?
- Does your partner call you names such as “stupid”, “bitch”, “fat”, “ugly”?
If you recognise any of the warning signs then you may be in a dangerous situation. You can call a specialist Domestic Violence Service for support, counselling, and referrals to local resources.
Domestic Violence is relatively common during pregnancy.
(Burch and Gallop 2004)
Effects of domestic violence on children
The effects of domestic and family violence are experienced by all family members. Children who witness violence experience the same fear, intimidation and threat to their safety that you experience.
Children can be witnesses to violence, experience the violence and may be co-opted into perpetrating violence.
Studies show that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to:
- Display aggressive and/or socially inappropriate behaviours
- Have diminished self-esteem and self-worth
- Have poor academic performance, problem solving skills and concentration
- Show emotional distress, phobias, anxiety or depression
- Have physical illness or concerns
As a consequence of the violence they may:
- Avoid having friends over in case violence occurs
- Be distrusting of adults
- Feel guilt, shame and feel responsible for the violence and for stopping it
- Learn inappropriate behaviours
- Copy the aggressive behaviour of the perpetrator
- Learn to comply, keep quiet and not express feelings
- Learn to keep secrets and “keep up appearances”
Children who live with and are aware of violence in the home face many challenges and risks that can last throughout their lives.
(Behind Closed Doors, Unicef 2008)
Impact of domestic violence on parenting
When domestic violence occurs in a family there is an impact on the mother and child relationship. As a mother your confidence in your parenting abilities and your connection with your children may have been negatively affected. The way that you mother and nurture your children may have had to change in order to keep your children and yourself safe.
The perpetrator may also be actively undermining you as a mother and your relationship with your children. Tactics used may include:
- Preventing you from attending to your baby or child when they need help or comfort
- Putting you down or ridiculing you in front of them
- Co-opting them into insulting you eg “ Tell mummy how stupid she is”
- Undermining her authority by making statements like “ It doesn’t matter what mummy said I am the boss in this house”
- Blaming the mother for bad things happening eg. “it’s all mummy’s fault ….”
- Telling the children that the mother doesn’t love them or care for them
- Hurting the children and stopping the mother from protecting or soothing them
- Bribing with gifts and treats and comparing themselves to the mother – “mummy doesn’t buy you these – only daddy takes you to fun places”, etc.
In order to rebuild your relationship with your children you can:
- Work at keeping the channels of communication open by being present and listening to their concerns
- Let your children know that you love them
- Take time to do fun things as a family
- Model non-violent problem solving techniques
- Reinforce positive behaviours
- Encourage and support your children if they want to get counselling
- Design a safety plan with your children.
Children’s Domestic Abuse Wheel
Adapted from: Domestic Abuse Intervention Project
Duluth, MN 218/722-4134