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Types of domestic and family violence

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Family and domestic violence is a major social health and welfare issue globally. On average, police in Australia currently deal with 723 domestic violence matters a day. Family and domestic abuse or violence refers to a set of violent behaviours between family members or current or former intimate partners. A survey conducted in 2016 showed that 1 in 8 adults were subjected to abuse before the age of 15.

Family and domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse and can have far reaching consequences, from mental and physical health and even death. From 2012-2014, 1 woman a week and 1 man a month were killed by a current or former partner.

We often think of domestic violence as physical, but it can take many forms. Here we’ve identified some of the common types of abuse and warning signs.


Verbal abuse

Verbal abuse is a common feature of abusive relationships, often used as a way to maintain power over someone. This type of abuse can include yelling, name-calling and criticising a person or questioning their intelligence either in front of others or in a private setting. Verbal abuse is a non-physical form of violence, which can sometimes mean it’s more difficult to identify. However, the effects of verbal abuse can be serious and this type of abuse can be a sign that physical abuse may follow.


Physical abuse

Research suggests that 1 in 6 Australian women and 1 in 16 Australian men have experienced physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15. Physical violence describes an individual using physical force against another individual with intention to cause harm. This type of abuse can involve pushing, shoving, punching, biting, scratching, physically restraining and using objects to hurt an individual to name a few examples. Physical abuse can start gradually from the perpetrator throwing an object or punching a wall for instance. It’s not uncommon for this behavior to then become more violent over time, causing serious mental and physical harm, including death.


Sexual abuse

Sexual violence refers to behaviour of a sexual nature that is carried out against a person’s will. This form of abuse refers to any forced or unwanted sexual acts or the intention to exert power over another individual to include them in sexual activity. The perpetrator of sexual violence can be a current or former partner, a person known to the victim, or a stranger. As well as physical impacts, victims of sexual violence can often suffer from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, isolation and even post-traumatic stress disorder, with victims experiencing nightmares and flashbacks as a result of this abuse.


Emotional abuse

Although emotional abuse may not leave physical injuries, this form of psychological abuse can have a serious negative impact on a person’s mental health and wellbeing. Emotional abuse can feel as damaging as physical abuse. This form of abuse is the most common and research suggests that emotional abuse is likely to coincide with other forms of abuse, with physical abuse often occurring in the same households. Emotionally abusive behaviour includes the perpetrator blaming the victim for all of their problems, insulting them, rejecting them or speaking to them in a way that causes the victim to feel threatened, fearful or intimidated. Emotional abuse is often used as a way of exerting power and control over a relationship.


Social abuse

Social abuse involves any behaviour that prevents an individual from having contact or social activities with their family and friends. Some examples of this type of abuse include restricting someone from leaving the house, preventing them from making social plans and embarrassing or ridiculing the victim in front of others. This abuse behaviour can cause the victim to feel alone and powerless, especially when this type of abuse isolates them from their support network.


Financial Abuse

Financial abuse occurs when a perpetrator controls or denies someone access to their own finances, limiting their independence and ability to make their own decisions. This type of manipulation can happen to anyone of any age or financial position. Financial abuse can be gradual or difficult to recognise at first. For example, it could start out with an offer to help with managing finances. However, once this becomes overpowering or leads to a victim losing control over their financial decisions, it becomes problematic. Financial abuse often causes people to stay in an abusive relationship as it can be difficult to leave without adequate funds.


Abuse of children or animals

Research has found increasing evidence to suggest that people who hurt humans are also likely to hurt animals. Where domestic violence has occurred against an adult, it’s not uncommon for the perpetrator to threaten or act on abusive behaviour towards children or pets. Sometimes, the perpetrator will act violently towards a child or family pet if the victim doesn’t return to them or do as they please. This unfortunately can mean that victims of abuse are reluctant to leave in fear of what may happen to their children or pets. In fact, a recent study found that 20-30% of victims had delayed leaving or even returned to an abuser due to fears for their pet’s welfare.


Spiritual abuse

Spiritual abuse can at times, be difficult to identify. However, this does not make it any less serious or challenging to endure than any other form of abuse. Spiritual abuse occurs when someone insults an individual’s spiritual or religious beliefs, prevents someone from practicing their beliefs or uses that person’s beliefs to manipulate or control them. An example of spiritual abuse is when a partner or spouse forces their children to practice a particular faith that the other partner does not agree with.


Psychological abuse

Psychological abuse can refer to verbal or non-verbal behavior that inflicts mental stress, fear and powerlessness in another individual. This form of abuse is often defined by a pattern of manipulative behaviour that is repeated over time and undertaken to frighten and control the victim. Psychological abuse can affect a person’s thoughts and emotions as well as take control of their life. Some common acts of psychological abuse include threatening a person, yelling at them, ignoring them selectively and isolating or excluding them from a situation.


Family and domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse and no matter what form of abuse, the consequences are serious and can have devastating impacts on a person’s mental and physical health. While family and domestic violence can take on a variety of forms and behaviour, domestic and family violence is unacceptable and it is never the victim’s fault.


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