Domestic and family violence is a pattern of behaviour used to make someone feel fearful and unsafe.

Domestic and family violence is not only physical violence. It can be actions designed to control, threaten or harm someone and can come in many forms. Often domestic and family violence behaviours play out over time, to make someone feel fearful and unsafe.

Physical violence usually involves harm to the body, or the threat of harm. It can include things like:

  • hitting, punching, kicking, bashing, shoving or pushing
  • spitting on someone, or pulling hair
  • choking or suffocating
  • throwing things at or near someone
  • using a weapon
  • locking someone in or out of a space
  • stopping someone from eating, sleeping or having the medication they need
  • forcing someone to drink or take drugs.

Coercive control is not a separate form of family violence. Each perpetrator’s patterns of behaviour towards victim-survivors can be understood as controlling behaviour or ‘coercive control’. The controlling behaviours can become more intense over time and can be used to limit a person’s ability to seek help. Perpetrators who feel entitled to get their way are more likely to use multiple forms of violence, including sexual violence. Examples include:

  • isolating someone from their family, friends and community
  • supervising or controlling actions or decisions, for example insisting on knowing the victim-survivor’s location and who they are with
  • limiting access to things like transport and money
  • controlling the victim-survivor’s body and appearance by monitoring things like food, sleep and exercise, or telling them what they can or can’t wear
  • extreme jealousy, criticism and sometimes punishment for alleged ‘failures’.
  • manipulating a person so they feel confused and start to doubt themselves; this is sometimes called ‘gaslighting’
  • denying or minimising a person’s claims of abuse and acts of violence
  • blaming the person for what has happened, claiming they brought it on themselves
  • expressing ownership over family members as a form of control
  • threatening to harm the person, their loved ones, their pets or their belongings if they talk to anyone about their experiences, or seek help
  • threatening self-harm if the person talks about their experiences, or seeks help
  • threatening to take legal action against the person.

Sexual violence, also called ‘sexual assault’, includes anything sexual that occurs without a person’s consent, and makes them feel scared or uncomfortable. This could be:

  • touching or kissing someone without their consent
  • pressuring or forcing someone to have sex or do something sexual without their consent.
  • pressuring or forcing someone to have sex without protection such as a condom.

Sexual violence can involve strangers or people you know, even if you are married to them or in a relationship with them.

Image-based abuse is when someone shares or threatens to share photos or videos of a person without their consent. It is part of sexual violence and coercive control. Images are typically shared in text messages, on social media or on the internet. Image-based abuse is sometimes called 'revenge porn'. Examples include:

  • sharing private images of a person without their consent, for example images of them undressing or showering
  • sharing culturally inappropriate images of a person, for example images in which they do not wear items of clothing that they would normally wear in public
  • sharing intimate or sexualised images of a person without their consent
  • producing and sharing images that have been digitally altered to suggest a person is nude or engaged in sexual activity
  • threatening to do any of these things.

Emotional or psychological abuse is when someone says or does things to make a person feel bad about themselves, undermines their self-esteem or makes them feel scared or powerless. It can be used to prevent people from seeking help and support. Examples include:

  • criticising a person and their choices or actions
  • Isolating a person from their friends or their family
  • threatening to harm a person, their family, their friends, their pets or their belongings
  • threatening to share personal or private information, such as sexuality, gender identity, personal health, or visa status
  • telling someone they are to blame for the problems in the relationship or the family
  • withdrawing all attention or ignoring a person for a period of time, sometimes called ‘ghosting’ or ‘the silent treatment’.
  • scaring a person through behaviours including dangerous driving or being reckless with weapons
  • manipulating a person so they feel confused and start to doubt themselves; this is sometimes called ‘gaslighting’

Emotional or psychological abuse is part of coercive control. Read more in Coercive control or controlling behaviour above.

Verbal abuse is when a person says things, privately or publicly, to shame or humiliate someone, or to make them feel scared or unsafe. This includes what they say and how they say it. Examples include:

  • ridiculing or humiliating someone
  • criticising their appearance, intelligence, sexuality, religious beliefs, or ethnicity
  • criticising their actions as a partner or parent
  • using cruel or abusive nicknames
  • swearing at someone
  • yelling or screaming at someone.

Social abuse is when someone tries to control the relationships a person has, or interferes with their social activities. This includes relationships with friends, family, colleagues or community. It can also be about trying to undermine a person’s reputation. Examples include:

  • stopping someone from seeing or contacting their friends and family
  • stopping someone from going to social or community activities
  • preventing someone from having contact with people who speak their language or share their culture
  • making someone move away from friends, family or work opportunities
  • controlling a person’s use of a car, public transport, or mobility aids
  • controlling a person’s use of phones or computers
  • checking or stopping their mail, phone calls, text messages, emails, social media and other messaging or chat apps
  • telling lies or spreading false information to damage a person’s reputation.
  • using someone’s intersex status, sexuality, gender expression, transgender or HIV status against them
  • forced marriage
  • stalking.

Social abuse is part of coercive control. Read more in Coercive control or controlling behaviour above.

Spiritual, religious or cultural abuse is used to control or intimidate someone. It is not limited to any one religion, or group of people. It can be about stopping someone from being involved in their beliefs and traditions. Or it can be about forcing someone to take part in beliefs and traditions they don’t agree with. Examples include:

  • preventing someone from practising and being connected to their culture
  • stopping someone from going to their place of worship
  • stopping someone from having contact with other people who share their beliefs
  • stopping someone from celebrating days of cultural or spiritual significance
  • stopping someone from sharing their beliefs and traditions with their children
  • stopping someone who is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander from returning to Country or having contact with kin
  • stopping someone who has family connections outside Australia from visiting or connecting with family or community overseas
  • ridiculing someone’s beliefs or traditions
  • forcing someone to do things that are against their beliefs, like eating certain foods or wearing certain clothes
  • forcing someone to marry
  • forcing someone to take part in spiritual practices they don’t believe in
  • forcing someone to raise their children according to beliefs they don’t agree with
  • using or claiming to use spiritual or religious beliefs:
    • as an excuse for violence or abuse
    • to pressure someone into staying in a relationship
    • to stop someone from getting medical care for themselves or family members.

Elder abuse is when someone tries to control or harm an older person. The abuser is usually someone the older person knows and trusts, such as a family member or carer. Examples include:

  • physically or sexually assaulting the older person
  • physically restraining the older person, and limiting their ability to move around
  • preventing the older person from leaving the house or having contact with others
  • neglecting to provide basic necessities including food and medical care
  • using the older person’s money or property without their permission
  • forcing or pressuring the older person to alter documents such as a will.

Some communities have a history of being treated cruelly and unfairly by individuals or groups in positions of power. This is called oppression, and it can go on for many years – even for generations.

Lateral violence, also known as ‘horizontal violence’ or ‘intra-racial conflict’, is a product of a complex mix of historical, cultural and social dynamics that results in a spectrum of behaviours. It is not just an individual’s behaviour. It can involve a number of people working together to attack or undermine individuals, families or groups in a sustained way. Examples include:

  • malicious gossip
  • group bullying
  • social exclusion and isolation
  • claims that the individual does not ‘belong’ in the group
  • physical violence
  • sexual violence.

It is important to understand that lateral violence doesn’t just refer to physical violence. It is also a form of coercive control and is related to social, emotional, psychological, economic and spiritual violence.

Legal abuse is when someone uses the law or legal action to control someone or make them feel scared. It can be about blocking a person’s efforts to get legal support. It can also be about making threats and false claims. Examples include:

  • preventing a person from getting legal help, including making false claims about their rights to legal protection
  • hiding or destroying legal documents and other evidence
  • making false reports
  • not complying with court orders
  • deliberately delaying legal procedures
  • deliberately running up large legal bills.

Financial abuse is when someone controls or misuses a person’s money. Examples include:

  • forcing or pressuring a person to get a credit card or take out a loan against their wishes
  • using a person’s name to get a credit card or take out a loan, without their knowledge
  • controlling what a person can spend their money on
  • controlling a person’s access to their own money, such as their wages or salary
  • using a person’s money without their permission
  • selling a person’s property without their permission
  • preventing a person from getting a job and earning money
  • demanding money or taking possessions.

Technology-facilitated abuse or ‘tech abuse’ is when someone uses technology to control, frighten or humiliate a person. It can include abusive online communication. It can also include using technology to stalk someone and gather information about them. It is sometimes called ‘technology-facilitated abuse’. Examples include:

  • monitoring text messages, phone records, social media activity and internet search history
  • preventing or forbidding a person from owning or having access to a phone or computer
  • sending abusive messages through text, email, social media or other online platforms
  • using technology to track a person’s movements without their permission
  • using technology to gather personal information about someone without their permission
  • accessing or ‘hacking’ a person’s online accounts without their permission
  • impersonating a person online
  • using technology to share personal and private images or videos without consent (see Image-based abuse below).

Within domestic and family violence, stalking and harassment are behaviours that involve intense and unwanted monitoring of a person’s movements. It can occur during a relationship, or after separation. Examples include:

  • following and watching someone, for example watching them from a parked car
  • using technology to monitor their movements; this is also called tech abuse
  • sending unwanted gifts to a person’s home or workplace
  • repeatedly making unwanted contact through phone calls, text messages, emails, social media and other messaging or chat apps
  • turning up, uninvited, at the person’s home or workplace, or at social activities
  • installing spyware on a person’s digital devices to get private information, or to secretly record or video them
  • using webcams and other forms of video surveillance without the person’s knowledge or consent.

Reproductive abuse is when a person is stopped from making decisions about their own reproductive system. This can include decisions about pregnancy, birth, your menstrual cycle, and sexual pleasure. Reproductive abuse can happen in intimate relationships. It can also come from a carer, family member, friend or guardian.

Examples include:

  • preventing a person from using birth control or forcing them to have unprotected sex
  • pressuring a person to get pregnant
  • forcing or pressuring a person to have a pregnancy terminated
  • forcing or pressuring a person to have medical treatments which will prevent them from having periods, or having a baby
  • forcing or pressuring a person to have medical procedures on their genitals
  • knowingly passing on a sexually transmitted disease.

Page updated: 28 Feb 2023