Understanding domestic and family violence
Domestic violence refers to acts of violence that occur between people who have, or have had, an intimate relationship. While there is no single definition, the central element of domestic violence is an ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling a partner through fear - for example, by using behaviour which is violent and threatening. Family violence is a more inclusive term and refers to violence between family members, as well as violence between intimate partners, and involves the same types of behaviours as described for domestic and family violence.
Domestic and family violence can take many forms and includes physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, financial and sexual abuse. It can affect people of any age, race, religion, socioeconomic background, gender, sexual orientation, cultural and ethnic background. Notwithstanding this, women and children are disproportionately subjected to domestic and family violence and there are groups of women within our community who are particularly vulnerable to this violence due to a range of inequalities that persist in our society and contribute to the further marginalisation of particular groups, such as women with disabilities, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women, women of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, older women and women from CALD backgrounds.
In many violent relationships, the physical and sexual violence does not begin until after the relationship is well established and for many women their first experience of physical violence will be during pregnancy. People who use violence may initially be over-attentive, controlling or even dominating over their partner, and this behaviour may be considered by the partner as a compliment or a sign of care or love. In some cases domestic and family violence continues long after the relationship has ended.
Understanding power and control
The central element of domestic and family violence is ‘an ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling a partner through fear’. The power and control wheel was developed in Duluth, Minnesota, following interviews with women who had experienced domestic and family violence, who were asked to identify the ways in which they felt they were controlled.
The power and control wheel provides a simplified understanding of various forms of domestic and family violence from the perspective of the woman being subjected to the violence. It is important to note an emerging area of concern, the use of technology to facilitate domestic and family violence, which is an additional and contemporary means of exercising power and control.
The power and control wheel
At the centre of the wheel is the purpose of all violent tactics in the relationship, which is the intention of one party to exercise and establish power and control over another.
A person who uses violence believes he or she has a right to control their partner and may use some of the tactics found in the power and control wheel by:
- telling them what to do and expecting obedience
- using force to maintain power and control over partners
- feeling their partners have no right to challenge their desire for power and control
- feeling justified in making the person subjected to domestic and family violence comply
- blaming the abuse on the partner and not accepting responsibility for wrongful acts.
The tactics shown in the wheel are examples of how power and control are exercised against the person subjected to violence:
- limiting outside involvement
- making a partner avoid people/friends/family by embarrassing or humiliating them in front of others
- expecting a partner to report every move and activity
- restricting the use of the car
- moving residences
Emotional and mental abuse
- putting the partner down or name calling
- ignoring or discounting their activities and accomplishments
- withholding approval or affection
- making the partner feel as if they are crazy in public or through private humiliation
- unreasonable jealousy and suspicion
- playing mind games
Economic and financial abuse
- preventing the partner from getting or keeping a job
- withholding funds
- spending family income without consent and/or making the partner struggle to pay bills
- not letting the partner know of or have access to family/personal income
- forcing the partner to ask for basic necessities
- driving recklessly to make the partner feel threatened or endangered
- destroying property or cherished possessions
- making the partner afraid by using looks/actions/gestures
- throwing objects as an expression of anger to make the partner feel threatened
- displaying weapons
Using children or pets
- threatening to take the children away
- making the partner feel guilty about the children
- abusing children or pets to punish the partner
- using the children to relay messages
Using privileges (perceived or cultural)
- treating another like a servant
- making all the big decisions
- being the one to define male and female roles
- acting like the master or queen of the castle
- sex on demand or sexual withholding
- physical assaults during sexual intercourse
- spousal rapes or non-consensual sex
- sexually degrading language
- denying reproductive freedom
- threats of violence against significant third parties
- threats to commit physical or sexual harm
- threats to commit property destruction
- threats to commit suicide or murder
- throwing objects
- locking another in a closet or utilising other confinement
- sleep interference and/or deliberately exhausting the partner with unreasonable demands and lack of rest
- deprivation of heat or food
- shoving another down steps or into objects
- assaults with weapons such as knives/guns/other objects
The non-violence wheel
The non-violence wheel was developed in consultation with women who have experienced domestic and family violence and is designed to be used with the power and control wheel. It aims to describe the changes needed to move from a violent relationship to a respectful relationship.
In a respectful relationship, power is shared between both parties; neither partner has power or control over the other. Respect is the foundation of the relationship, and trust and love stem from this mutual respect. Arguments and disagreements are possible and likely, even in a respectful relationship, but it is possible to acknowledge and resolve differing understandings and perspectives in a considerate, non-threatening and non-violent manner. There is no excuse for violence in a respectful relationship. It is possible for a violent relationship to become a respectful relationship.
In some cases, women who experience domestic and family violence may feel overwhelmed by or responsible for the violence they have experienced. The non-violence wheel may be useful for HACS staff when engaging in conversations with clients who may be feeling hopeless or guilty about their situation.
rompting a woman to talk about her hopes for the relationship and what she believes she can do to achieve this can be empowering for her, but may also lead her to the realisation that she is not in control of or responsible for her partner’s behaviour.
The effects of domestic and family violence on children
In homes where domestic and family violence occurs, children are also at high risk of suffering physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Whether or not they are subjected to physical violence, children exposed to domestic and family violence suffer significant emotional and psychological trauma which is similar to that experienced by victims of child abuse.
Living in an environment in which domestic and family violence takes place can be distressing and traumatising for both children and young people. For example, observing property damage as a result of domestic and family violence (holes in walls, kicked in doors etc.) can serve as a constant reminder of the violence and be a trigger.
When children experience domestic and family violence, it can affect their behaviour, development, relationships, emotions, learning ability, cognition and physical health.
Some of the ways children are impacted include:
- aggressive or defiant behaviour
- being anxious, fearful or withdrawn
- negative self concept
- lack of trust
- developmental delays
- feeling responsible for the violence
- post traumatic stress and other psychological effects
- Increased risk of using violence or being subjected to violence as adults
Seeking support in relation to domestic and family violence demonstrates to a child that violence is not acceptable and can be stopped.
For more information visit: www.1800respect.org.au/workers/common-questions/how-does-domestic-and-family-violence-affect-children/
Leaving a violent relationship
Women return to violent relationships for many reasons. It is important not to question a woman’s reasons for remaining in a violent relationship. The reasons are personal and sensitive, and questioning may be perceived as judgement or victim-blaming, which may result in the woman disengaging and lead to further risks to her safety. These reasons include: fear of the partner, a desire to continue the relationship for the sake of children, pressure to return to the relationship from children, family members or friends, a cultural or religious community, lack of access to safe and affordable alternative accommodation, and limited support networks and resources. Many women may leave and return a number of times, cycling in and out of homelessness. HACS acknowledges that this pattern often forms part of the pathway permanently out of a violent relationship. This understanding informs the commitment of HACS to providing non-judgemental responses and services that place responsibility for the violence on the user of violence and not the person subjected to violence.
Statistically, women are at the greatest risk of physical and even fatal violence when leaving, and planning to leave, a violent relationship. As a violent relationship is underpinned by a dynamic in which the user of violence has power and control over the person subjected to violence, planning to leave and leaving constitute challenges to the power of the dominant person in a relationship. A person who uses violence may sense that their power and control in a relationship is being challenged if the person subjected to violence starts making arrangements to leave, which might include calling friends, family and support services for advice and support, and packing emergency bags including personal identification and othe documentation. The user of violence may increase their use of violence, manipulation or monitoring to prevent their partner from leaving. In many cases, the violence continues after the woman leaves the relationship as a means of coercing her into returning to the relationship, and this tactic is often successful as returning to the violent relationship becomes the perceived safer option for the woman.
It is crucial that the safety of women and children be prioritised; it should also be acknowledged that leaving a violent relationship may not be the desired or safest option for many women. In light of this, HACS is committed to supporting women and children experiencing domestic and family violence regardless of whether the violent relationship continues. This aligns with HACS’ commitment to providing respectful, non-judgemental support that prioritises safety and self-determination.
When speaking with a woman who is considering leaving a violent relationship, encourage her to develop a detailed and personalised safety plan in consultation with trusted friends, family members, and specialist domestic and family violence services. Encourage the woman to consider her and her children’s immediate physical safety, accommodation options, financial resources, and access to important documents and other essential items.
For more information visit: http://dvcs.org.au/safety-planning/when-preparing-to-leave-your-home/
It is possible and indeed necessary to safety plan with women and children who remain in violent environments. If the woman has children, encourage her to develop a safety plan in consultation with them, as well as trusted friends, family members, and specialist domestic violence services. Consider referring the woman to the DVCS for assistance with safety planning.
For more information visit: http://dvcs.org.au/safety-planning/during-a-violent-incident-at-home/
How to apply for protection orders
A protection order is a civil law order for which a person applies at the ACT Magistrates Court. There are two types of protection orders in the ACT:
- a Domestic Violence Order or DVO
- a Personal Protection Order or PPO.
A DVO is used when the applicant and the respondent are in a ‘relevant relationship’, for example, an intimate relationship or familial relationship (which includes kinship relationships).
A PPO is used when the applicant and the respondent are not related and are not in a relevant relationship, for example, housemates.
A protection order prevents future violence by prohibiting and/or restraining certain behaviour between parties such as in-person and over the phone contact, harassment, intimidation, and property damage. The applicant must demonstrate that there is an immediate risk to their physical safety based on recent events, which is considered on a case-by-case basis by the court. Police reference numbers relating to recent incidents are useful but police involvement is not necessary to satisfy the requirements for a protection order.
It is possible to have a protection order with conditions that allow the woman and/or her children to live with or have contact with the person using violence. A DVO can be sought for up to 24 months and an extension can be sought at least three weeks before the order expires.
The DVCS Court Advocacy Program supports clients to apply for DVOs. A person does not have to be an existing DVCS client to access this service. A person can self-refer for court support by calling 6280 0900 or you can complete an over-the-phone referral on the client’s behalf.
Legal Aid ACT provides legal advice and representation in DVO matters from the Domestic Violence and Personal Protection Order Unit located at the Magistrates Court.
For information and appointments call: 6207 1874, or 1300 654 314 (main office ).
For more information about applying for protection orders in the ACT see: the Women’s Legal Centre booklet, Your Court Your Safety http://womenslegalact.org/
Immigration and domestic and family violence
Women from CALD backgrounds living in Australia who experience domestic and family violence may not be aware of their rights or the law in Australia.
Women who are not permanent residents, but have sponsored migrant arrangements as spouses or partners and are experiencing domestic and family violence, often feel compelled to remain in the violent relationship rather than end the relationship and be forced to leave Australia.
The domestic and family violence provisions of Australia’s migration program allow people in this situation to apply for permanent residence in Australia after the breakdown of their relationship if they have experienced domestic and family violence committed by their spouse or de facto partner.
They need to supply evidence to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to prove the existence of the relationship and to prove that the domestic and family violence has occurred.
For more information see: www.border.gov.au/about/corporate/information/fact-sheets/38domestic
Also, the Department of Social Services has produced a booklet, Beginning a Life in Australia, which is available in 37 languages.
For more information see: www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/settlement-services/beginning-a-life-in-australia
Refer to the Practice Information section for advice about what to do when you suspect domestic and family violence.
HACS can register a sponsored migrant under the above circumstances, on the standard housing register. Allocation may be considered when the sponsorship arrangement has broken down due to domestic and family violence.
Once proof of this violence has been accepted by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Centrelink may grant the person who has been subjected to domestic and family violence a Statutory Income - most commonly Special Benefit.
It is important to note that proving this violence may take many months and during that period the sponsored migrant is not entitled to any Centrelink benefit or Medicare assistance.
Assessment Officers must seek discretion on behalf of the Commissioner to waive clause 9(1)(c) (the six-month residency criteria) under Hardship (Clause 10 of PRHAP) if the applicant has not resided within the ACT for the six-month period.
Mandatory reporting requirements on child abuse and neglect
In the ACT workers and professionals are not required by law to report instances of a child’s exposure to domestic and family violence. In recognition of the seriousness of this type of harm to the developing child, some states and territories have different reporting requirements.
Forms of child abuse and neglect which must be reported in the ACT are physical and sexual abuse.
If you suspect or believe on reasonable grounds that a child or young person is experiencing abuse or neglect or you wish to discuss your concerns about a child or young person, you should telephone Child and Youth Protection Services Centralised Intake Service as soon as possible on 1300 556 729.
For more information see: www.communityservices.act.gov.au/ocyfs/publications/keeping-children-and-young-people-safe
How to respond to a disclosure of domestic and family violence
HACS plays a pivotal role in responding to the immediate and long-term accommodation needs of women and children who have experienced domestic and family violence, and also has an important role to play in the identification of and provision of supports in response to domestic and family violence situations. HACS staff may be required to respond to disclosures of domestic and family violence in a range of contexts, including at annual inspections and home visits, when speaking to clients on the phone, and through the Gateway. It is expected that HACS staff will provide a respectful and non-judgemental response and will endeavour to determine the woman’s situation, any safety risks and support needs in order to facilitate relevant referrals.
It is crucial to provide respectful and non-judgemental support, regardless of whether a woman decides to leave or remain in a violent relationship. The paramount consideration remains the safety of the woman and her children. It is important to remember that telling someone may be the critical first step towards greater safety and may eventually result in the woman leaving the violent relationship.
You can always call DVCS on 6280 6999 (during business hours, 6280 0900 at all other times) to discuss a situation, seek advice and guidance, or debrief about what you have observed while ensuring the identity of the client remains confidential. Alternatively, you can contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).
If a woman discloses domestic and family violence:
- Acknowledge how difficult it may have been to talk about it and tell someone about her situation. Acknowledge her strength and courage in doing so.
- Assess her immediate safety and that of any children involved.
- If you are out in the field and the situation becomes unsafe for you, the woman or her children, call 000 (triple zero) for emergency police assistance. Notify your manager as soon as it is safe to do so.
- Alternatively, encourage the woman to leave with you and return to Nature Conservation House to develop a support plan in consultation with DVCS and other services as required.
- Ask the woman if she would like support in relation to her situation and offer to refer her to a domestic and family violence service such as DVCS.
- The DVCS operates a 24/7 crisis line (6280 0900) and provides respectful, non-judgemental and culturally-sensitive support and safety planning, as well as crisis intervention and referrals to relevant services in the ACT. DVCS also provides a court support program, a young peoples’ outreach program, support groups and case tracking of family violence offences in the Magistrates Court.
For more information on DVCS see: www.dvcs.org.au
For more information on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) - the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence 24/7 counselling service and online counselling - see:www.1800respect.org.au
- For many women, making the initial call to a support service is a significant challenge. The woman may be struggling to accept that the behaviour she is experiencing constitutes domestic and family violence; she may have concerns about being judged or simply told what to do rather than having her views and hopes for the relationship acknowledged. Many women in violent relationships want the relationship to continue but the violence to stop. Reassure the woman that DVCS takes a non-judgemental, person-centred and safety-oriented approach to supporting people (women, men and children) who are subjected to violence and also people who use violence. If the woman provides consent, complete an over-the-phone referral to DVCS by calling 6280 6999 during business hours or 6280 0900 at all other times. If the woman feels comfortable to contact DVCS herself, encourage her to do so.
- If the woman does not consent to DVCS contact or declines to take any other action, offer to provide her with the contact details for DVCS and reassure her of DVCS’ confidentiality, expertise and accessibility (i.e. that DVCS is empathetic, non-judgemental, person-centred and safety-oriented).
- Offer the woman follow up contact and use these opportunities to re-offer support and referrals, and encourage her to develop a safety plan.
- Discuss what happened with a manager.
- Assess with a manager if there is a need for a notification in relation to children.
When you suspect domestic and family violence
- It is important to frameyour intervention in terms of safety and, if possible, identify examples of concerning behaviour to discuss with the woman.
- If appropriate and safe to do so, respectfully advise the woman that you have concerns for her and her children’s safety based on your observations. For example, you may have observed holes in walls and/or other property damage or the woman may have made comments to you which suggest she’s being subjected to controlling or manipulative behaviour by her partner or family member. For example, the woman may tell you she has no control over or access to her finances, she is being monitored by her partner or she modifies her behaviour so as not to upset or anger her partner or family member.
- Ask the woman if she would like support in relation to her situation and offer to refer her to a domestic and family violence service.
- If the woman provides consent, complete an over-the-phone referral to DVCS by calling 6280 6999 during business hours or 6280 0900 at all other times. If the woman feels comfortable to contact DVCS herself, encourage her to do so.
- It may not be safe to have this conversation with the woman if the violent person is present during your visit or if you suspect their phone conversations are being listened to or monitored. If this is the case, ask the woman to nominate another time or provide your contact details for her to call you when it’s safe to do so.
- Consider having a sticker or other marker on your folder or bag that identifies domestic and family violence as a community issue. This sends a message that you are willing to provide support.
- Talk to your Manager and/or a CSC about additional supports or strategies that might be useful for the woman about whom you have concerns.
Looking after yourself at work
HACS acknowledges that supporting women and children who experience domestic and family violence can have a significant impact on staff members. Hearing about traumatic and violent incidents can be upsetting and overwhelming. It can also have a negative impact or triggering effect on staff members who may have personal experience of domestic and family violence.
In these instances, it may be useful to approach your colleagues or Manager for support. You can also seek support from a RED Contact Officer, or through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which is a comprehensive service designed to assist you in meeting the challenges and demands of your work and personal life.
Alternatively, you can anonymously contact DVCS or 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). The 1800 RESPECT telephone and online counselling services are available for workers to discuss the personal impact of working with people who have experienced trauma. You can call 1800 737 732 or chat online 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
For more information see: www.1800respect.org.au/1800respect-for-workers-and-professionals/
Relevant HACS legislation and business rules
- Housing Assistance Act 2007
- Housing Assistance Public Rental Housing Assistance Program 2013 (No 1)
- Housing Assistance Public Rental Housing Assistance Program (Housing Needs Categories)
- Determination 2011 (No 2)
- Domestic Violence Modifications Business Rule. Allows for the alteration of window and door locks, lighting and landscape modifications as recommended by specialist domestic and family violence and/or homelessness services.
- Director Housing ACT Instruction - Appropriate documentation to support applicants suffering from domestic and family violence. Includes a list of accepted services from which letters of support will be accepted for entry into the priority application system.
- Housing ACT Operational Guideline N/2008-171. Allows for Commissioner ’s discretion to waive financial interest in a property in the case of domestic and family violence. Allows for safety to be a consideration in determining ‘hardship’.
World Health Organization - Violence Against Women: Global Picture Health Response
Personal Safety Survey, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2012.
Personal Safety Survey, ABS, 2012.
Jan Breckenridge, Susan Rees, Kylie Valentine and Samantha Murray, Meta-evaluation of existing interagency partnerships, collaboration, coordination and/or integrated interventions and service responses to violence against women: State of knowledge paper, ANROWS, 2015. See: http://anrows.org.au/publications/landscapes/meta-evaluation-existing-interagency-partnerships-collaboration-coordination
COAG 2011, National plan to reduce violence against women and their children: Including the first three-year action plan, p2, FAHCSIA, Canberra.
Women’s Legal Centre
This information is adapted from the DomesticViolence Crisis Service