What Is Domestic Violence?

From Rosie Batty becoming the 2015 Australian of the Year, to the recent outcome of the Victorian government’s Royal Commission into Family Violence, it seems like we are hearing more and more about domestic violence in the news and media. So what is domestic violence and how can we start to understand it?

** If you need urgent help, call police on 000 **

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence, also referred to as ‘family violence’ or ‘domestic abuse’, is when one person uses fear to dominate or control another person in a relationship. Domestic violence may occur as just one incident; however, it is most often a pattern of coercion and control that gradually undermines the victim’s confidence and ability to leave.

Domestic violence can occur across all cultures, demographics, ages, and socio-economic groups. It can occur between people in a range of domestic relationships including:

  • past or current intimate relationships (intimate partner violence) – including partners, spouses, lovers, people who are dating or living together, and ex-partners
  • care relationships – where care is provided to older people (elder abuse), people with disability or a medical condition
  • relatives, family members or guardians – including extended family and other culturally recognized family groups.

What are the forms of domestic violence?

Domestic violence is any behaviour that causes physical, sexual or emotional damage, or causes you to live in fear. It can take many forms, including but not limited to:

  • Intimidation and creating fear – possessing weapons, destroying property, intimidating body language (angry looks, raised voice, making gestures), hostile questioning, harassment through persistent phone calls or messages, cruelty to pets, or any behaviour which is used to intimidate.
  • Verbal/ emotional/ psychological abuse – screaming, shouting, put-downs, name-calling, swearing, using sarcasm to ridicule, humiliation, degrading or demeaning comments, rejection, threats of harm, threats of leaving, or any behaviour which is used to deliberately undermine confidence.
  • Social abuse – controlling contact with people, isolating from social networks and supports by preventing contact, putting friends and family down, abusing in public or in front of others.
  • Financial abuse – controlling financial decisions, denying access to money, demanding accounts of money spent, or any behaviour which is used to make the victim financially dependent on their partner.
  • Sexual abuse – forced or unwanted sexual contact, forcing sexual acts that cause pain or humiliation, or any unwanted sexual behaviour.
  • Spiritual/ cultural abuse – ridiculing or putting down beliefs or culture, preventing participation in groups that are important to spiritual beliefs, culture or religion.
  • Stalking – following, loitering in places victim is known to frequent, watching, harassment and making persistent calls or messages.
  • Physical abuse – scratching, biting, pushing, shoving, hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, attempted strangulation, hair-pulling, punching, throwing things, physical restraint, may involve use of weapons, threats or actual destruction of possessions or property.


Why don’t people leave an abusive relationship?

For most people, the decision to end a relationship is not easy. Leaving a violent relationship is even harder. The reality is that the most dangerous time for a victim is during and soon after they leave the abusive partner. Leaving is often dangerous and there are many factors one must consider in deciding how to respond to an abusive partner.

It is important to understand that there can be many barriers to leaving an abusive relationship:

  • Fear of safety – fear of retaliation, being hurt or killed, of loved ones being targeted, being stalked, not being believed, putting children at risk of harm.
  • Threats from partner – to harm themselves, the victim or children, other loved ones or pets, threats to take the children.
  • Promises from partner – that things will get better, that no-one else will love them, believing when told others will think they’re stupid etc.
  • Isolation – having limited supports, fear of being alone, that no-one will understand or help, fear of rejection from family and friends, fear of rejection from society.
  • Pressures about the children – beliefs that children need two parents, don’t want to raise them alone, fear children will be taken from victim by partner or welfare agency.
  • Financial pressures and legal issues – financially dependent on partner for shelter, food and other necessities, don’t know how would cope alone, fear of losing children in custody ‘battle’, worried about going to court and having to tell what has happened.
  • Community pressures – from friends, family, cultural or religious communities, beliefs about keeping the family together.
  • Societal pressures – stigma around domestic violence, blaming victim for violence, value of putting family first, tolerating use of violence, treating domestic violence as a private matter, posing excuses for the violence such as alcohol and drug use, deflecting responsibility from abuser onto the victim.
  • Lack of resources or information.
  • Shame, guilt, lack of self-esteem.


What is the psychological impact of domestic violence?

What Is Domestic Violence?     

Relationships don’t usually start out with violence; it is usually a progression of behaviour over time. Because the violence is ongoing, it gradually undermines the confidence of the person experiencing it, and their ability to leave the violent partner.

This develops in response to the cyclic nature of domestic violence. In the first stage, tension builds over time. Secondly, the abusive partner releases tension through violence, while blaming the victim for having caused the violence. Thirdly, the abusive partner appears remorseful. However, in time, the tension builds again and so the cycle repeats.

This cycle results in the victim feeling at fault for not preventing the violence, and this self-blame results in feelings of helplessness. The feeling of being both responsible and helpless leads to passivity, which makes it difficult for the victim to take action to leave.

The reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships are compelling and complex. It is important not to cast judgement and further disempower victims, but to support them in making their own choices and actions so that they can regain their power and help themselves.


Are you the victim of domestic violence?

If you are the victim of domestic violence and would like help, contact us at the Psych Professionals.


Further domestic violence information and resources

There are a number of organisations that provide useful information and support services that you may find helpful:




Domestic Violence Prevention Centre

Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria



Stop Violence Against Women http://www.domesticviolenceinfo.ca/article/cycle-of-violence-189.asp