What is family violence? What you need to know

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Family violence is a set or pattern of behaviours in which someone seeks power and control over you, causing you to feel threatened, worthless or fearful. Family violence can take many forms:

  • It can be physical, psychological and emotional, economic, social, sexual or spiritual.
  • It can include behaviour that is violent, threatening, controlling, intimidating and isolating.
  • It can affect people from all ages, social, cultural and religious backgrounds, and people with a disability.
  • It can occur between family members, parents and children, against elders, against pets, in marriages, de-facto relationships, same sex relationships, couples who are separated or divorced, and even within shared households.
  • In most cases, it is committed by men against a female partner or ex-partner.

Specific risks during COVID-19

We expect family violence incidents will increase as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know this because of research and evidence that family violence can become more frequent and severe during periods of emergency.  

Being forced to share space with perpetrators for extended periods of time with external stressors, including: anxiety arising from the state of flux, financial uncertainty (e.g. due to job loss), food insecurity (e.g. fuelled by panic shopping), restlessness from changed daily habits and reduced social interaction, could lead to a spike in family violence. No matter what the external stressors, violence is never excusable.

Someone who uses family violence may use COVID-19 as a tactic or reason to use violence more frequently or more severely. Specific examples include: withholding necessary items (food, medicine, sanitiser), using the pandemic to control the finances, using the children to gain control, controlling information about the pandemic to install fear and many more. For a more complete list visit: https://www.dvrcv.org.au/help-advice/coronavirus-covid-19-and-family-violence/family-friends-and-neighbours

It may be difficult to reach out for assistance during the coronavirus emergency. Be assured that you have the right to feel safe, access medical support and maintain contact with friends and family.

Your situation and safety are important when considering COVID-19 advice. For example:

Signs of family violence


These questions may help you to understand whether you are experiencing family violence. Is someone:

  • Making you feel scared or afraid?
  • Yelling at you or saying bad things to you?
  • Putting you down?
  • Hitting, punching or pushing you?
  • Stopping you from contacting your family or friends?
  • Not giving you something you need like medication or food?
  • Controlling your money against your will?
  • Threatening to take or harm your children?
  • Harming or threatening to harm your pets?
  • Not letting you have your own belief system?

Violence looks different for everyone

Everyone’s experience of family violence is different so the type of help and support each person needs is different too.

Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders

In addition to the signs of family violence listed above, a person might:

  • Stop you from practicing your culture.
  • Humiliate you, call you names or make fun of you including by using racial slurs.
  • Threaten that police or other services will not believe your reports.
  • Threaten to report you to Child Protection or have your children taken away.

For more information visit: Boorndawan Willam Aboriginal Healing Service https://bwahs.com.au/

People with disabilities

In addition to the signs of family violence listed above, a person might:

  • Control your access to mobility or communication tools.
  • Control your access to medication or prevent you from taking your medication.
  • Threaten assistance animals (such as guide dogs).
  • Threaten that police or other services will not believe your reports.
  • Threaten to punish, abandon or institutionalise you.
  • Threaten to report you to Child Protection or have your children taken away.

For more information visit: Women with Disabilities Victoria https://www.wdv.org.au/news/wdv-and-coronavirus/

Refugees and migrants

In addition to the signs of family violence listed above, a person might:

  • Say they will cancel your visa and send you back home.
  • Stop you from practicing your religion or culture.
  • Stop you from accessing information in your preferred language.

For more information visit: InTouch Multicultural Centre against Family Violence https://intouch.org.au/information-for-women/

LGBTIQ+ communities

In addition to the signs of family violence listed above, a person might:

  • Humiliate you, call you names or make fun of your body.
  • Threaten to ‘out’ your sexuality, gender (identity, expression or history) or variation in sex characteristics to your friends, family or work.
  • Threaten to ‘out’ your sexual health history or status (e.g. HIV status).
  • Attempt to convince you their behaviour is normal or that family violence doesn’t exist in LGBTIQ relationships.
  • Undermine your parenting on the basis of your sexuality or gender identity.
  • Control your access to your medication (including hormones) or prevent you from taking your medication.

For more information visit: WithRespect https://www.withrespect.org.au/community

Older people

Elder abuse is any act which causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust, usually a family member. If you, or someone you know, is experiencing elder abuse, these services may be of assistance:

Seniors Rights Victoria
Free helpline, legal, advocacy and referral service specialising in elder abuse.
Call 1300 368 821

Elder Rights Advocacy
Free service for all Victorians in residential and home care programs providing advocacy, information, support and advice.
Call 1800 700 600

Office of the Public Advocate
For information or assistance regarding Enduring Power of Attorney, Guardianship or Administration matters.  
Call 1300 309 337