Explainer: What do we mean when we talk about family and domestic violence?

By Jane Gilmore
Tue 10 January 10:27 AEDT
Share Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Share via Email

These two terms are often used interchangeably to describe violence committed by people who should be known as “loved ones”. There are technical differences in the meaning of each term, which are relevant to how they are used in public discussion.

Domestic violence typically refers to violence between intimate partners, immediate family or housemates, usually in the context of cohabitation.

Family Violence is much wider than cohabitation. It can occur between any family members or kin relationships on religious or cultural grounds. It is also applicable to people who have no formal family connection, but whose lives have become intimate over time, such as people caring for the elderly, people with disabilities or young children.

The term Family Violence is particularly relevant in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, where kin relationships go beyond white Australia’s traditional definitions.

Jenna Davey-Burns, Senior Policy Officer at Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention & Legal Services Victoria says Family Violence is their preferred term, and pointed to the Royal Commission into Family Violence findings that “Aboriginal women are at the highest risk of family violence. In comparison with other women, Aboriginal women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence, and almost 11 times more likely to be killed as a result of violent assault”.

Family and Domestic Violence is not simply physical violence. It a pattern of behaviour designed to control, coerce, intimidate or harm the victim, it can occur without including physical violence, and the mere presence of physical violence does not always prove family or domestic violence. All other forms of violence outlined below would be Family or Domestic Violence.

Physical Violence: direct assaults on the body. In the context of FDV this would not necessarily include a mutually abusive relationship, where both parties are equally violent and the violence does not result in intimidation, fear or control of one person by another. Children of such a relationship, however, would experience this as domestic violence.

Sexual Violence: any form of violence that is sexual in nature, including rape, sexual abuse of children, sexual assault, coercive sexual behaviour or anything that results in unwanted sexual contact.

Emotional Violence: this is not the same thing as hurting someone’s feelings or causing sadness or jealousy. It is an ongoing pattern of behaviour designed to undermine self-esteem and independence, with the specific goal of controlling the victim’s thoughts and acts.

Financial Violence: deliberately denying access to financial independence. It includes preventing the victim from seeking employment, or taking wages earned by the victim, preventing access to bank accounts, forcing victims to take on unwanted debt, or otherwise restricting financial freedom.

Psychological Violence: threats to the safety of the victim, their children, family, friends, pets or property. It also includes threats to accessing services by asserting police, doctors, counsellors etc would not or could not help.

Social Violence: systematic and deliberate isolation of the victim by preventing them contacting friends, family or community. It can include denying access to phones, computers and social media as well as personal contact.

Legal definitions vary across states and territories in Australia, which can lead to confusion in media reporting and commentary. Journalists and commentators need to take care with definitions applied to specific cases and charges within each jurisdiction.

The Australian Law Reform Commission has a list of useful links for state and territory based definitions of family and domestic violence.

Finally, all media reporting of Family and Domestic Violence, as per the Australian Press Council Guidelines , should include information about resources for people affected by violence.

This is the standard information tag: "If you are affected by this story and want to seek assistance, contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service for people living in Australia 1800RESPECT – Ph: 1800 737 732."