Contributed by SarahBright and current to 27 July 2018

Family violence in Australia

Family violence is sadly not uncommon in Australia.

A reliable indicator of the prevalence of family violence in Australia is the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey (PSS) which is conducted every 4 years. The PSS measures the experiences of men and women in relation to rates of violence, sexual harassment, stalking, partner violence, and partner emotional abuse.

The most recent PSS was in 2016 and from analysing the response from around 21,000 respondents, it found that:
  • two in five adult Australians had experienced an incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 15
  • Broken down by gender this was 42% of men (3.8 million) and 37% of women (3.4 million)
  • females from the age of 15 years were almost three times more likely to experience violence by a current and/or previous partner they lived with than males: 17 per cent (1.6 million) compared to 6.1 per cent (547,600)
  • In 2016 alone, one in six women (17 per cent or 1.6 million) and one in 11 men (9 per cent or 836,700) experienced sexual harassment
  • Young women aged 18 to 24 years were the most likely to experience sexual harassment, with around two in five (38 per cent or 421,400) reporting being sexually harassed in the past 12 months
See further:

As you can see, family violence overwhelmingly involves men abusing their female partners (or former partners) which is why gendered language tends to be used when discussing it.

However, this does not mean that family violence:
  • only happens to women (men certainly are and can be victims);
  • is a problem for women to fix;
  • is unique to heterosexual people/couples
  • is experienced the same by all families and people in Australia.

Family violence is subjective

Family violence is an issue which can affect anyone.

It differs from violence by a stranger (and can be more traumatic than violence perpetrated by a stranger) as:
  • it is ultimately about the betrayal of trust – someone who is meant to love, care and protect you and your family is the one hurting you or your family.
  • It is about coercion and control rather than just physical violence which means that it tends to be more pervasive - for families experiencing the threat can feel that it is always there and never goes away
  • The way in which it is perpetrated is extremely personal – it is effectively tailored by someone who knows their victim very well and who knows what scares them and how to therefore control them.
Family violence is complex, in part, because it is subjective – meaning that people can experience family violence differently.

For example, behaviour which might be used to control or humiliate one member of a family might not be behaviour that has that effect when experienced by someone in another family or even when it is experienced by another family member in that same family.

Responding to family violence

This means that any response to family violence must also be tailored to the needs of the individual affected family members and take into account not just the family violence behaviour that is occurring but also look at the underlying dynamics of the relationships with the people within that family to try and figure out a solution that can increase safety for individual family members in the long term. Individual family members may have different needs and requires different responses or assistance to feel and be safe. For example, children in a family may require additional support or assistance than that of their siblings or parents, even the parent who is their primary carer.

As family violence is complex, the response to family violence is also complex and usually involves different remedies or actions being sought in different courts and/or by a variety of service professionals. It can be confusing for those experiencing or affected by family violence to navigate the system without assistance – both legal and non-legal.

What this section will cover

This section aims to help you (or if you are a service provider to help you assist your clients) understand and navigate the response to family violence.

While this section will be focus on the legal options, it will include consideration of non-legal options as for many people experiencing family violence their ultimate goal is safety for them and their children and this cannot be provided by a legal remedy alone.

In this section, we will explain:
  • what family violence is – the language used and its legal definition, how to identify it (what behaviour could it include)
  • what options are available to respond to it (including steps to increase safety of those at risk of it);
  • how family violence might be relevant in other areas of law; ands
  • Where to go for further help, advice or assistance.

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