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Domestic violence and abusive relationships

14-minute read

If you (or someone else) are in danger, or if you have been threatened, physically hurt or sexually assaulted, call triple zero (000).

Key facts

  • Domestic violence is when someone uses violence or manipulation to maintain power and control over someone they’re close to.
  • Anyone, regardless of their background, can find themselves in an abusive relationship.
  • Domestic violence can include many different forms of abuse. These include physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and financial abuse.
  • Domestic violence is never your fault.
  • If you think you are in an abusive relationship, get help now from your family, friends or GP.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence (also known as family violence) is when someone uses violence or manipulation to maintain power and control over someone they’re close to. It can involve violence, intimidation, threats, insults or psychological manipulation.

The abuse may involve a partner or ex-partner, a carer or guardian, a family member, or anyone who is in close contact with another person. Anyone, regardless of their background, sex or gender, can find themselves in an abusive relationship.

What are the types of domestic violence and abuse?

Abusive relationships do not always involve physical violence. There are other kinds of damaging abuse, none of which are acceptable. The abuser can be of any gender or sexual orientation.

Types of abuse include:

  • Physical abuse: direct assault on the body, such as strangulation, slapping, punching, kicking, shaking or pushing. It may also include using weapons or objects. Physical abuse can also include throwing objects, the denial of food and the destruction of property.

  • Coercive control: deliberate, ongoing behaviour to control another person. The abuser may repeatedly hurt, scare or isolate the person.

  • Sexual abuse: any form of rape, unwanted or forced sexual activity, sexual threats and insults, restricting access to contraception or refusing to wear a condom.

  • Verbal abuse: intimidation, verbal attacks, threats, insults, name-calling, yelling or humiliation. Themes might relate to body shape, sexuality, gender identity, intelligence or ability as a parent.

  • Psychological or emotional abuse: blaming or ignoring the person (‘sulking’), treating the person as inferior, saying their behaviour is inappropriate, questioning their sense of reality, emotional blackmail or suicide threats. The perpetrator might also stalk, spy on or follow the person. This may include monitoring emails or phone calls and using GPS tracking.

  • Social isolation: isolating the victim from their family and friends, such as forbidding or preventing contact with them and ongoing rudeness to family and friends. The perpetrator might insist the person moves far away from family support or employment opportunities.

  • Financial abuse: maintaining control of family finances, including restricting access to bank accounts, wages or pensions, providing a small ‘allowance’, hiding assets, preventing the person from working, sabotaging interviews or meetings, and theft.

  • Spiritual abuse: ridiculing a person’s religious beliefs and culture or preventing them from being part of a religion or cultural group.

  • Child abuse: physical and sexual abuse, neglect, verbal and emotional abuse of a child.

  • Elder abuse: all forms of abuse directed at older adults.

  • Neglect: failing to meet the basic physical or psychological needs of a person you’re caring for, such as a child. This might include failing to protect them from physical harm or danger, or stopping them from getting medical care. It can also be neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, the other person’s basic emotional needs.

Who is at risk of domestic violence?

Domestic violence can affect anyone in the community. This is regardless of their level of income, status, sex, gender, age, race or culture. Most victims are women and children, and most perpetrators are male.

The risk of domestic violence is highest around the time of a relationship breakdown.

Other risk factors include pregnancy and alcohol or drug addiction (affecting the victim or perpetrator). Women with a history of mental illness and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to experience domestic violence.

What are the signs of domestic violence?

Certain types of injuries can act as warning signs that a person may be a victim of (physical) domestic violence. For example, people who have several or repeated injuries without a logical explanation. They may seem ‘accident prone’ or have marks such as bruises, fingernail scratches or cigarette burns.

Other signs of domestic violence you might notice in a friend or relative include:

  • They have lost their confidence or are more quiet than usual.
  • They seem afraid of their partner.
  • They have stopped seeing their friends or family.
  • Their partner often criticises them, humiliates them, orders them about or makes all the decisions.
  • They often talk about their partner’s bad temper or jealousy.
  • They have physical injuries, like bruises, broken bones, sprains or cuts.
  • Their children seem afraid of the person or show withdrawn or anxious behaviour.

What are the effects of domestic violence?

If you are affected by domestic violence you can:

You might find yourself changing your behaviour or avoiding certain topics around the person. You may feel like you deserve the abuse or that you are to blame. But remember, you are never to blame for someone else’s behaviour.

As well as physical injuries, people in an abusive relationship may also be at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Domestic violence can increase the risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression, deliberate self-harm and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

How may the abuse affect my children?

Domestic violence can have a harmful effect on children, even if the child is not a direct victim of violence. Witnessing violence between parents can disrupt a child’s sense of safety and security

Domestic violence can have long-term effects on children’s physical and mental health, as well as their learning and social development. They may not learn about healthy relationships, and are more likely to use controlling and manipulative behaviour themselves.

Signs that a child is being abused include:

What is the 'cycle of abuse'?

If abuse happens once, it can happen again. It can progress into a 'cycle of abuse' that may involve different phases.

First there is a build-up — tension starts to increase, with verbal, emotional or financial abuse occurring. The abuser may become moody and withdraw affection. The person being abused may feel that they have to check their behaviour to avoid triggering the abuser.

Next comes the explosion. Things erupt, and this may result in violence.

Afterwards, the abuser may feel remorse. This is when they are ashamed of their behaviour and try to justify it. The abuser may try to apologise and beg forgiveness. They may promise not to do it again, make excuses or pay more attention to the person they have abused.

Both people then may enter a honeymoon phase, also known as ‘love bombing’. This is when the abuser may shower the person being abused with gifts and affection.

After the honeymoon phase, the event may be forgotten. Both the abuser and the person being abused may try to justify the abuse or deny how bad it is.

The cycle may then begin again.

What can I do if I'm in an abusive relationship?

If you (or someone else) are in danger, or if you have been threatened, physically hurt or sexually assaulted, call triple zero (000).

If you think you are in an abusive relationship, or know someone who might be, get help now. Trust your 'gut instincts'.

If you are in danger, protect yourself. Get out of the situation and call the police. Talk to someone you trust, whether it’s a friend, family member or a counsellor, who can help you decide what to do next. Then come up with a plan — decide what to do the next time something bad happens.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, it’s important to seek help as early as possible. For many people who experience domestic violence, the most important first step is to find safe housing. To ensure your safety, you should contact the police and arrange ongoing legal protection, such as an apprehended violence order (AVO). Some people may need financial help to establish a new home in safety.

Both victims and perpetrators may need support and help to recover. You may also have mental health issues that need to be addressed. Your GP can refer you to a counsellor or psychologist if needed.

If you are currently experiencing domestic violence or feel unsafe in an intimate or family relationship, call the 24-hour National Sexual Assault, Domestic, Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). You can find more resources below.

How do I start a conversation about domestic violence?

If you have a friend or relative who’s in an abusive relationship, get some advice if you need to. You can see your GP or contact one of the services listed below. Talk to the person gently and let them know that you are worried. Don’t push the person into talking if they are uncomfortable, but let them know that you’re available if they need help.

How can I help an adult?

Simply being there to support someone can make all the difference. If someone is talking to you about domestic violence, you should listen closely and take the abuse seriously.

Follow these tips:

  • Help the person to recognise that what is happening is abuse.
  • Don’t judge their choices, even if they decide to stay in the relationship.
  • Help them make a plan to stay safe — including their children, if they have any.
  • Offer practical help like minding children or cooking a meal.
  • Tell the person about domestic violence counselling services.
  • Keep supporting the person after they have left the relationship.

How can I help a child?

If you think a child is witnessing domestic violence, you can help by:

  • letting them know it’s not their fault
  • making sure the child knows safe people they can go to for help
  • letting their school or childcare centre know about your concerns
  • calling the family and community services child protection helpline in your state or territory

If you suspect that a child is experiencing or witnessing domestic violence, you may have a legal obligation to report this to local authorities. This will depend on which state you live in and the nature of your relationship with the child. If you aren’t sure, contact 1800Respect for more information.

Where can I get more help and find resources?

Contact your state or territory support service:

You can also contact:

  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service. 1800 RESPECT also has a Service Directory you can use to find services in your local area.
  • Services Australia’s (Centrelink) Crisis Payment may help you financially if you’re experiencing domestic violence call 132 850.
  • Call Lifeline (13 11 14) for support if you are suffering a personal crisis, you are thinking of suicide or someone close to you is thinking of suicide.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

  • 13 Yarn (13 92 76) is a national crisis support line for mob who are feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty coping. They offer a confidential one-on-one yarning opportunity with a Lifeline-trained Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Crisis Supporter.


  • Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) is a confidential counselling service for young people aged between 5 and 25 – via telephone, email and online chat.

Older adults

  • The Elder abuse helpline (1300 651 192) is available to advise and support anyone suspecting, witnessing or experiencing elder abuse.


  • The Men’s Referral Service (1300 766 491) is a family violence telephone counselling, information and referral service, for men wanting to take responsibility for their violent behaviour.
  • MensLine Australia (1300 78 99 78) provides support to men having relationship problems and men who commit, or experience, domestic violence.

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This information was originally published on healthdirect - Domestic violence and abusive relationships.

Last reviewed: September 2022

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