According to the UN, domestic abuse, also called “family and domestic violence (FDV)”, “domestic violence” or “intimate partner violence”, can be defined as a pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner…
In Australia, FDV is a serious and widespread problem. It can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender, however, in the vast majority of cases it is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men. According to research conducted by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety and the Australian Bureau of Statistics:
- On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.
- 1 in 3 women (30.5%) has experienced physical violence since the age of 15.
- 1 in 5 women (18%) has experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.
- 1 in 2 women (53%) has experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime.
The ‘abuse’ suffered in the case of family and domestic violence can come in various forms. According to the United Nations, these include:
Emotional abuse includes undermining a person’s sense of self-worth through constant criticism; belittling one’s abilities; name-calling or other verbal abuse; damaging a partner’s relationship with the children; or not letting a partner see friends and family. Examples may include if a partner calls you names, insults you or continually criticises you, does not trust you and acts in a jealous or possessive manner, or tries to isolate you from family or friends.
This involves causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner or children; destruction of pets and property; “mind games”; or forcing isolation from friends, family, school and/or work.
This consists of making or attempting to make a person financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding access to money, and/or forbidding attendance at school or employment.
Physical abuse involves hurting or trying to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, burning, grabbing, pinching, choking, shoving, slapping, hair-pulling, biting, denying medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use, or using other physical force. Situations like scaring you by driving recklessly, or damaging property whilst being angry can also fall under this category.
This involves forcing a partner to take part in a sex act when the partner does not consent. You may be in a sexually abusive relationship if your partner accuses you of cheating or is often jealous of your outside relationships. It can also be classed as sexual abuse if your partner:
- Wants you to dress in a sexual way.
- Insults you in sexual ways or calls you sexual names.
- Has ever forced or manipulated you into having sex or performing sexual acts.
- Holds you down during sex.
- Demands sex when you are sick, tired or after beating you.
- Hurts you with weapons or objects during sex.
- Involves other people in sexual activities with you.
- Ignores your feelings regarding sex.
This involves any pattern of behaviour that serves no legitimate purpose and is intended to harass, annoy, or terrorise the victim. Typical stalking activities include repeated telephone calls, unwelcome letters or gifts by mail, and surveillance at work, home and other places that the victim is known to frequent.
This includes the above forms and is a commonly used definition to describe an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim.
What to do if you are suffering from family and domestic violence?
You can’t stop your partner’s violence and abuse — only they can do that. You will already be doing things to protect yourself and your children and only you can know what will be most safe. Some victim-survivors have used the following ways to feel safe:
- Researching and keeping with you any important and emergency telephone numbers.
- Teaching your children to call 000 in an emergency, and what they would need to say.
- If you can trust your neighbours, inform them what is going on and ask them to call the police if they hear a violent attack.
- Rehearsing an escape plan, so you (and your children) can get away quickly in an emergency.
- Trying to keep some money on you at all times for a bus or a taxi.
- Locate the safest part of the house for you and your children during an attack. This will differ for each victim-survivor as only you will know where this will be based on your unique experience of violence
You may have decided that the safest option for you is to leave. You will know the risks involved and will have weighed up the options that will create the greatest safety. Where possible, reach out to someone before you leave so that you can be supported in the decision and action plan. This support might be at work, your GP, community, or online group or referral.
Planning it doesn’t mean you have to carry it through immediately — or at all. But it may help to be able to consider all the options and think about how you could overcome the difficulties involved.
You will already know what will increase your safety and reduce the likelihood of the abuse continuing once you leave. It may be that telling people that you have suffered domestic abuse, will increase your support network and provide safety – whether it is family, friends, the children’s school or your employer or university. This might stop them from inadvertently giving out any information to your ex-partner.
It might also help to avoid any places, such as shops, banks, and cafes, that you used to use when you were together. If you have any regular appointments that your partner knows about, it might also help to try to change your appointment time and/or the location of the appointment.
Ways perpetrators of violence find their victim is via phone tracing or monitoring bank account activities. Be aware if this is something you might fall victim to and ensure your children know to keep your new address confidential.
If you are able to return home without your former partner living there, you will know what precautions will increase your safety. Some victim survivors change the locks on all their external doors, put locks on windows, install fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, and install an outside light (back and front) which comes on automatically when someone approaches. It is important to keep detailed records of any incident, including the date and time it occurred, what was said or done, and, if possible, photographs of damage to your property or injuries to yourself or others.
Reach out for help
While reaching out to friends and family can be beneficial, there are also plenty of federal and state-run organisations set up to help those suffering from family and domestic violence. Head to https://www.respect.gov.au/services/ to find out your closest organisation.
Counselling services are confidential, anonymous, free and available 24/7 – Telephone. 1300 687 327