Domestic and family violence is often mistakenly thought to only describe physical assaults and abuse, but this isn’t always the case. We outline the different types of domestic violence that can exist in relationships – from physical abuse to coercion and isolation, it’s important to remember that all forms of domestic violence are never acceptable or excusable.
Violent and abusive relationships involve different behaviours, with physical violence being the most cited and recognised behaviour. However, this is only one type of domestic violence, and many abusive relationships may not include it at all.
Domestic violence is best understood when we focus on the person who uses violence patterns of coercion; the harm the violence has had to the children and the non-offending parent’s protective efforts.
The ultimate goal of any type of domestic violence is for the perpetrator to gain power and control over the victim/survivor. This can be achieved through words as well as deeds, and it’s important to recognise that all these behaviours can be equally destressing for and damaging to the victim/survivor.
Here are 10 different types of domestic violence, illustrating just how varied – and damaging – abusive behaviours can be.
1. Physical abuse
Physical abuse is possibly the most easily recognisable form of domestic violence. Other types of domestic abuse – including verbal and emotional abuse – can often escalate or evolve into physical abuse, putting the life of the victim/survivor at-risk.
Physical types of domestic violence includes behaviour where abusers:
- Push, shove or grab
- Poke, slap, hit, punch or kick
- Pull hair or scratch
- Use a knife or other weapon
- Hurt children or pets.
Intimidation is a type of domestic violence which attempts to control the victim/survivor by forcing them to change any behaviour that the perpetrator doesn’t like. It can include:
- Yelling and screaming
Actions, gestures and looks that are threatening in their nature
- Breaking or destroying furniture and property, punching walls, throwing things or pounding tables
- Displaying weapons
- Driving recklessly while you are in the car
- Stalking you or making unwanted contact.
3. Coercion and threats
Similar to intimidation, coercion involves using a range of tactics which try and force the victim/survivor into bending to the perpetrator’s will.
This type of domestic violence can involve:
- Threatening self-harm or suicide
- Stopping someone from being able to follow their religious or cultural practice
- Threatening to make false reports about you to child protection authorities or the police
- Insisting on any legal charges against them being dropped
- Making threats to harm other family members
- Insisting you do illegal things or implicating you in the blame for illegal things they have done.
4. Sexual abuse
Sexual abuse can and does happen within relationships and marriages. It can include the following behaviour:
- Insisting on or threatening you into unwanted sexual contact
- Making you feel guilty about not wanting to participate in sexual activity
- Forcing or threatening you into particular sexual behaviours
- Forcing you to watch pornography
- Forcing sex when you’re unable to say no, such as when you’re asleep or intoxicated.
5. Verbal abuse
Verbal abuse is another type of domestic violence that many are familiar with, and can include:
- Name calling, derogatory comments, insulting and contemptuous behaviour, ridicule
- Being insulting about the victim/survivor’s appearance, achievements, beliefs and preferences, spirituality, or friendships
- Cutting their victim/survivor off into silence.
6. Emotional abuse
Victim/survivors of emotional abuse often have their self-esteem and self-worth damaged. This can affect their lives in numerous ways, from having difficulties reaching out to friends, to engaging in study or work. Emotionally abusive behaviours can include:
- Giving you the silent treatment
- Making light of your upsets and concerns, denying and minimising their impact and ridiculing you for naming the problem
- Calling you “too sensitive,” playing mind games or making you feel crazy (also known as gaslighting)
- Humiliation and shaming, either publicly or privately
- Using jealousy to justify their actions
- Trying to guilt you as a control mechanism
- Using your love or goodwill against you – for example, “if you loved me you would…”
Isolating behaviours aim to intentionally separate the victim/survivor from their regular support networks, such as friends, family, jobs and hobbies. Isolating behaviours include:
- Controlling who you can see and where you can go
- Limiting spending money and tracking expenditure
- Controlling what you wear, watch or read
- Refusing you access to a driver’s licence or car
- Insisting on when you should be home and checking up on you while out.
8. Economic and financial abuse
Economic abuse is another way that perpetrators try to restrict the freedom and autonomy of their victim/survivor. Financially abusive behaviours include:
- Controlling access to family money
- Making all the decisions about finances and spending on behalf of you both
- Insisting that paying for family bills is unreasonable
- Impacting the victim/survivor’s ability to earn own money or maintain employment
- Taking the victim/survivor’s money
- Incurring debts on behalf of you both without your consent.
9. Minimising, denying or blaming you for their behaviour
Many perpetrators refuse to acknowledge the role they played in relationships concerns, and instead defend or justify their behaviour by:
- Ridiculing you for any concerns you raise
- Minimising the harm they have done to you
- Insisting on you covering up any signs of their abuse, like bruises
- Insisting on other stories about the relationship being told to others that make them look better
- Blaming you for the abuse
- Blaming you for their drug and alcohol abuse, or their gambling problems.
10. Using children against you
Domestic violence perpetrators also sometimes use children to try and control and harm their partners, whether they are the child’s parent or not. Behaviours that can involve children include:
- Asking children to relay messages, or covertly using them to threaten you, by placing notes in their bags or clothing for example
- Purposely turning up late to appointed contact with the children or refusing to bring them back on time
- Using access visits to threaten and harass you
- Telling the children you are to blame
- Actively turning the children against another parent
- Threatening to take the children away from you.
Multiple types of domestic violence may be present in one relationship, and behaviours can sometimes escalate and change from one type of violence to another. People who have experienced domestic violence describe how their abusive partner or family member would use different behaviours together to restrict and control their lives.
Generally, people who use violence will attempt to minimise the victim/survivor’s protests or resistance to their treatment. If the victim/survivor calls out the behaviour, the perpetrator either refuses to change, or their behaviour becomes worse.
Is all bad behaviour in relationships classed as domestic violence?
Some of the behaviours mentioned above, if they occur in isolation, may not necessarily constitute domestic violence. For example, yelling at your partner or calling them names may be hurtful, but may not be abusive if it happens in isolation.
Similarly, accumulating hidden debts may be indicative of a gambling or other issue, rather than an intentional attempt to deceive someone’s partner.
To understand whether someone’s behaviour towards their partner or other family member is considered domestic violence, we sometimes need to look beyond individual incidents and analyse the potential perpetrator’s behaviour over time. If the person is using these harmful behaviours to control another person’s actions, it would usually be considered domestic or family violence.
The difference between domestic violence and family violence
Domestic violence usually refers to violence used against a current or former intimate partner, such as a spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, or de facto partner. It can happen in relationships where people are different genders or the same gender as each other, and it may even start for the first time after the end of the relationship and continue for many years after.
Family violence is an umbrella term that includes domestic violence but refers more broadly to a person using violence against anyone they have a family relationship with. This could be their partner, but it might also be a parent, sibling, child, or anyone else in their extended family or kinship network.
In NSW, ‘family’ is defined broadly in relation to domestic and family violence. It includes people related by blood, marriage, de facto partnerships, adoption and fostering, extended family, and the full range of kinship ties in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It also includes ‘chosen’ family in LGBTQIA+ communities and can include people living in the same house or residential facility.
You might also hear other terms related to forms of family violence experienced by specific groups of people. For example, ‘elder abuse’ is a form of family violence experienced by older people, often perpetrated by their children or carers. ‘Adolescent violence’ is a form of family violence where the person causing harm is an adolescent child, with violence usually directed at a parent or sibling.
How common is domestic violence?
Significant research shows that domestic and family violence in heterosexual relationships overwhelming involves men’s use of violence and women and children as the victim/survivors. Domestic and family violence (DFV) is the single greatest cause of death and disability for women under 45 in Australia.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that 2.2 million Australians have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or previous partner and over 40% of Relationships Australia NSW clients have experienced some form of DFV as a victim or perpetrator.
There is an increasing need for RANSW services to respond to a range of diverse clients in relation to DFV. This includes for example LGBTQ victims and perpetrators of intimate violence, culturally diverse families experiencing violence, older persons experiencing abuse and families where adolescent children use violence.
How to get help if you’re experiencing any type of domestic or family violence
If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence of any form, it’s important to seek help straight away.
Abusive behaviours don’t change on their own and can escalate to more dangerous types of violence if unaddressed. When it’s safe to do so, call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). In an emergency, always call 000.