Everyone has the right to live without fear and violence. Here’s how to spot the warning signs of domestic violence, and how to start making plans to get help – or leave – if you’re experiencing it in your relationship.
Domestic violence is still all too common in Australia today. One in four women have experienced violence and abuse by a current or former partner. While men are also often the victims of domestic violence, women are at least three times more likely than men to be on the receiving end of violent and abusive behaviour.
It can be hard to admit you may be in an abusive relationship, especially if you have not experienced any incidents of overt physical violence. You may doubt your experiences, be waiting for change, convinced it was only a ‘one-off’ occurrence, or be too scared to leave.
But daunting as it may seem, speaking up about your experiences is brave and essential. Remaining silent can mean that your partner is still putting you and your family at risk. There is help available.
Remember: if you feel you’re at risk, contact 1800 Respect (1800 737 732). This is a confidential, national sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling service.
Defining domestic and family violence
Domestic violence, or family violence, is a pattern of behaviour where one person tries to dominate and control the other. Domestic violence is a deliberate act and is rarely an isolated event. Over time, the violence tends to increase in frequency and severity. Family violence can include a range of behaviours, such as physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, social abuse and isolation, financial abuse, spiritual abuse or stalking.
In many cases, perpetrators will unfairly blame victims for the violence, rather than taking responsibility for their actions.
Warning signs you’re experiencing domestic and family violence
If you’re worried you may be a victim of domestic and family violence, think about your relationship, your feelings and your partner’s behaviour. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, it’s likely you’re a victim.
Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list. There are other types of domestic and family violence people can experience.
- Do you feel that you’re often ‘walking on egg shells’?
- Is it difficult to disagree with or say ‘no’ to your partner?
- Does your partner check up on what you’re doing?
- Does your partner try to stop you seeing friends and family?
- Does your partner accuse you of flirting with other people?
- Does your partner dictate how the household finances are spent, or stop you from having any money for yourself?
- Does your partner pressure you to do sexual things you don’t want to?
- Does your partner threaten you, push you, damage property, throw things or make you feel unsafe?
- Do your children hear or see things that might be damaging to them?
- Does your partner threaten to kill themselves, or take the children away from you?
- Have you been frightened for your own or your children’s safety?
The effect of family violence on women
A concerning number of men are victims of domestic violence in Australia each year. But statistically speaking, women are overwhelmingly the victims.
Women often describe living with violence as like being on a roller-coaster, never knowing what will happen next. This uncertainty may mean you’re living in constant fear. You may feel confused and scared as your partner’s behaviour swings from anger or abuse, to guilty promises or remorse – often known as the cycle of domestic violence.
Living with family violence has far-reaching effects. It can impact your self-esteem, mental and physical health, emotional connections, employment, friendships and ability to parent.
If you’re experiencing family violence you may be isolated from your family and friends, become increasingly dependent on the perpetrator, and struggle to make sense of what’s happening.
You might even start to believe the verbal insults or blame yourself for the violence. But this is not the case. As a victim, you’re never to blame for violence – you didn’t ‘attract it’ or ‘let it happen’. Responsibility always rests with the perpetrator. You have the right to equality in a relationship. You should feel safe, be treated with dignity, have control over your body and decisions, and be asked for consent.
Breaking the silence – what to do if you’re a victim of domestic violence
If you do decide to speak out, ask yourself who you can tell. Is there a friend, family member or workmate you could talk to? Another option is contacting support services who can give you vital information about your options and the support available. No matter how overwhelmed you feel, you are not alone.
You may find it helpful to look at resources such as Insight Exchange, an online space where women who’ve lived with domestic and family violence can share their expertise, stories and safety plans, and encourage and support others in the process. The project also helps raise awareness and improve bystanders’ responses to violence. Other useful resources include the Arc app and Ask Izzy. Reading about the experiences of others can help you feel more connected, and show that escape is possible.
If you’re at risk of family or domestic violence but are unsure what to do, reach out. There are experts who can talk you through the next steps and the safest way to leave. When it’s safe to do so, call 1800Respect (1800 737 732). This is a confidential, national sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling service for people experiencing, or at risk of, sexual or family violence. It also supports their family and friends, and frontline workers and professionals. It can help you find specialist services (including family violence, legal, financial, accommodation and support services) and emergency accommodation. It can also give you practical advice, and put you in touch with those who can help keep you safe.
You can also speak to Centrelink and The Department of Human Services Child Support about financial assistance. Women’s refuges and shelters can provide accommodation, as well as information, advocacy and referrals. You can also access legal help through Women’s Legal Service NSW and Legal Aid.
For more information, Relationships Australia offers a free downloadable eBook called ‘Safe from violence – A guide for women.’ It covers issues for women who are considering separation, or have separated from a violent partner, as well as information on developing a domestic violence safety plan. Download the eBook here.
Relationships Australia NSW offers counselling and support programs to assist those affected by family violence. Call 1300 364 277 for a confidential conversation.