Domestic and family violence is often thought to be physical assaults only. But this is not always necessarily the case. Here, we’ve outlined the different types of domestic violence that can exist in a relationship to help highlight that abusive behaviours – even when not physical – are never ok.
Violent and abusive relationships often involve a constellation of different behaviours and experiences, with physical violence being the most commonly cited and recognised behaviour. However, this is only one definition of domestic violence, and many abusive relationships may not include it at all.
The ultimate goal of any type of domestic violence is for the perpetrator to gain power and control over their victim. This can be achieved through words as well as deeds, and it’s important to recognise that these behaviours can still be incredibly damaging to the victim.
The following list of different types of domestic violence illustrates just how varied – and damaging – abusive behaviours can be.
As mentioned, physical abuse is perhaps the most well-known type of domestic violence. Other types of domestic abuse may eventually escalate or evolve into physical abuse, and that’s where the life of the victim can become at-risk. Physical types of domestic violence include:
- Pushing, shoving, grabbing
- Poking, slapping, hitting, punching, or kicking
- Hair pulling or scratching
- Using a knife or other weapon
- Hurting children or pets.
Intimidation is a type of domestic violence which attempts to control the victim by forcing them to change any behaviour that the perpetrator doesn’t like. It can include:
- Yelling and screaming
- Looks, actions and gestures that are threatening
- 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.
Coercion and threats
Similar to intimidation, coercion involves using a range of tactics which try and force the victim into bending to the perpetrator’s will. It can involve:
- Threatening self harm or suicide
- Threatening to make false reports about you to child protection authorities or the police
- Insisting on any legal charges against them being dropped
- Insisting you do illegal things, or implicating you in blame for illegal things they have done.
While this may surprise some, 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 sex when you’re unable to say no, such as when you’re asleep.
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’s appearance, achievements, beliefs and preferences, spirituality, or friendships
- Cutting off into silence.
Victims 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 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 access to a driver’s licence or car
- Insisting on when to be home and checking up on you while out.
Economic and financial abuse
Economic abuse is another way that perpetrators try to restrict the freedom and autonomy of their victim. Financially abusive behaviours include:
- Controlling access to family money
- Making all the decisions about finances and spending on behalf of you both
- Insisting on payment of bills for the family on an unreasonable ‘allowance’
- Impacting ability of the victim to earn own money or maintain employment
- Taking the victim’s money
- Incurring debts on behalf of you both without your consent.
Minimising, denying or blaming you for their behaviour
Many perpetrators refuse to look at their own part in relationships concerns, and instead defend or justifying their behaviour in the following ways:
- 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, e.g. 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.
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, e.g. placing notes in their bags or clothing
- 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 family member would use different behaviours together to restrict and control their lives.
Generally when the victim protests against their treatment, the perpetrator either refuses to change, or gets worse.
Is all bad behaviour a type of 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 they happen 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.
So to understand whether someone’s behaviour towards their partner or other family member is domestic violence, we sometimes have to look beyond individual incidents and analyse their behaviour over time.
Take the following client story as an example:
Fatima* took out an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO) against her husband after he physically assaulted her, requiring him not to be in the presence of her or their three children if he had been drinking. Despite the Order, he continued to drink throughout the weekend when the children were home. He also tracked her and their children’s location through her phone and set up video surveillance in their home. Fatima’s family were all overseas and he restricted the amount of time she could contact them and the amount of money she could send to them. He also tracked her spending and checked messages and calls on her phone. Fatima was not allowed to visit others or to work.
*Name has been changed
In what we know of this situation, we can see that Fatima’s partner was using:
- Physical abuse
- Financial abuse – tracking spending and preventing her sending money
- Harassment and stalking – tracking phones and installing video surveillance
- Social abuse and isolation – restricting her contact with her family
- Psychological abuse – drinking in violation of the ADVO.
- Further, he was doing this in specific ways that took advantage of her status as an immigrant to Australia, who didn’t have nearby family support.
This pattern of abusive behaviour is sometimes also called ‘coercive control’. Coercive control is a pattern of threatening or forceful behaviours, used against a partner or family member, with the intent to create fear that limits that person’s choices or actions. This means that we can understand whether harmful behaviours are domestic violence by looking at how a person uses behaviours over time to control another person’s actions.
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 wife or husband, girlfriend or boyfriend, or defacto 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.
Sometimes we use the term ‘domestic violence’ to talk about broader family relationships than just between partners. For this reason, sometimes we use the term ‘intimate partner violence’ if we want to be clear that we are talking only about violence that happens between current or former partners.
‘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, defacto 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 particular groups of people. For example, ‘elder abuse’ is a form of family violence experienced by older people, often from 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 to get help if you’re experiencing one or more types of domestic violence
If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing any type of domestic violence at home, 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) or Mensline.
In an emergency, always call 000.
Relationships Australia NSW offers counselling services for male and female victims of domestic violence. Contact us for a confidential discussion.