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What is family violence?

Family violence is any violent, threatening, coercive or controlling behaviour that occurs in current or past family, domestic or intimate relationships.

It does not necessarily mean physical harm and can impact any member of the family, from children to elders.

Family violence covers a wide range of conduct and can be:

  • Physical (lack of consideration for the victim's physical comfort or safety)
  • Sexual (non-consensual sexual behaviour)
  • Verbal (ridicule in public or private)
  • Emotional (acts that humiliate, degrade and demean) 
  • Financial (controlling access to financial resources and possessions)
  • Intimidation (including intimidating body language and threatening behaviour)
  • Social (isolating someone from their friends and family)
  • Spiritual (stopping someone from practising their religion)
  • Stalking (including online)

What are the drivers of family violence?

The drivers of family violence are complex and can change from case to case but there is a great deal of research that shows there are four main drivers. These are:

  • Condoning of violence against women.
  • Male peer-to-peer relationships that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.
  • Rigid gender roles and identities.
  • Men’s control of women’s decision making and limits to women’s independence.

Other drivers of family violence include financial pressures, alcohol/drug abuse and social and economic exclusion. Regardless of why family violence occurs, it is important to remember that family violence is never the victim’s fault.

What are gender roles?

Gender can be a hard concept to get your head around. Gender is how men and women are socially expected to look, think and behave because of their biological sex. Gender roles and stereotypes can include beliefs that:

  • Girls like pink and boys like blue.
  • Girls play netball and boys play football.
  • Women cook and take care of the family and men work in an occupation.

Find out more about myths relating to family violence at Our Watch

How do gender roles relate to family violence?

Gender inequality is the most common driver of family violence. Research shows that people who support rigid gender stereotypes are more likely to be perpetrators or condone violence against women.

We learn about gender roles and stereotypes from a young age. They start out as seemingly innocent assumptions but often restrict women’s participation in society.

Challenging and confronting gender roles and stereotypes promotes women’s freedom. Breaking down these rigid social structures is key to supporting gender equality and reducing family violence.

Do you want to talk privately?

If you are experiencing family violence, or are concerned for someone, call the Safe Steps Centre. They can help explore some options, develop a safety plan and access support.

The Safe Steps phone line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


1800 015 188


Safe Steps Centre website