Family Violence

Here you’ll find a comprehensive research review, created specifically for The Well. Analysing the contemporary evidence base on family violence, with up-to-date and academically reviewed information. Authored by Sophie Allen - Inner East Primary Care Partnership and academically reviewed by Women's Health East and Professor Bob Pease - Professor of Critical Social Work, Chair of Social Work in the School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University.

Last updated Sep 16, 2019

Family Violence

Family violence is named in many different ways: domestic violence, intimate partner violence, gender-based violence, relationship violence, violence in the home, violence against women, and men’s violence against women. Legislation provides the definition of family violence in Australia and Victoria. All definitions of ‘family violence’ essentially target ongoing behaviours aimed at controlling family members through fear. Acts which constitute family violence are different to the kinds of disagreements that occur in healthy relationships. They differ in one essential way: the use of ‘systematic control and abuse of power’. (VicHealth, 2010)

Family violence does not generally occur as a one-off incident, but more commonly is experienced as multiple incidents over a period of time. (VIC, 2012) The different types of violence often co-exist and physical violence is often accompanied by sexual and psychological violence. (WHO, 2012)

The term ‘family violence’ is enshrined in both the Commonwealth and Victorian State Government Acts. It is also the preferred term for use in Aboriginal communities, as it encompasses a broad range of kinship relationships. ‘Family violence’ also includes the other forms that violence within families takes, such as elder abuse and child abuse.

There is overwhelming evidence to show that family violence is predominantly perpetrated by men, against women. (Bolton, 2009) Gender-neutral language conceals the power relationships between men and women which are central to the determinants of family violence. It contributes to the misconceptions within communities surrounding this type of violence and inhibits the development of solutions which intervene to address the root causes, or determinants, of the problem. (Bolton, 2009) Women (and their children) are overwhelmingly the most vulnerable and exposed group. They are two and a half times more likely than men to have experienced violence from a partner in the last twelve months. (ABS, 2015)

The phrase ‘victim’ of family violence also has some terminology issues. Alternatives include ‘survivor of domestic violence’ or ‘women who have experienced family violence’. However, the term ‘victim’ is the most widely understood and commonly-used phrased and is used here with respect to those who experience family violence.

Scope for action

Strategy to prevent family violence in Australia tends to be dominated by the public health model. A public health model usually looks at the causes and effects of a disease in order to prevent, control and check its spread. Family violence is not a disease, and differs in many ways from the health issues traditionally associated with public health such as obesity or smoking. But family violence has significant effects on health and wellbeing and is a health, a human rights, and a criminal issue.

There are three points at which public health intervention can be directed. They are:

  • Primary Prevention: preventing violence before it occurs;
  • Secondary Prevention: taking action on the early signs of violence;
  • Tertiary Prevention: intervening after violence has occurred. (WHE, 2016)

Strategic & Legislative Context


The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (1979) recognizes that violence against women is ‘a manifestation of historically unequal power relationships between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men...and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men’. (UN, 1979)

See also the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action. (UN, 1993) (UN, 1995) The Millennium Development Goal 3 aims to promote gender equality and empower women. It has been recognized that violence against women undermines efforts to realize those goals. (UN, 2012)



The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, 2010-2022 recognizes that ‘although only some aspects of family violence are criminal offences, any behaviour that causes the victim to live in fear is unacceptable’. The National Plan is focused on the prevention of violence by encouraging ‘attitudinal and behavioural change at the cultural, institutional and individual levels, with a particular focus on young people’.

The First Action Plan (2010-2013) focused on primary prevention. The Second Action Plan (2013-2016) includes secondary and tertiary intervention. (DSS, 2015)

The National Women’s Health Policy 2010 has five priority goals which broadly encompass the social determinants that affect women’s health, including to highlight the significance of gender as a determinant of women’s health. (DH, 2010)

Our Watch, VicHealth and ANROWS have collaborated to produce Change the Story: a shared framework for the primary prevention of violence. Change the Story establishes a shared understanding of the evidence and principles of effective prevention, and presents a way forward for a coordinated national approach. (Our Watch, 2015)

The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 is designed to promote the safety and wellbeing of children. The target for this framework is a ‘substantial and sustained reduction in child abuse and neglect’. (DSS, 2015)

See also The Senate’s Finance and Public Administration References Committee 2015 report into Domestic Violence in Australia.

Other policies will affect the primary prevention of family violence in Aboriginal communities, including Closing the Gap and Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory.


Family Violence Act 2011 (Cth)

At the national level, families at risk are protected by the Family Violence Act 2011 (Cth). The Act defines family violence as ‘violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family...or causes the family member to be fearful’. That is, the behaviour must coerce, control or cause fear. (CTH, 2011)

A wide range of behaviours which constitute family violence are given under the Act including (and not limited to:

  • Assault
  • Sexual assault and other sexually abusive behaviour
  • Stalking
  • Repeated taunting
  • Intentional damage or destruction of property
  • Intentionally causing death or injury to an animal
  • Unreasonable denial of financial autonomy
  • Unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet reasonable living expenses at a time when that family member is dependent on the person for financial support
  • Preventing family members from making or keeping connections with family, friends and culture
  • Deprivation of liberty. (CTH, 2011)

This Act also defines the exposure of a child to family violence as ‘if the child sees or hears family violence or otherwise experiences the effects of family violence’. The court is required to make protection of a child from family violence a primary consideration. (CTH, 2011)



There are a number of policies that influence responses to family violence in Victoria. These can broadly be divided between policies which concern the prevention of family violence and those which affect response and intervention after family violence has occurred.

Important background documents:

  • The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities
  • Victoria’s Vulnerable Children: Strategy 2013-2022

Victorian family violence policy currently references the old Victoria’s Action Plan to address Violence against Women and Children, 2012-2015. There is no new policy in place at the current time. The 2015 Royal Commission into Family Violence recommendations will determine future Victorian government policy responses.

The Strong Culture, Strong Peoples, Strong Families policy is a ten year plan to address Aboriginal family violence. Family violence is defined in this policy as ‘an issue focused around a wide range of physical, emotional, sexual, social, spiritual, cultural, psychological and economic abuses that occur within families, intimate relationships, extended families, kinship networks and communities. It extends to one-on-one fighting, abuse of Aboriginal community workers as well as self-harm, injury and suicide.’ Under the plan there are eight objectives:

  • cultural safety;
  • healthy families;
  • education, awareness, prevention;
  • safety for victims;
  • accountability;
  • healing;
  • service capability; and
  • research and evaluation.

The policy also creates the Indigenous Family Violence Regional Action Groups to take leadership roles in implementing community-led family violence initiatives and responses. Each action group has created a regional action plan specific to their area needs. (DHS, 2008)

The Indigenous Family Violence Primary Prevention Framework is an Indigenous-specific prevention resource developed under the policy and sets out six strategies for primary prevention:

  1. Raising community awareness
  2. Family strengthening
  3. Cultural strengthening
  4. Responding to grief and trauma i.e. to acknowledge the impact of past wrongdoing on Indigenous communities
  5. Community information and education
  6. Self-esteem and resilience building. (DHS, 2012)

The VicHealth Framework for Preventing Violence Against Women is another background paper to guide the primary prevention of violence against women.

Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2015-2019

The plan includes prevention of violence and injury. (VIC, 2015)

Other strategies of interest are the Family Violence Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework, Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Strategy 2013-2022, the Family Law Court’s Family Violence Best Practice Principles, and Living Free from Violence – Upholding the Right: the Victoria Police Strategy to Reduce Violence against Women and Children 2009-2014.


In Victoria the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) defines family violence as behaviour towards a family member that is:

  • Physically or sexually abusive
  • Emotionally or psychologically abusive
  • Economically abusive
  • Threatening
  • Coercive
  • In any other way controls or dominates the family member and causes that family member to feel fear for the safety or wellbeing of that family member or another person.

Family violence includes behaviour that causes a child to hear or witness, or otherwise be exposed to the effects of the above behaviour. (VIC, 2008)

This Act specifically ensures that even if this behaviour does not constitute a criminal offence, it is still an act of family violence. The Act gives examples of behaviours which may constitute family violence including:

  • Assaulting or causing personal injury to a family member or threatening to do so
  • Intentionally damaging a family member’s property, or threatening to do so
  • Unlawfully depriving a family member of the family member’s liberty, or threatening to do so
  • Causing, or threatening to cause, the death of or injury to an animal (whether or not it belongs to the family member) so as to control, dominate or coerce the family member. (VIC, 2008)

Economic abuse is defined as coercive, deceptive or unreasonably controlling behaviour without consent (a) which denies a person the economic or financial autonomy they would have had, or (b) by withholding or threatening to withhold the financial support necessary for meeting the reasonable living expenses of that person or that person’s child, if that person is entirely or predominantly dependent on the first person for financial support to meet those living expenses (for example, coercing a person to relinquish control or assets or income). (VIC, 2008)

Emotional or psychological abuse is defined as: behaviour by a person towards another person that torments, intimidates, harasses or is offensive to the other person (for example, repeated taunts, threatening to disclose a person’s sexual orientation, withholding a person’s medication, or threatening to commit suicide). (VIC, 2008)

A family member is defined as a person who:

  • is or has been a spouse or domestic partner;
  • has or has had an intimate personal relationship (whether sexual in nature or not);
  • is or has been a relative (including grandparents, grandchildren, cousins, relatives by marriage, and for Aboriginal people including a person who under cultural traditional or contemporary social practice is considered to be a relative);
  • is a child who normally or regularly resides with that person or has previously done so;
  • is a child of a person who has or has had an intimate relationship with that person (whether sexual in nature or not);
  • any other person who has been regarded as being like a family member.

Family member also includes any other person who may be reasonably regarded as like a family member having regard to the circumstances of the relationship including: the nature of the social and emotional ties between the two persons, whether they live together or relate together in a home environment, the reputation of their relationship being as like a family, cultural recognition of the relationship, the duration of the relationship and frequency of contact, financial dependence or interdependence, the provision of any responsibility or care (paid or unpaid), the provision of sustenance or support. (VIC, 2008)

Any associate of the family member who is subjected to violence is also covered by the Act.

Family Violence Intervention Orders

The Victorian Act covers the system of family violence intervention orders (FVIO) and family violence safety notices and creates offences for contravention of these. An application for a FVIO can be made by a police officer, an affected family member or any other person if they have the written consent of that family member, or the parent or guardian of an affected child, or other person who has the leave of the court. (VIC, 2008) Magistrates and Children’s Courts can issue a FVIO, or make an interim order to cover the time before the matter is heard in the court. (FAHCSIA, 2009)

Victorian police must complete a Family Violence Risk Assessment and Management Report at every incident they attend in order to establish their best strategy for protecting family members. (VIC, 2012) There is no longer any room for discretion in the police response to family violence and every call out is now reported.

When police attend a family violence call-out there are three options they can take one or more of:

  • A referral to domestic violence support services;
  • Civil responses - for example, a Family Violence Safety Notice, or a Family Violence Interim Intervention Order if the criteria for a safety notice is not met;
  • Criminal responses –criminal charges. (VicPolice, 2014)

Cyber Stalking

The new and emerging issue of the coercive use of information and communication technologies (cyber stalking and surveillance, or the use of commonly available handheld devices to control or monitor a family member) is not specifically described under the Act and is the focus of recent research and commentary as a growing area of concern. This type of violence has long lasting consequences; for example, publication of sexual photographs taken on a phone and published on the internet affect not only the health of victims, but also impact on reputation, relationships and future employment. (WHV, 2009)

In 2013 the Law Reform Committee in Victoria reported on the Inquiry into Sexting. The report includes their recommendations into legal and other protections available to people who are affected by sexting-related incidents, specifically, that a new criminal offence of ‘non-consensual texting’ be introduced. (LRC, 2013)

In that same year the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria released the findings of their SmartSafe project into technology-facilitated stalking. They found that mobile technologies:

  • Allow perpetrators access to victims 24 hours a day
  • Are used to abuse and harass women easily, immediately and from a distance
  • Are an easy way to punish and humiliate women, both publically and privately
  • Are used to control and monitor women via GPS tracking on smartphones and monitoring of social media accounts
  • Are used in stalking during and after a relationship using a wide variety of technology (text messaging, social media, GPS and photo/video technologies)
  • Has a significant impact on women’s mental and physical wellbeing
  • Are used even after an intervention order is taken out. (Woodlock, 2013)

Eastern Metropolitan Region


Together for Equality & Respect: A strategy to prevent violence against women in Melbourne’s East 2017-2021 provides a platform for local organisations to collaborate, share and build capacity to promote equal and respectful relationships. The four key strategic directions are:

  1. Lead and Achieve Change: prioritise the prevention of violence against women and lead initiatives to promote equal and respectful relationships;
  2. Contribute to the Evidence Base: use evidence-based prevention and evaluation;
  3. Invest in Workforce Development: build workplace capacity to address the determinants of violence against women;
  4. Strengthen Partnerships: work in partnership with a consistent prevention approach.

For further information see the Together for Equality and Respect website. (WHE, 2016)

Impacts & Outcomes

As well as direct effects on victims and families, friends, employers and co-workers, family violence has a significant indirect impact on communities and society associated with the medical, justice and support services needed to intervene when family violence is experienced and reported. (ABS, 2013)

Economic costs of family violence

At a national level, the annual costs of partner violence against women are estimated to be $12 595 billion in 2014-15. (PWC, 2015) A comprehensive report by PwC for VicHealth and Our Watch can be found in the Resources portal.

The National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children estimate that if violence were to be reduced by just 10% by 2021-2022 under the National Council’s Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, then $1.6 billion in costs could be avoided. (NCRVWC, 2009) The 2015 PwC report suggests that this is an underestimation.

The National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children found seven cost categories tied to family violence:

  1. pain, suffering and premature mortality associated with the experience of violence (these account for nearly half of all economic costs associated with family violence);
  2. public and private health system costs associated with treating the effects of violence;
  3. production-related costs, for example work absenteeism and employer costs;
  4. consumption-related costs, for example replacing damaged property, costs of moving;
  5. second-generation costs associated with children witnessing and experiencing family violence;
  6. administrative and other costs, for example police and justice systems, counselling and prevention programs;
  7. transfer costs, which are inefficiencies associated with payment of government benefits. (NCRVWC, 2009)

At a personal level, the costs of family violence are disruptive and complicated. It directly affects the financial security of women and children in all areas of life including paying bills, repaying debt, legal costs, accommodation costs, health, transport and child support costs etc. Women with family violence experience are also more likely to work part-time or casually, and have a disrupted work history. (Mitchell, 2011) (Phillips & Vandenbroek, 2015)

Employment is the key pathway to the financial security which allows women to escape entrapment in an abusive relationship, and to maintain their home and standard of living if they leave such a relationship. In recognition of this the Fair Work Act Amendment Bill (2013) has made changes to the Fair Work Act to incorporate a right to flexible work arrangements for employees experiencing family violence, or supporting a family or household member who is experiencing family violence. (FWO, n.d.)

Health costs of family violence

Family violence is associated with a wide range of health impacts. It is the single biggest health risk to Australian women aged 15-44. (VicHealth, 2004)

Family violence causes; physical injury, mental health problems, impaired social skills, financial hardship and homelessness. (VicHealth, 2004) It also increases the risk of criminal offending (a substantial proportion of women in prison have experienced prior abuse). (Mitchell, 2011) There is an association between family violence and child physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect. There may also be an association with intergenerational transmission of violence and re-victimisation. (Richards, 2011) Exposure to family violence is also linked to the take up of other health risk behaviours such as smoking, alcohol and substance abuse, self-harm, unsafe sexual behaviour, and physical inactivity. (WHO, 2012) (VicHealth, 2004)

In addition, the health impacts of family violence linger long after the actual abuse has occurred. (VicHealth, 2004)

Physical Impact

The following agencies record statistics on family violence offences and physical impact:

  • ABS Recorded Crime statistics
  • The Crime Statistics Agency has statistics showing offences against the person which arise from family violence incidents in Victoria


Australian statistics: The rates of fatalities linked to family violence in Australia have changed little over the last decade. (VicHealth, 2004) Up to date statistics are available through the National Homicide Monitoring Program at the Australian Institute of Criminology.

The most common relationships between offender and victim of homicide are those committed by friends or acquaintances and domestic relationships. Stranger homicides comprised only a small number of all homicides.

Of the domestic homicides, about two thirds are intimate partner homicide.

Women remain over-represented as victims of intimate partner violence. About two thirds of all female homicide victims are killed by someone they shared a domestic relationship with. Of all adult family violence homicides, about two thirds of the victims were female.

Victorian Statistics: The ABS Recorded Crime statistics have data on homicides in Victoria and tables of statistics focused particularly on family and domestic violence.

For information on the homicide of children involved in Victoria’s child protection system see the resources of the former Victorian Child Death Review Committee and the publications of the Commission for Children and Young People.

Physical Injury

In Victoria, family violence is responsible for 9% of the total disease burden of women aged 15-44 years and is the leading contributor to illness, disability and premature death, higher than other risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. (VicHealth, 2004)

Physical injuries include bruises, cuts, burns, fractures, permanent disabilities, sexually transmitted infections and HIV, unwanted pregnancies, internal injury, head or brain injury etc. The Australian component of the International Violence against Women Survey found 29% of women who sustained injury required medical attention, and 30% felt that their lives were in danger in the most recent incident. (Mouzos & Makkai, 2004) The physical repercussions of violence include bruising, fractures, eye damage, chronic pain syndromes, permanent disabilities, gastrointestinal and gynaecological disorders, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. (VicHealth, 2011)

The Crime Statistics Agency has statistics showing offences which arise from family violence incidents in Victoria.

It has been estimated that about 20-25% of women experiencing family violence are subjected to both physical and sexual violence from a male partner. (VIC, 2012) Sexual assault data is available from the ABS Recorded Crime statistics.

Family violence during pregnancy has repercussions for both mother and unborn child including chronic maternal stress, miscarriage, premature labour, low birth weight, and stillbirth. (VicHealth, 2004) (VIC, 2012)

Mental Health

Mental health problems make up 60% of the burden of disease attributable to family violence. Victims of family violence experience stress, anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem and other serious mental health disorders including self-harm and suicidal behaviours. (VicHealth, 2004) (Rees et al, 2011) (Devries et al, 2013).

Figure 27: Mental health consequences of family violence (DVRCV, 2013)


Shock, terror, guilt, irritability, anger, anxiety, hostility, fear, depression, sense of vulnerability, feelings of helplessness and lack of safety, mental exhaustion


Concentration impairment, confusion, self-blame, intrusive thoughts about traumatic experiences (flashbacks), lowered self-esteem and efficacy, fears of losing control, fear of abuse happening again


Sleep disturbance, nightmares, exaggerated startle response, psychosomatic symptoms


Avoidance, social withdrawal, interpersonal stress e.g. decreased intimacy and lowered trust in others, physical exhaustion, substance abuse

Maternal depression and stress during pregnancy and early parenthood has numerous negative effects on the child including brain development and self-regulation of stress and emotion.

Effects on Children

Child abuse and neglect fall into five main subtypes: physical abuse, emotional maltreatment, neglect, sexual abuse and witnessing family violence. Critical factors which influence the way children are affected into adolescence and adulthood are:

  • the frequency and duration of the abuse or maltreatment, and
  • if more than one type of maltreatment has occurred.

Worse outcomes can be expected if the maltreatment is chronic and is experienced in different forms. (Hunter, Adult Survivors, 2014)

Other factors which may affect the consequences of abuse are:

  • the age of the child (the younger the child the more likely they are to experience problems in later life)
  • the severity of abuse
  • the child’s perception of the abuse (feelings of shame and self-blame will result in worse outcomes)
  • the relationship of the child to the perpetrator (increased negative effects when the perpetrator is a father, father-figure, or someone to whom they have a strong emotional attachment)
  • whether the abuse was detected and action taken
  • the presence of mitigating factors such as family support or perpetrator rehabilitation (Richards, 2011)
  • whether the victim has received therapeutic services to assist recovery. (Hunter, Adult Survivors, 2014)

Trauma caused by experiences of family violence, child abuse and neglect may have serious effects on the developing brain. (Hunter, Adult Survivors, 2014). Children who are exposed to family violence risk the health and social problems which may have a lasting impact on their education and employment futures, such as:

  • mental health problems such as temperament problems, mood disorders, depression and anxiety
  • suicidal behaviour
  • antisocial behaviours, peer conflict (physical abuse and exposure to family violence are the most consistent predictors of youth violence)
  • high-risk sexual behaviour, teen pregnancy
  • school and educational difficulties, poor academic achievement
  • impaired cognitive functioning
  • increased likelihood of alcohol and substance abuse. (Richards, 2011) (Hunter, Adult Survivors, 2014) (Hunter, Adolescent Survivors 2014)

There have been mixed findings as to the connections between the witnessing or experiencing of violence as a child and the inter-generational transmission of violence or re-victimisation. Adults exposed to violence as a child may fall into two categories: those who are considerably more tolerant than average of family violence; and those who are considerably less tolerant than average of family violence. (Flood & Fergus, An Assault on Our Future: The impact of violence on young people and their relationships, 2008)

Family violence has a direct effect on parenting. While most parents make great efforts to protect their children, preoccupation with conflict often prevents adequate attention being paid to their needs. (DVRCV, 2013). In an attempt to manage violence in the home an abusive partner’s needs may be prioritised over the needs of children. Parental control of children may be undermined by a belittling, insulting and abusive attitude within the home. However, it must be noted that the effects of family violence on parenting may not be permanent and that when abuse ends parenting skills improve. (NCPC, 2010)


Family violence is a significant and growing cause of homelessness. The ABS acknowledges that numbers are probably underreported due to factors such as an expectation that victims will be able to return to the family home, fear of being reported as residing at a particular place, or the stigma associated with being a victim of family violence and the fear that their children will be moved into child protection. (ABS, 2011) (Tually, 2008)

However, the most common reason people now present to the Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) in Australia is family violence. The SHS reports are available from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, and shows how many clients sought assistance for reasons of family violence. Domestic and Family Violence and Homelessness are also reported on.

There are four issues seen as critical to women in abusive relationships in relation to homelessness:

  • greater diligence by police in enforcing intervention orders;
  • more options for women seeking refuge;
  • increase women’s awareness of the support services refuges can offer;
  • better financial support for women leaving abusive relationships. (Bartels, 2010)

Prevalence & Indicators

It is widely acknowledged that family violence in Australia is underreported. It has been estimated that only 14-36% of incidents are reported, although those rates are increasing as community perceptions about family violence change. (Marcus & Braaf, 2007) (VicPolice, 2012)

Family violence is often not confined to one single act. Since 2006-07, about one quarter of incidents reported to police have a history of between one and three previous reports of family violence. Two out of five victims indicate that the family violence has been occurring for more than two years. (VIC, 2012)

Statistics, Data and Indicators

Statistics on family violence can differ markedly. This is primarily because they are drawn from two different sources: agency statistics (for example, police, courts, hospitals); and population surveys such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey. Agency statistics only record those victims who have required help and will necessarily underestimate prevalence in the community. Population surveys may also underestimate prevalence, particularly in certain cultural groups. (Morgan, 2009) Women from CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) backgrounds, women with disabilities, women in same sex relationships, Aboriginal women, and men who experience partner violence may be reluctant to complete surveys or report the violence, may interpret questions differently to the interviewer, and give different meanings to important terms. It is important to be mindful that generalisations about family violence within these specific groups are subject to limitations in the data. (Marcus & Braaf, 2007) (Chung, 2013) (Duncanson, 2013)

Other reasons why statistics may vary include: the varying definitions of family violence used in different surveys; whether respondents are asked about any time period in their lives, or only the last twelve months; and whether the respondents are drawn from a representative sample of the population. (Chung, 2013)

In Australia there is currently a long term plan to improve the evidence base for family violence. The proposed framework will be comprised of:

  • National data standards for key indicators and variables;
  • Shared understanding of data priorities and needs against a data collection framework and where to prioritise investment; and
  • Coordination of national and state/territory data collections (including existing surveys, and administrative by-product data sets) to improve coverage, reduce duplication, and comparability. (ABS, 2013)

Why are family violence reporting rates low?

Family violence incidents are varied and often ongoing in nature. Incidents occur in a variety of settings and expose a variety of people, particularly women and children, to violence. The result is that a recorded incident may not clearly represent the whole experience of family violence.

Current data and statistics are also affected by:

  • Under-reporting (neither victim nor perpetrator are recorded)
  • Hidden-reporting (services are access by the victim but family violence is undisclosed)
  • Under-recording (due to process or procedural variations in incident reporting or mis-classification of the incident)
  • Counting/recording rules (cause of injury may be unrecorded in health data, differences between state and territory laws relating to family violence orders). (ABS, 2013)

Barriers to reporting family violence include:

  • victims are less likely to see partner abuse as a crime than stranger abuse;
  • a belief that the incident is too minor to report;
  • a wish to deal with the incident personally;
  • lack of understanding within the community about family violence and a lack of awareness of what constitutes an offence;
  • shame and embarrassment;
  • fear, including the fear that a child will be moved into child protection as well as fear of retaliation;
  • fear of not being believed;
  • unwillingness to re-live the incident by reporting it;
  • economic dependence on the perpetrator;
  • dependence on the perpetrator for immigration status;
  • a concern that children and other family members will suffer if the relationship breaks down;
  • a concern for the safety of other family members;
  • uncertainty regarding the legal/criminal justice system;
  • lack of availability, or lack of awareness of, culturally-sensitive response services;
  • past experience;
  • cultural beliefs. (Morgan & Chadwick, Key Issues in Domestic Violence, 2009) (VIC, 2012) (ABS, 2013) (Humphries, Crossing the Great Divide: Response to Douglas and Walsh, 2010)

Few studies have investigated men as victims of domestic violence, but recent investigations show that men may be reluctant to report or ask for help due to the need to maintain a masculine identity and fear that they will not be taken seriously. For this reason male victimisation may be under reported, and those men who do report will often suffer prolonged abuse before seeking help. (Hogan, 2012) (Drijber, 2013)

Some groups in the community face greater barriers to reporting. A 2013 report based on interviews with participants recruited from a variety of domestic violence services across NSW found that only just over half the victims had reported their most recent family violence incident to the police.

Victims were more likely to report if:

  • they had an Apprehended Violence Order against the offender,
  • their property had been damaged;
  • they were physically injured;
  • the abuse was physical or sexual;
  • they felt their children were at risk; or if
  • they had reported previous domestic violence incidents.

Victims were less likely to report if:

  • they were pregnant; or
  • had experienced more than five previous incidents of abuse.

The three most common reasons for not reporting were fear of revenge; embarrassment or shame; and feeling that the incident was trivial or unimportant. (Birdsey & Snowball, 2013)

Women who experience violence are more reluctant to report current partners than previous partners. (Phillips & Vandenbroek, 2015) Women are also more likely to talk to a friend, neighbour or other family member about a violent incident involving an intimate partner than seek help from an agency such as a shelter, hotline or counsellor. (Mouzos & Makkai, 2004) The ABS Personal Safety Surveys report data on advice or help sought by men and women who have experienced partner violence, including contact with police.

Research has consistently shown that women and children very rarely make false allegations of violence and abuse. Most recently, in March 2013 the Crown Prosecution Service (UK) published a report indicating that false allegations are rarer than previously thought. The report found most false allegations involved the very young and the vulnerable, often with mental health difficulties and that those people had been the victim of some kind of offence, even if not the one which was reported. The report also found that women may retract an allegation of violence which is true because they are under pressure from the perpetrator; or that they may fabricate evidence in order to bolster a true allegation which they do not think will be believed. (Levitt, 2013)

Current Data

The World Health Organization finds that the worldwide prevalence for intimate partner violence is 30% for women who have ever been in a relationship. As shown in the table below, in high income regions (which includes Australia), prevalence is estimated to be 23.2%. (WHO, 2013) However, this survey defined violence in physical and sexual terms and does not include psychological and other forms of family violence.

ABS Personal Safety Survey

The ABS Personal Safety Survey gives data regarding the following indicators:

  • Percentages of men and women who have experienced violence.
  • The type of perpetrator (stranger, partner etc).
  • Percentages of men and women who have experienced violence by a partner. In recent surveys the term ‘partner’ did not include a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a date.
  • Percentages of men and women who have experienced emotional abuse by a partner. Emotional abuse is defined as certain behaviours or actions (such as stopping or trying to stop them from contacting family, friends or community; monitoring their whereabouts; stopping or trying to stop them from working, studying or earning money; lying to their children/family/friends with the intent of turning them against them) that are aimed at preventing or controlling their behaviour with the intent to cause them emotional harm or fear. It must be intended that the behaviours manipulate, control, isolate or intimidate the person they are aimed at. (ABS, 2013)
  • Women are more likely than men to have experienced emotional abuse by a partner since the age of 15. When women experienced emotional abuse by a male partner, they were more likely than men to have experienced anxiety or fear due to this abuse. (ABS, 2013)

The most recent ABS Personal Safety Survey results were released in 2013.

Other Surveys

International Violence against Women Survey

Findings from the Australian component of the International Violence against Women Survey (2004) showed that more than half the women surveyed had experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence, and around a third of women who had ever had a male intimate partner experienced at least one form of violence from their partner in their lifetime. (Mouzos & Makkai, 2004) A more recent Australian domestic violence and the workplace survey found prevalence to be consistent with these findings. (McFerran, 2011)

Crime Victimisation Survey

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Crime Victimisation Survey has shown that of the most recent incident for persons who were victims of physical assault:

  • The offender was more likely to be male than female
  • The offender was known to more than half of the victims, and when known, was most likely to be a family member
  • The location of assault was most likely to be the victim’s home, followed by work or place of study. (ABS, 2014)

Australian Crime Facts and Figures which show assaults and relationships between offender and victim are also available from the Australian Institute of Criminology.

Victorian Statistics

In Victoria the Family Violence Protection Act 2008, and the recent policing strategy Living Free from Violence – Upholding the Right: the Victorian Police Strategy to Reduce Violence against Women and Children 2009-2014 has resulted in big increases in reporting. (VIC, 2008) (VicPolice, 2009) VicPolice Crime Statistics are held by the Crime Statistics Agency and are the best source of statistics regarding family violence related crime offences. They give the number and rate of family incidents along with demographic characteristics of all parties.

The Victorian crime statistics do not provide disaggregated data reporting sex of victims and perpetrators, however the Victorian Family Database found that nearly 80% of adult victims of family violence incidents and affected family members applying for intervention orders were female. Likewise, the perpetrators of family violence were found to be overwhelmingly male. (VIC, 2012)

Compared with the huge leap in reporting rates of family violence since 2010, rates appear to now be slowing slightly. There has been a strong association between policy change and reporting rates in Victoria since 1999.

Determinants of Family Violence

Violence against women is pervasive and crosses the boundaries of race, class, religion and culture. This implies that violence has its foundations in gender power imbalances and community and cultural norms of violence-supportive attitudes and beliefs.

Key points to understand include:

  • Violence is gendered
  • Violence is mainly a social and structural problem (not an individual or medical one)
  • Violence involves processes of coercive control (not just acts causing physical injury)
  • Physical violence by men against women is a crime
  • Perpetrators act in strategic, dynamic ways. (Fisher, 2011)

A public health approach to the prevention of violence against women addresses the underlying risk factors and determinants which increase the likelihood that an individual will become a victim or perpetrator of violence. (MWA, 2013)

The Ecological Model

One way of understanding the determinants of violence against women is to use the ecological model proposed by the 2007 VicHealth report Preventing Violence Before it Occurs: A framework and background paper to guide the primary prevention of violence against women in Victoria. This model was drawn from the World Health Organization (WHO) World Report on Violence and Health. It explains violence against women as multifaceted and grounded in interaction between individual, family, community, and societal factors. Each level within the structure, from individual to society, has the potential to influence the perpetration of violence. (VicHealth, 2007) (Uthman, 2011)

Figure 2 – The ecological approach to understanding violence (VicHealth, 2007)

The three levels at which we can understand family violence in the ecological model are:

Societal: the ways in which family violence is enabled by societal attitudes to gender and power: our broad cultural values and beliefs systems. Characteristics of societies that enable violence against women are rigid and unequal gender roles, definitions of manhood which are based on dominance and toughness, and women’s lower social status.

Community or Organisational: the ways in which our communities and organisations reinforce these societal attitudes through our social structures (formal and informal). At this level the most significant predictors of violence against women are communities or organisations which support male dominance and gender segregation, high levels of animosity towards women, peer support for violence, patterns of sexual conquest and the belittlement of women.

Individual or Relationship: the ways that our personal interactions enable and reflect the dominant ideas about gender and power. At this level the most consistent predictor of violence among men is agreement with sexist, patriarchal and/or sexually hostile attitudes. In relationships, the most significant predictor of violence against women is male control over social and economic decision-making. (VicHealth, 2010) (VicHealth, 2007) (UN Women, 2012)

The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence found that ‘the prevalence of intimate partner violence varies according to the gender inequality present at each level of the ecological model…' Indicators of gender inequality at different levels include:

  • social practices, such as the use of violence to discipline children, and applying different rules in child rearing practices about how girls and boys should behave
  • social structures, such as gender hierarchies within families and the gender pay gap
  • formal and informal social norms, or the rules of conduct and models of behaviour expected by a society or group, such as weak laws against intimate partner violence, or the belief that women are solely responsible for the care of children.’ (RCFV, 2016)

The Determinants

The determinants of violence against women are the broader societal factors which shape the way in which risk factors interact to result in violence. Research has shown that the determinants of family violence are:

  1. The unequal distribution of power and resources between men and women, and support for (or weak sanctions against) gender inequality;
  2. Adherence to rigidly defined gender roles or stereotypes expressed institutionally, culturally, organisationally and individually; (VicHealth, 2007)

These determinants will function differently in different cultural, geographic and political settings.

A more recent national framework has been developed by Our Watch in collaboration with ANROWS and VicHealth: (Our Watch, 2015)

The Framework is a joint project between Our Watch, ANROWS and VicHealth. It is based on six elements, and Element 1 is an explanatory model that establishes a shared understanding of violence against women and identifies the drivers and reinforcing factors.

Gendered drivers (or determinants) are:

  1. Condoning of violence against women
  2. Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence in public and private life
  3. Rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity
  4. Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.

Reinforcing factors (risk factors which can increase frequency or severity of violence) are:

  1. Condoning of violence in general
  2. Experience of, and exposure to, violence
  3. Weakening of pro-social behaviour, especially harmful use of alcohol
  4. Socio-economic inequality and discrimination
  5. Backlash factors (increases in violence when male dominance, power or status is challenged).

The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence found that intimate partner violence is likely to be higher when:

  • ‘women lack autonomy and men dominate decision-making in public life, as well as in families and relationships’
  • ‘there is rigid adherence to stereotyped gender roles’
  • ‘dominant constructions of masculinity emphasise dominance, aggression and entitlement in relationships, while dominant constructions of femininity emphasise purity, passivity and subordination’
  • ‘peer relations encourage bonding between men at the expense of respect for women; relations between men and women are seen as naturally adversarial; or connections between women are weak.’ (RCFV, 2016)

Determinant 1: The unequal distribution of power and resources between men and women, and support for (or weak sanctions against) gender inequality

There is a clear relationship between the status of women in a country or community and the levels of violence towards them, for instance, the higher the educational and occupational status of women, the lower the rates of sexual violence against them. (VicHealth, 2010) However, during the process of movement towards the higher status of women there can be an escalation of men’s violence against them as they resist moves towards gender equality. This is evident in Australia when we look at the vulnerable CALD populations, refugees, asylum seekers and recent migrants.

Determinant 2: Adherence to rigidly defined gender roles or stereotypes expressed institutionally, culturally, organisationally and individually

Community Attitudes: links to the determinants of family violence

Community attitudes are strong indicators for rates of violence against women. They are indicators of social norms and practices relating to gender stereotyping and to violence in general. Individual behaviour is influenced by not just individual attitudes, but also by a perception of how that behaviour will be seen by others, by the potential consequences of that behaviour, and by social norms of gender in any particular context. (Flood, 2006) Attitudes and social norms can foster unequal and abusive power relations, gender stereotyping - that is, what it means to be a man or a woman - and exist within a broader culture of violence.

Gender norms: are the powerful, pervasive values and attitudes with regard to social roles and behaviours which are entrenched in social structures. Norms are maintained by social tradition that controls behaviour and by the institutions which produce laws and policies that perpetuate gender inequities. (Keleher, 2008) Gender norms are social constructed – in other words, gender is created through patterns of social interaction and not determined biologically. Men’s behaviour is as much subject to gender norms of masculinity as women’s behaviour is to gender norms of femininity. The social consequences for men who do not adhere to gender norms is acknowledged to be highly influential over their behaviour. (Fleming, 2013)

Violence supportive attitudes: are attitudes which justify, excuse, minimise or conceal violence against women. For example; when the use of violence is seen as legitimate and appropriate, when men are seen to be unable to control their violent or sexual urges, when violence is attributed to some outside factor such as alcohol, when it is assumed that women are able to leave violent relationships easily and without risk, when the effects of violence are neglected, when reports of violence are seen to be exaggerated, when responsibility for violence is seen as residing with the victim, and when narrow definitions of violence ignore its many and varied permutations. (VicHealth, 2010)

Community attitudes are strong indicators for rates of violence against women. They influence violence against women in three ways:

  • the prevalence and impact of family violence: international studies have found evidence of a strong association between violence-supportive attitudes and the prevalence of violent behaviour towards women.
  • response to violence by communities and institutions: people in violence-supporting communities respond with less empathy and support to victims, are less likely to report to police, more likely to blame the victim, and more likely to recommend lenient penalties for the perpetrator.
  • help-seeking behaviours by victims: women are more likely to blame themselves for the abuse, less likely to report to police and more likely to experience long-term negative effects in communities with strong violence-supportive attitudes. (Mitchell, 2011) (VicHealth, 2010)

There is a very strong association between attitudes towards violence against women, and attitudes about gender, with a greater acceptance of violence reliably linked with a more traditional gender role attitude. On the other hand, violence is less likely to be accepted by those who have respect for gender equality and gender equity. Men who hold negative attitudes towards women, and men who see violence as a legitimate method for resolving conflict, or see the use of violence as a private matter, are more likely to engage in violence against women. (Morgan & Chadwick, Key Issues in Domestic Violence, 2009) Violence-supporting attitudes are more common in men with low levels of support for gender equality. Equally, women who support traditional gender roles are less likely to report violence. (VicHealth, 2010)

Community attitudes which increase the risk of violence against women are those which support the control of men over women, or support the idea of male privilege. They include:

  • ‘Macho’ constructions of masculinity;
  • The idea that a women’s place is in the home and that men are the wage-earners and head of the household;
  • That men have the right to enforce dominance through physical aggression;
  • That women are deceptive and vengeful;
  • Standards which encourage excessive or binge drinking, and segregate male drinking;
  • Standards that create peer pressure to conform to these ideas of masculinity. (DSS, 2015) (VicHealth, 2010)

Violence is also enabled when social or community norms:

  • View sexual assault and family violence as ‘invited’ by the victim;
  • View violence as a private matter or as part of a culture and so will not intervene in these matters;
  • Accept violence as a means of resolving conflict;
  • Accept assault, and sexual assault, as a normal rite of passage;
  • Accept violence by failing to provide alternatives, or by failing to strongly oppose it. (DSS, 2015)

Negative attitudes towards women in Australia are:

  • More commonly expressed among adolescent men;
  • Stronger in some masculine environments such as sporting subcultures, and are encouraged by group socialisation;
  • Influenced by exposure to media and in particular, pornography;
  • More likely among children exposed to violence. (Flood, 2006)

Violence-supportive attitudes in Australia are most commonly held:

  • by men rather than women: women are more likely to see non-physical forms of abuse as a form of family violence and believe that these are ‘very serious’, they show lower levels of support for excuses for family violence and are more likely to intervene;
  • by people with low levels of support for gender equity or equality;
  • by younger people rather than older people: the evidence shows that while young people are concerned about issues of family violence, they have limited experience, less exposure to education and debate, and move in youth cultures which reinforce violence-supportive messages. This lack of experience is reflected in their responses to survey questions. (VicHealth, 2010)

Media and popular culture and the links to family violence

There are confirmed links between the culture of sexualisation of women and girls, and the acceptance of violence against women via the reinforcement of sexist attitudes and gender stereotyping. Excessive consumption of idealised masculine imagery will enhance violence-supportive attitudes. (DSS, 2015)

Glamourisation and normalisation of violence and aggressive masculinity in the media perpetuate negative attitudes towards women. Media coverage of violence against women is important in shaping community attitudes. Media coverage should:

  • Use statistics
  • Seek violence against women experts for comment
  • Include information on victim services
  • Mention the relationship between victim and perpetrator where legally possible
  • Avoid focussing on the victim’s behaviour
  • Acknowledge that violence against women is not an individual or private problem
  • Use language to label: ‘domestic violence’, ‘violence against women’, ‘sexual assault’. (Politoff & Morgan, 2014)

Other influences on attitudes

Organisations: particular masculine contexts such as sporting clubs and the military show stronger violence-supportive attitudes; however university environments tend to liberalise attitudes. Strong religious affiliation can also reflect traditional gender role orientation, however churches have been found to have both positive and negative effects on attitudes towards violence against women. Institutional cultures can be difficult to challenge.

Peer groups: same-sex male social relationships strengthen violence-supportive attitudes. (Flood, 2006) (Meyering, What Factors Shape Community Attitudes to Domestic Violence?, 2011)

Education and social movements: education campaigns can produce positive change in violence-supportive attitudes. Women’s movements and pro-feminist men’s groups can make positive change in community and individual attitudes – however, men’s and father’s rights groups can have a negative influence.

Law and criminal justice: policies which strongly condemn violence can lead to the development of new social norms which are less tolerant of violence.

What are Australian Community Attitudes towards Violence?

The National Survey on Community Attitudes to Violence against Women is regularly conducted nationally. The Survey found that the majority of Australians have a good knowledge of violence against women and do not endorse most attitudes supportive of this violence. However, young people’s somewhat more violence-supporting attitudes are an area of concern. (VicHealth, 2014) Since 1995 some encouraging shifts in community attitudes and beliefs surrounding family violence show positive change that should contribute to reductions in levels of family violence in Australia. (VicHealth, 2014)

Implications for action on the determinants of family violence

The association between community attitudes which accommodate violence-supportive beliefs and values, and prevalence of family violence suggest that community attitudes are a central factor in the prevention of family violence.

The National Survey on Community Attitudes to Violence against Women 2013 found that it is possible to change community attitudes. High support for gender-equality is the most powerful predictor for low tolerance of violence and only one third of respondents in the survey indicated high support for gender equality and equity, with even fewer in the selected culturally and linguistically diverse sample.

VicHealth recommends three inter-related themes for action in the primary and secondary prevention of violence:

  1. Promoting equal and respectful relationships between men and women;
  2. Promoting non-violent social norms and reducing the effects of prior exposure to violence; and
  3. Improving access to resources and systems of support. (VicHealth, 2007)

Risk & Protective Factors

Family violence will primarily occur within a culture which promotes the key determinants of violence related to gender inequality, power and social norms. (VicHealth, 2011) (Pease & Flood, 2008) Risk factors, such as alcohol, poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, childhood exposure and other psychosocial and environmental factors will only enhance the frequency or severity of family violence.

There is an association between risk and protective factors and family violence which will enable or prevent family violence from occurring. For instance, problematic alcohol use will not necessarily lead to family violence; nor will high education and productive employment protect a woman from family violence, but they are correlated with incidence of family violence around the world. A risk factor will simply increase the potential for family violence to occur. (UN Women, 2012)

The Australian component of the International Violence against Women Survey found that the strongest risk factors for partner violence are associated with the man’s behaviour – his drinking habits, his general levels of aggression, and his controlling behaviour. They also found that a history of violence and early patterns of aggressive behaviour have consistently predicted family violence. (Mouzos & Makkai, 2004) (Temcheff, et al., 2008) The United States National Violence against Women Survey also found that having a verbally abusive partner was the greatest risk factor for victimization by an intimate partner. (Tjaden, 2000)

One of the most commonly identified risk indicators by Victoria Police was separation. The other most frequently identified risk indicator was controlling behaviour. (VIC, 2012)

Lack of Access to Resources and Systems of Support

Limitations in access to informal support networks as well as service networks are important risk factors of family violence and a barrier to seeking help or leaving an abusive relationship. Many women experiencing family violence will look for support from family and friends rather than specialised support from an agency. Research has found that young women with connections to school, peer and supportive family networks experience lower rates of violence, and men with strong social networks are less likely to perpetrate violence.

Isolation is also a form of abuse and women relocated away from family and friends or subject to partner control of relationships outside of the home will have further barriers to accessing support networks. (Humphries, 2007)

Seeking help can be impeded by:

  • Lack of specialised services
  • Cost and limited availability of transport
  • Lack of awareness of available services
  • Lack of culturally appropriate services
  • Perception that services will be unsympathetic
  • Embarrassment and shame
  • Fear of not being believed
  • Fear of retribution by perpetrator
  • Belief that services will not be able to help. (Morgan & Chadwick, Key Issues in Domestic Violence, 2009)

Under-resourcing of support services has created long waiting lists for women to access support, difficulty for women in rural and remote areas to access legal advice or other specialist support, limited resources for specific population groups, lack of access to safe emergency accommodation, limited resourcing to appropriately skill workers and services to children, and insufficient services available for medium and long-term support. (CTH, 2009)


Alcohol is a significant risk factor. It does not cause the violence, but acts as a catalyst for violent behaviour. Consumption of alcohol may escalate an incident from verbal to physical abuse because it lowers inhibitions and increases aggressiveness. It may also increase severity of injury and risk of death in a family violence incident. (VAADA, 2012)

Women whose partners consume alcohol at excessive levels are more likely to experience family violence. Family violence incidence reports by Victoria Police show that alcohol is identified as a factor in nearly half of all family violence incidents and in nearly half of all intimate partner homicides (with much higher rates in Aboriginal communities). (VIC, 2012) (Morgan & Chadwick, Key Issues in Domestic Violence, 2009) (Dearden, 2009) The National Homicide Monitoring Program Report is annually updated with statistics regarding homicide.

There are higher risks of injury when alcohol is involved in domestic assault, and a higher risk of victimisation for someone whose partner drinks heavily. (Laslett, et al., 2010)

Recent Australian research found that female perpetrator/male victim intimate partner homicides were three times more likely to have been alcohol related than male perpetrator/female victim intimate partner homicides. (Dearden & Payne, 2009)

The 2012 ABS Personal Safety and ABS Crime Victimisation Surveys also report data around assault and alcohol. (ABS, 2014)

The relationship between problematic alcohol and other drug use and family violence is complex and multifaceted. It can be a both reciprocal and bi-directional and is influenced by personal, environmental and cultural factors. (Nicholas, 2012) (Morgan, 2009)

The evidence shows an association between alcohol and family violence which includes:

  • Alcohol affects cognitive and physical function, reduces self-control and reduces ability to negotiate a non-violent resolution to conflict, causes people to focus on immediate issues without consideration of consequences, makes it harder to appreciate other people’s perspectives, and makes drinkers more impulsive and emotional.
  • Excessive drinking exacerbates financial difficulties and other family stressors increasing marital tension.
  • Belief that alcohol causes aggression encourages violent behaviour and excuses violence.
  • Experiencing family violence can lead to alcohol consumption as a method of coping.
  • Children who experience family violence are more likely to display harmful drinking patterns in adulthood. (WHO, n.d.)

Alcohol and child abuse

Excessive drinking has also been linked with poor quality parenting, and abuse of children. (Morgan & McAtamney, Key Issues in Alcohol-related Violence: Research in Practice summary paper no. 04, 2009) (VAADA, 2012) Alcohol impacts on family functioning, causing conflict, social isolation, and parenting breakdown. The range of ways in which children can be affected by the alcohol consumption of their carers is enormous. Abuse occurs along a spectrum of severity: from affecting the ability of parents to supervise their children, to the ongoing way in which drinking affects their parenting over the years of a child’s development. Neglect also has a range of degrees of severity and effects are both immediate and long term. (Laslett, et al., 2010)

Alcohol availability and family violence

There is a relationship between alcohol availability and family violence. There may also be a connection between density of on-premises alcohol outlets and child neglect, and density of off-premises outlets and physical abuse. (Livingston, Alcohol Outlet Density and Harm: Comparing the impacts on violence and chronic harms, 2011)

Packaged outlet density has been positively associated with assault rates, family violence, chronic disease and very heavy episodic drinking. In contrast, pub and nightclub density has only been linked to assault rates. (Livingston, 2013)

Early Exposure

Early exposure to abuse has different repercussions depending on gender. It is associated with future perpetration of violence for boys and future experience of violence for girls (though the effects are stronger for boys than for girls). (UN Women, 2012) (Flood, 2009)

How is early exposure linked to future experience?

Early exposure to family violence can lead to the development of inappropriate social norms, behaviours and attitudes concerning violence and abuse, increasing the risk of entering into an abusive relationship in the future. (Morgan, 2009) Women who are exposed to violence as children could be at risk of being victimised as adults as they may have low self-esteem and may have learnt that violent behaviour is a normal response to dealing with conflict. (Hunter, 2014)

The mechanisms through which violence is transmitted between one generation and the next are believed to be:

  • Children learn that violence is an effective and appropriate strategy for conflict resolution or for gaining control. (Turcotte-Seabury, 2010)
  • Children may not have the opportunity to learn the positive consequences of other methods of conflict resolution such as negotiation, reasoning, listening and self-calm. (Turcotte-Seabury, 2010)
  • Inhibition of behavioural control, social skills and empathy due to the psychological effects on the developing brain – leading to limited anger management ability, lack of self-control, and impulsive behaviour; or with young girls, an anxious attachment need which makes them vulnerable to abuse or to partnerships with men who may abuse their daughters. (Turcotte-Seabury, 2010) (Levedosky, 2013)
  • The process of cultural transmission whereby violence-supportive attitudes are learnt from generation to generation. (Turcotte-Seabury, 2010)
  • Women’s psychological responses to the experience of violence (dissociation, emotional dysregulation, and damaged sense of self) affects parenting behaviour which then affects child development and attachment making children more vulnerable to violence. (Levedosky, 2013)

However, prior experience of violence can sometimes lead to attitudes of violence intolerance. (Flood & Pease, 2009) (Black, 2010)

Most children who are exposed to family violence do not go on to become violent in adulthood, they are simply more likely to become violent than those who are not exposed. (Levedosky, 2013)

The effects of early exposure

Early exposure increases the likelihood of being abused and assaulted as an adult. Women who report experiencing physical or sexual abuse during childhood are one and a half times more likely to report experiencing violence as adults. (Morgan & Chadwick, 2009)

The ABS Personal Safety Survey collects information from men and women about their experience of physical or sexual abuse by an adult before the age of 15 years. (ABS, 2013)

However, the chance of a parent who was abused as a child becoming an abuser of their own children is dependent on other risk factors also being present. There are a number of risk and protective factors that influence the intergenerational transmission of violence and child abuse. Financial stability and social support are strong protective factors, as is living in a two-parent family. (Dixon, 2008)

On the other hand, a perceived lack of social support is a key risk factor in intergenerational transmission, as is being a single parent, having financial problems, living with a violent adult, a parent with a history of mental illness or depression, a parent with a substance abuse problem, and poor parenting styles. (Dixon, 2008)

Child to parent violence

In some instances it has also been found that parents who were victims of family violence as children respond to violence by their adolescent children in the same way and surrender the role of adult or authoritative person. Equally, adolescents perpetrating violence towards parents have often experienced or witnessed family violence as children. (Bobic, 2004)


Pregnancy and the early years of motherhood are risky periods for women with research showing that women often experience their first assault during pregnancy, or experience an increase in intensity of violence at this time. The Australian component of the International Violence against Women Survey found that 42% of women reported experiencing intimate partner violence during pregnancy and for 20% of those women it was their first experience of violence. This survey was reporting only physical and sexual violence and it has been suggested that the inclusion of psychological violence may have changed these results. (Mouzos & Makkai, 2004) (Walsh, 2008)

Some US health organisations do not see pregnancy as a risk factor for family violence and/or find the evidence to be inconclusive. Any heightened risk due to pregnancy may be due to marital conflict and changes within the relationship. (USGAO, 2002) (CDC, 2010)

Why might pregnancy be a risk factor?

Women may be particularly vulnerable to violence during pregnancy and early motherhood due to:

  • Exhaustion and sleep deprivation
  • Added stress with a new child and new family dynamics
  • Perceived or actual inability to protect themselves and their child
  • Change in financial circumstances
  • Fear of losing child to child protection
  • Social stigma accorded to single mothers
  • Lack of safe accommodation options appropriate for children
  • Desire to maintain connection between father and child
  • Implications for male concepts of fatherhood and masculinity. (DHS, 2012)

The impact of violence during pregnancy

Intimate partner violence during pregnancy is associated with the increased risk of the mother presenting with abdominal injury and developing symptoms of stress and anxiety. She may also be at increased risk of miscarriage, haemorrhage, foetal injury, premature birth, having a baby with low birth weight, and perinatal death.


Post-separation violence is defined as violence perpetrated by a former partner or boyfriend after the moment of physical separation. (Brownridge D. , 2006) A 2012 literature review found that separated and divorced women consistently have a higher risk of family violence. The review estimated that separated women could have as much as 30 times the likelihood of reporting family violence than married women. (Vatnar & Bjorkly, 2012)

Separation is identified as a factor in about a quarter of family violence incidence reports by Victoria Police. (VIC, 2012) Separation is a significant risk factor in intimate partner homicides. Women are most often killed in order to prevent them engaging in another intimate relationship, or in revenge for having done so. (Kirkwood, 2013) The Homicide in Australia, 2008-2010 report found that 5% of domestic homicides were motivated by the termination of the relationship. (Chan & Payne, 2013)

Post-separation abusive behaviour may change from physical to ‘controlling’. The primary ways in which a partner may continue to exercise coercive control over their ex-partners is to convince family and friends that relationship problems are the ex-partners fault (so alienating and isolating them from support), and to use the arrangements around child contact to implement indirect controlling behaviour. (Hayes, 2012) Threats to abduct children are particularly an issue for women with partners from a CALD background. (Laing, No way to Live: Women's experiences of negotiating the family law system in the context of domestic violence, 2010)

Post-separation violence and child contact

The continuation of post-separation violence may be facilitated by child contact arrangements. Abusive male partners may use children as tools to control, intimidate or manipulate their ex-partners, for example use children to pressure their mother to reunite, or expose children to things the other partner finds inappropriate. (Humphries, 2007) (Hayes, 2012) An abusive partner may also use contact with the children to manipulate his ex-partner by threatening or enacting harm. (Laing, 2003)

Assault during contact visits is highly prevalent. Australian statistics on children killed by parents (filicide) is available from the National Homicide Monitoring program at the Australian Institute of Criminology. (Laing, 2003) Victorian research has shown that fathers who kill their children most often do so in the context of separation, or threat of separation, from the children’s mother and are motivated by anger towards the mother. The child’s death is seen as a way of hurting the mother. (Kirkwood, 2013)


Low levels of education is one factor associated with a woman’s increased likelihood of experiencing family violence and the likelihood of a man committing family violence. (WHO, 2012) This may be because educated women have a greater choice of partner, the ability to choose whether or not to partner at all, and are able to negotiate greater autonomy and control of resources within a relationship. However, women with higher education may also be constrained to admit abuse due to social stigma or consequences. (WHO, 2005) WHO also found that men who were more highly educated were less likely to perpetrate partner violence than less educated men. (WHO, 2010)

However, a number of other studies have found differing results for education and also for employment as a risk or preventative factor. Some studies suggest that a women’s increase in independence due to a higher education and employment may increase the risk of violence in certain circumstances or make no difference as either a risk or a protective factor. (Brownridge, et al., 2008) (Walsh, 2008)


Intimate partner violence, child abuse and sexual violence are highly prevalent after natural and other disasters. As climate change impacts on Australia, disasters will become more frequent and more severe.

Disasters will disrupt both the physical and the social environment. They cause devastation, infrastructure collapse, kill or displace individuals, families and whole communities. Disasters can impact on employment, homelessness, health and social support and will increase individuals and families vulnerability to violence in the following ways:

  • Increased stress and feelings of powerlessness
  • Increased mental health problems
  • Decreased access to basic provisions
  • Social networks destroyed
  • Breakdown of policing and law enforcement
  • Cessation of support and prevention programs for perpetrators and victims
  • Economic disruption
  • Increased social isolation (which can persist as individuals and families fail to return to their homes). (Sety, 2012) (WHO, n.d.)

Recent research shows that men, practitioners and the community will use the circumstances of the disaster to excuse and justify violent behaviour. Increasing rates of family violence may also be due to an escalation in perpetrators desire for control over the partner in circumstances in which he lacks control over other aspects of their lives which have become disrupted. (Sety, 2012) As men experience loss and stress in the aftermath of natural disaster they may resort to a ‘hyper-masculinity’ to restore their dominance. (Austin, 2008)

Women living with family violence may experience violence of greater severity in a post-disaster environment which can be exacerbated by separation from support systems, family and friends and a forced reliance on the perpetrator for access to services or simply for survival. (Sety, 2012)

The effects of disaster on family violence can be long-lasting and significant. It can persist at very high levels for years after the event. (Sety, 2012)

Problem Gambling

Emerging research shows problem gambling to be a specific risk factor for family violence. The fifth edition of the Australasian Gambling Review found good evidence of the significant effects of gambling on the well-being of families and the Productivity Commission’s survey of counselling agencies found that 13% of problem gamblers reported domestic violence because of gambling. That Review also noted the numerous cases of children being neglected due to gambling problems in several Australian States. (Delfabbro, 2012)

A 2013 report on the Australian results of a large scale study of the patterns and prevalence of the co-occurrence of family violence and problem gambling found a high occurrence of family violence in help-seeking family members of problem gamblers (over half reported some form of family violence in the past 12 months, and 34.2% reported that the family violence was perpetrated by or against the problem gambling family member). 21.6% of participants reported both victimisation and perpetration of family violence (women were more likely to be the victims and were less likely to report no family violence than men).

Though the precise nature of the relationship between the two is unknown, the findings suggest that problem gambling directly or indirectly leads to violence perpetration by the problem gambler because of financial stress, and crisis in the home. On the other hand, problem gambling leads to victimization towards the problem gambler due to family conflict related to stressors such as deep rooted and accumulated anger and mistrust. (Suomi, et al., 2013)


Young men have an increased likelihood of committing family violence and their attitudes towards violence are less-informed. This may be due to: a lack of exposure to the influence of high school and university education; developmental stage in attitudes, empathy, sensitivity and moral awareness; and the characteristics of boys’ peer group cultures. (Morgan & Chadwick, Key Issues in Domestic Violence, 2009) (Flood & Pease, 2009) (Bobic, 2004)

Younger women are also at increased risk of victimization. Women aged between 18 and 24 report higher rates of violence and are more likely to be injured than women in other age groups. (Marcus & Braaf, 2007) (Mouzos & Makkai, 2004)

Individual and relationship factors

Some risk factors can be linked to aggression and violence generally. These include;

  • Low income
  • Social disadvantage
  • Social isolation
  • Involvement in aggressive/delinquent behaviour as an adolescent
  • Family structure or context in the case of adolescent violence towards parents. (Morgan & Chadwick, Key Issues in Domestic Violence, 2009)

The American Centre for Disease Control also lists the following individual risk factors. Some of these may lead to perpetration, some to victimization, and some to both. (CDC, 2010) Individual factors include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Low academic achievement
  • Heavy alcohol and drug use
  • Depression
  • Anger and hostility
  • Antisocial behaviour
  • Borderline personality traits
  • Prior history of being physically abusive
  • Unemployment
  • Emotional dependency and insecurity
  • Belief in traditional gender roles
  • Desire for power and control in relationships
  • Perpetrating psychological aggression
  • Being a victim of abuse (a strong predictor of perpetration)
  • History of experiencing poor parenting as a child
  • History of experiencing physical punishment as a child

Relationship factors include:

  • Marital conflict
  • Marital instability (divorce and separation)
  • Dominance and control over the relationship by one partner
  • Economic stress
  • Unhealthy family relationships and interactions
  • Marital status (women in de facto relationships may experience higher levels of violence than married women or women with a boyfriend). (Mouzos & Makkai, 2004) (Tjaden & Thonnes, 2000)

In addition, the United Nations also notes the following additional risk and protective factors:

  • Women’s membership in marginalized or excluded groups
  • Limited economic opportunity
  • Economic, educational or employment disparities between men and women in intimate relationships
  • Women with insecure access to and control over property and land
  • Lack of safe physical and virtual spaces for women and girls
  • Male partner’s level of communication with the woman. (UN Women, 2012) (WHO, 2005)

Common Risk Assessment Framework

The risks and factors which impact on the likelihood and severity of family violence are outlined in The Family Violence Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework (VIC). (DHS, 2012)

Protective Factors

Protective factors that reduce the risk of violence towards women and girls includes:

  • Completion of secondary schooling or higher for women and for men
  • Delaying the age of marriage to 18
  • Benefitting from healthy parenting as a child
  • Having a supportive family
  • Living within an extended family structure
  • Economic autonomy for women
  • Social norms which promote gender equality
  • Good quality response services
  • Safe spaces and shelters for women
  • Access to support. (UN Women, 2012) (WHO, 2010)

The Domestic Violence Resource Centre of Victoria also consider the following to be protective:

  • Employment of abuser
  • Employment of survivor
  • Social connections of survivor
  • Access to resources of survivor
  • Survivor’s ability to have protected self and children in the past. (DVRCV, 2013)


There are a range of strategies, including social marketing campaigns, awareness campaigns, school-based programs, regulation of the media, interventions on risk factors such as alcohol misuse, plus criminal justice responses which can be effective in reducing risk and preventing violence within the family. (Morgan & Chadwick, 2009) The factors that influence violence against women require social, attitudinal and behavioural change on a large scale and can only really be addressed by the combined efforts of stakeholders from different sectors, services and policy making institutions. (Wall, 2013)

Intervention is possible in all three tiers of prevention: primary, secondary and tertiary.

Primary Prevention: Preventing violence before it occurs

Strategies focus on the underlying causes of gender-based violence:

  1. Changing attitudes, behaviour and/or building knowledge and skills across the community;
  2. The structural, cultural and societal contexts in which violence occurs; and
  3. Addressing the underlying causes of violence against women, such as gender inequality.

Primary prevention should be designed to work on multiple levels across individual, community and societal levels. Primary prevention work involves whole populations, key settings and vulnerable groups. For action in a whole population this work might include media campaigns to challenge gender stereotypes, or promote bystander action. Within organisations it may include gender equity policies, or gender auditing. In key settings it may include bystander training or respectful relationships education.

Secondary prevention: taking action on the early signs of violence

Strategies focus on taking action on the early signs that physical or sexual violence might occur:

  1. At the individual level, seeking to address behaviours before they escalate or become established; and
  2. Where there are strong signs that violence may occur, for example, peer groups.

Secondary prevention work involves individuals, groups or environments showing early warning signs such as; identifying individual risk, provision of counselling or referral, developing respect and equity programs in communities.

Tertiary prevention: intervening after violence has occurred

Strategies aim to create safety for victims and ensure that it does not occur again and focus on:

  1. Crisis accommodation and support for victims;
  2. Health and mental health services;
  3. Therapeutic interventions for perpetrators; and
  4. Criminal justice responses. (West, Plant, & Scott, 2013)

Tertiary prevention works with women and children experiencing violence or men who use violence including; crisis support, counselling services, peer support programs.

Primary Prevention & Intervention

Primary prevention seeks to prevent violence before it occurs. The focus of primary prevention is on addressing the underlying determinants of violence against women: gender inequality and gender stereotyping, and the broader culture of violence supported by social norms and attitudes in communities.

The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence found that ‘programs to prevent violence against women aim to develop and promote respectful relationships generally, to change broader social norms around the use of violence and to create environments in the home that model non-violent and respectful behaviour to children.’ The Commission heard evidence that best-practice prevention approaches have a number of features in common. These are:

  • involving the community
  • having strategies not just single programs
  • engaging men and boys
  • taking account of the circumstances of particular groups. (RCFV, 2016)

The Commission found that population-level prevention strategies use the following components and approaches:

  • legislative, policy and regulatory reform to support the strategy
  • community mobilisation to engage communities in shifting practices and norms
  • communications and social marketing to shift social norms and practices
  • organisational development to change policies, structures and cultures
  • education of key workforces to enable them to build prevention into their job roles
  • development of the skills of individuals through direct participation programs
  • advocacy to ensure that attention is given to the problem and that barriers are addressed
  • research, monitoring and evaluation. (RCFV, 2016)

The Women’s Health East strategy to prevent violence against women in Melbourne’s East notes that effective primary prevention initiatives should:

  • Be targeted at all levels in the ecological model: individual, organisational, community and societal
  • Include coordinated strategies and messages that are mutually reinforcing across different settings and different target groups;
  • Reflect a universal approach (ie a population health approach). (WHE, 2016)

Action on the Determinants of Family violence or gendered drivers (unequal power relations/gender stereotyping /social norms and practices/community attitudes)

In order to promote improved social norms and attitudes to violence across society a combination of universal interventions (directed at the whole population) and targeted interventions (directed at specific at-risk populations) are required. A cross-sectoral approach to primary prevention includes multiple and reinforcing strategies. Opportunities should also be sought to incorporate primary prevention through existing initiatives, policies and programs. (VicHealth, 2006)

Frameworks for Primary Level Intervention

VicHealth: Preventing Violence Before it Occurs

The VicHealth report Preventing Violence Before it Occurs was undertaken in order to develop an evidence-based framework to support the prevention of violence against women. The key themes for action are:

  • Promoting equal and respectful relationships between men and women;
  • Promoting non-violent social norms and reducing the effects of prior exposure to violence (especially on children); and
  • Improving access to resources and systems of support. (VicHealth, 2007)

The report also gives recommendations and implications for planning:

  • Prevention strategies should be targeted at the whole population as well as more intensive, tailored strategies for specific at-risk populations;
  • Prevention strategies should maintain focus on delivery to women but at the same time increase emphasis on strategies to reach men and boys;
  • Especially vulnerable groups should be targeted and should be those groups should be represented in planning processes;
  • Aboriginal and refugee communities should be supported to identify primary prevention strategies in their communities;
  • Prevention strategies should reach men and women across the life-cycle but also specifically target children, young people and their families at particular points of relationship and family development;
  • Existing initiatives, policies and programs as well as new should be used for primary prevention;
  • Primary prevention plans should build on existing evidence, knowledge and strengths in the local environment;
  • Processes for evaluation and monitoring should be identified.

Our Watch: Change the Story

Our Watch have now developed a national framework for primary prevention of violence against women: Change the Story. The Framework is a joint project between Our Watch, ANROWS and VicHealth. It is based on six elements:

Element 1: An explanatory model that establishes a shared understanding of violence against women and identifies the drivers and reinforcing factors.

Gendered drivers (or determinants) are:

  • Condoning of violence against women
  • Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence in public and private life
  • Rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity
  • Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.

Reinforcing factors (risk factors which can increase frequency or severity of violence) are:

  • Condoning of violence in general
  • Experience of, and exposure to, violence
  • Weakening of pro-social behaviour, especially harmful use of alcohol
  • Socio-economic inequality and discrimination
  • Backlash factors (increases in violence when male dominance, power or status is challenged).

Element 2: Ten essential and supporting actions that need to be taken to address these drivers and reinforcing factors.

Action to address gendered drivers (or determinants):

  • Challenge condoning of violence against women
  • Promote women’s independence and decision-making in public life and relationships
  • Foster positive personal identities and challenge gender stereotypes and roles
  • Strengthen positive, equal and respectful relations between and among women and men, girls and boys
  • Promote and normalise gender equality in public and private life.

Action to address reinforcing factors (or risk factors):

  • Challenge the normalisation of violence as an expression of masculinity or male dominance
  • Prevent exposure to violence and support those affected to reduce its consequences
  • Address the intersections between social norms relating to alcohol and gender
  • Reduce backlash by engaging men and boys in gender equality, building relationship skills and social connections
  • Promote broader social equality and address structural discrimination and disadvantage.

Element 3: Specific, practical techniques, approaches and strategies for working in different settings and for ensuring reach and impact across different communities, contexts and audiences.

  • Reaching everyone: An inclusive universal approach, engaging people in all demographic groups, from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, of all ages, abilities, genders and sexualities, in urban, rural and remote locations.
    • Tailor strategies for different communities, contexts and audiences to ensure relevance across a diverse population.
    • Make specific and intensive effort with communities affected by multiple forms of disadvantage and discrimination who experience the greatest inequities and violence.
    • Ensuring initiatives are inclusive with the participation, representation and decision-making power of groups that are marginalised, or who experience multiple and compounded forms of discrimination.
    • Work across the life course, and most particularly with young people.
  • Multiple settings for action: education and care settings; universities and other tertiary education institutions; workplaces; sports, recreation and social spaces; the arts; health, family and community services; faith-based contexts; the media; advertising and entertainment; public spaces, transport and facilities; legal, justice and corrections contexts.
  • Proven and promising techniques: these include;
    • Direct participation programs
    • Community mobilisation and strengthening
    • Organisational development
    • Communications and social marketing
    • Civil society advocacy.

Element 4: Prevention infrastructure: a collaborative national approach requires strong infrastructure to support quality cross-sectoral practice.

Element 5: Stakeholder roles and responsibilities: prevention needs mutually reinforcing strategies at all levels across multiple settings, through partnerships and collaboration.

Element 6: Stages of action and expected outcomes: identifies short, medium and long-term phasing of collaborative activity and expected outcomes.

Women’s Health East: Together for Equality and Respect

The Women’s Health East strategy to prevent violence against women in Melbourne’s East: Together for Equality and Respect gives the following areas and examples for preventative action that is based on the VicHealth framework: (WHE, 2016)

Figure 32: Areas for Preventative Action

Areas for Preventative Action

Examples of Action

Organisational and workforce development

Workplace initiatives promoting gender equitable policy, family violence policies, initiatives that promote women in leadership.

Direct participation program

Programs targeted at groups in the community that aim to build knowledge and skills that promote equal and respectful relationships.

Research, monitoring and evaluation

Using evidence-based research as a basis for planning.

Community strengthening

Interventions that increase supportive community infrastructure and strategic partnerships that address the prevention of violence against women.

Communications and social marketing

Use of media to promote equal and respectful relationships.


Activities to raise awareness/lobby for action around the prevention of violence against women.

Legislative and policy reform

Development of legislation, policies and programs that address the determinants and risk factors of violence against women.

Universal interventions

The Change the Story Framework offers five essential and five supporting actions to address violence against women. They are:

Essential Actions:

  • Challenge condoning of violence against women;
  • Promote women’s independence and decision-making in public life and relationships;
  • Foster positive personal identities and challenge gender stereotypes and roles;
  • Strengthen positive, equal and respectful relations between and among women and men, girls and boys;
  • Promote and normalise gender equality in public and private life.

Supporting Actions:

  • Challenge the normalisation of violence as an expression of masculinity or male dominance;
  • Prevent exposure to violence and support those affected to reduce its consequences;
  • Address the intersections between social norms relating to alcohol and gender;
  • Reduce backlash by engaging men and boys in gender equality, building relationship skills and social connections;
  • Promote broader social equality and address structural discrimination and disadvantage. (Our Watch, 2015)

Inequality should be addressed at every level and in every area – organisations, institutions, businesses, workplaces, educations and homes. Change the Story nominate some priority settings for action to encourage shifts in the way people think and behave in relation to gender inequality and violence. (Bolton, Main, & P, 2009) (Our Watch, 2015)

Community Attitudes

Evidence-based intervention strategies to improve community attitudes were outlined by VicHealth in 2006 and have been incorporated into Change the Story: (VicHealth, 2006)

Evidence-informed strategies to improve community attitudes to violence against women

Bystander action

VicHealth have identified the potential for bystanders to make social change by identifying, speaking out about or engaging others in responding to incidents of sexism, discrimination or violence against women. Bystanders can respond to behaviour, attitudes, practices and policies that contribute to sexism, discrimination or violence against women. The VicHealth research found that a third of survey respondents had witnessed sexism towards women in the last twelve months and that they would take bystander action if the behaviour was perceived as serious and that their action would be supported by their peers, community or organisation. (VicHealth, 2012)

Engagement of men and boys

Engaging men and boys to prevent violence against women is a strategy which has evolved with the shift toward primary prevention in the field. The main reasons cited for involving men in the prevention of violence are:

  • While most men do not perpetrate violence against women, when violence does occur it is usually perpetrated by men;
  • Constructions of masculinity have a strong role in shaping men’s violence;
  • Men can take a positive role in helping to stop violence against women. (Baker, 2013)

The positive ways in which men have become engaged in violence prevention are mainly in the arena of attitudinal change, and in secondary and tertiary prevention. These include: men’s behaviour change facilitation; anti-violence campaign organisation and activism (for example, the White Ribbon Campaign); role modelling in community education; facilitating workshops, educational programs and programs for boys; policy making and administrating (see the Northern Interfaith Respectful Relationships Project, below); as interventionist bystanders; and as non-violent men in families. (Pease, 2008)

However, potential problems are seen to exist with the involvement of men such as: a reduction in funding for women’s programs and services; a weakening of commitment to end gender inequalities; a silencing of women’s voices and stories; men’s co-opting of violence campaigns to achieve their own ends; collusion of men with sexist and violence-supportive attitudes of men in men’s groups; more praise and attention for men’s involvement than for women’s; and a failure to earn the trust of women. Men’s involvement in the prevention of violence against women may be tainted by the benefits they receive from gender inequalities and the vested interest they may have in maintaining gender relations as they currently are. Pease suggests that for men’s involvement in the prevention of violence against women, the following conditions need to be met in order to help transform gender relations:

  • Involvement of a core group of men who are supportive of gender equality and social justice;
  • Support and commitment from men in leadership positions;
  • Inclusion of feminist women who are prepared to form alliances with men. (Pease, 2008)

The White Ribbon campaign is a global male-led movement to prevent violence against women. Some of the reasons a male-led movement can be effective are that men’s attitudes are shaped by their male peers, all-male groups provide safety for men to talk, male educators have the opportunity to act as role models, and male leaders demonstrate responsibility for action against men’s violence against women. (Mitchell, 2011)

Targeted Interventions

To have the greatest impact on violence against women and their children, intervention requires an inclusive universal approach, engaging people in all demographic groups, from all backgrounds, of all ages, abilities, genders and sexualities, in all locations. Tailored strategies for different communities, contexts and audiences are needed to ensure relevance, along with specific and intensive effort with communities affected by multiple forms of disadvantage and discrimination. (Our Watch, 2015)

As well as these groups, there is opportunity to target boys and young men, with the potential for this work to influence development of positive attitudes into adulthood. (VicHealth, 2006)

Boys and young men

A review of the effectiveness of programs in changing men’s and boy’s attitudes and behaviours related to gender inequities in health was carried out in the United States in 2010. The researchers found that well-designed programs can lead to short-term change in behaviour and attitudes. Engaging men and boys in programs that include discussions of gender and masculinity, with strong efforts to change such norms, are more effective that programs which acknowledge gender norms but do not focus on them. Also, integrated programs which combine individual education with social and community programs such as mass-media campaigns are more effective in changing behaviour. (Barker et al, 2010)

Settings for Action

Priority settings under the Change the Story framework are:

  • Education and care settings for children and young people
  • Universities, TAFEs and other tertiary education institutions
  • Workplaces, corporations and employee organisations
  • Sports, recreation, social and leisure spaces
  • The arts
  • Health, family and community services
  • Faith-based contexts
  • Media
  • Popular culture, advertising and entertainment
  • Public spaces, transport, infrastructure and facilities
  • Legal, justice and corrections contexts. (Our Watch, 2015)

Workplaces, corporations and employee organisations

Workplaces are directly impacted by family violence and play a key role in influencing behaviour. Traditional patterns of workplace organisation and culture support the unequal treatment of women, and the unfair privileging of men and work continues to be closely associated with masculine identity. They can therefore be utilized to ensure: a) that they play a role in supporting gender equality and non-violent norms, and b) that victims of family violence can be reached and supported. By changing a workplace policy, practice and culture an organisation can change from within but also impact surrounding communities and organisations, influence broader policy, and inform community norms. (Holmes & Flood, 2013)

White Ribbon found seven strategies through which men at work could be engaged in change:

  1. Through educational programs and social marketing to raise men’s awareness;
  2. Workplaces can promote a culture of zero tolerance for disrespectful behaviour;
  3. Undermining masculine norms and cultures including moving away from traditional models of masculine leadership;
  4. Men can be involved in prevention through their professional roles as doctors, teachers, child care workers, police etc.;
  5. Men can be mobilised as advocates for change in workplaces;
  6. Men can challenge the structures and systems that produce inequality such as unconscious bias in recruitment;
  7. Workplaces can encourage men to spend less time at work and more time involved in parenting and domestic work. (Holmes & Flood, 2013)

Principles for Effective Intervention

Change the Story defines the principles of effective practice for primary prevention:

  • Use an explicit gender analysis and focus on changing the gendered drivers of violence against women
  • Draw on research, evaluation and consultation and seek advice from those with relevant expertise
  • Follow a program logic approach
  • Establish partnerships across sectors and between violence prevention/gender equality specialists and ‘mainstream’ organisations
  • Tailor initiatives to intended audiences and context
  • Develop an evaluation plan focused on measuring changes related to the drivers of violence
  • Share information and facilitate transparent reporting and shared learning
  • Establish mechanisms to respond to disclosures from victims/survivors and perpetrators who may be identified through their engagement with a prevention program
  • Plan for the long-term sustainability of effective initiatives. (Our Watch, 2015)

Examples of Primary Prevention interventions

The following examples have been loosely categorized under the Change the Story framework.

Direct Participation Programs

  • Victorian Government Respectful Relationships Education
  • Northern Interfaith Respectful Relationships and the VicHealth Preventing violence against women programs webpage.

Community Mobilisation and Strengthening

  • Local Government Action Guide for the prevention of violence against women (VicHealth)

Organisational Development

  • AFL Respect and Responsibility Policy
  • DVRCV Partners in Prevention and the VicHealth summary and evaluation
  • VicHealth’s Everyone Wins toolkit
  • The Municipal Association of Victoria: Local Government and Community Partnerships Program – Preventing Violence Against Women Project

Communications and Social Marketing

  • Eliminating Violence Against Women Media Awards (EVAs)
  • Change the World
  • Domestic Violence Victoria media program

Civil Society Advocacy

  • White Ribbon campaign
  • The Gippsland CommUNITY Walk Against Family Violence
  • MAV’s Gender and Emergency Management Strategy. Further insight into the need for a gender perspective in emergency management is available from the Attorney General’s Department.

Primary Prevention Intervention in the EMR


There are many challenges involved in evaluating primary prevention interventions in family violence. Prevention requires social change, but evaluation is still in development for this type of complex, multi-level, environmental change. Primary prevention might be targeted at particular aspects of risk, or aim to change particular communities, but these are incremental steps toward broader social change. Outcomes are difficult to identify, define and measure so it is important that clear values and objectives are agreed upon during the developmental phase of the intervention or program. Reaching conclusions on what indicators can demonstrate success is vital, as are timeframes for concluding whether change has been sustainable. (Wall, 2013)

  • A guide to monitoring change and progress is being developed by Our Watch as part of the Change the Story framework. (Our Watch, 2015)
  • VicHealth A concise guide to evaluating primary prevention projects
  • Together for Equality and Respect have evaluation resources for EMR organisations
  • Women’s Health East, EACH, the Inner East PCP and Outer East PCP have evaluated the TFER Regional strategy to prevent violence against women

Secondary & Tertiary Intervention

The World Health Organization has guidelines for health professionals offering evidence-based guidance on care, intervention and support for women suffering family violence.

Ending a violent relationship is a process. There are five phases:

  1. pre-contemplation (which is managing or resisting abuse)
  2. contemplation (beginning to think about leaving)
  3. deciding to leave (and making plans)
  4. actually leaving
  5. establishing a new life. (Meyering, 2012)

A turning point in the process may be facilitated by concern for the safety of others, an escalation of the violence, increased access to support, exhaustion and a realisation that the perpetrator will not change, and a partner being unfaithful. Usually, several attempts are made to end the abusive relationship before a final parting. (Meyering, 2012)

Research has found that the choices and decisions of women experiencing family violence must be viewed in the context of the external interference that may divert energy away from family priorities and limits choices. Common interferences include: harassment and abuse from the ex-partner; using children as a vehicle for abuse; challenge to the new family structure by the ex-partner by stalking, challenging children’s understandings of why the family have separated, disrupting routine through unpredictable visitation, and withholding child support; false reporting to authorities by the ex-partner; the health outcomes of past and continuing abuse, the costs of seeking and receiving help; financial losses; employment, relocation, and loss of material goods, social isolation, and the difficulties of single parenting. (Wuest et al, 2003)

Screening and Assessment

Screening is a process to identify victims of family violence in order to take action or intervene. Routine screening implies that all clients should be asked questions about the existence of family violence. Risk assessment is the process to assess the degree of harm likely to occur as a result of past, present or future family violence. (Robinson & Moloney, 2010) Identifying risk to the mother can be an important way of protecting children from family violence. (DVRCV, 2007)

Indicators of family violence are (particularly if there is a pattern or history):

In Women

  • Physical injury, especially to chest, breasts, abdomen and genitals
  • Chronic pain
  • Suicide attempts
  • Substance abuse
  • Depression, anxiety, panic, sleeping disorders, other emotional problems
  • Miscarriage
  • Frequent vague complaints and use of minor tranquillisers and pain killers
  • High stress levels
  • Fewer coping and problem-solving skills
  • Social isolation.

In Children

  • Low birth weight or low weight for gestational age
  • Physical injury, particularly with implausible explanations
  • Adjustment problems
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Nervous and withdrawn
  • Headaches, abdominal complaints, asthma, stuttering, peptic ulcers
  • Bedwetting
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive cruelty to animals
  • Using aggressive action and language in play
  • Lower social competency
  • Accident prone. (DVRCV, 2013)

Screening tools

There is no one screening tool considered to be the most effective and very few have been effectively evaluated.

ARACY The Common Approach (Assessment, Referral and Support) is an evaluated tool for practitioners and is aimed at protecting children and supporting families.

The Framework for Screening, Assessment and Referrals in Family Relationship Centres and the Family Relationships Advice Line (FRC & FRAL Framework): The Attorney-General’s department has produced screening and assessment guidelines with sample questions for screening for violence, and child murder and abduction among others (the FRC & FRAL Framework). This promotes the use of three broad screening questions

  1. Do you have any reason to be concerned about your own safety or the safety of your children?
  2. Do you have any other concerns about your children’s wellbeing at the moment?
  3. Do you have any reason to be concerned about the safety of anyone else?
  4. How do you think your partner/ex-partner would answer these questions? (optional) (AGD, 2006) (Robinson & Moloney, 2010)

NSW Health Area Health Services have another successful screening tool which suggests the following four questions:

  1. Within the last year have you been hit, slapped or hurt in other ways by your partner or ex-partner?
  2. Are you frightened of your partner or ex-partner?

If the woman answers yes to either or both questions:

  1. Are you safe to go home when you leave here?
  2. Would you like some assistance with this? (NSWVPRU, 2011)

In Victoria the Family Violence Common Risk Assessment Framework (CRAF) guides practitioners in assessment. The CRAF training program is available and has been evaluated. (DHS, 2013)

There is also a program, DOORS (Detection of Overall Risk Screen) to assist Family Law professionals to assess risk.

Good practice guidelines

These include: screeners should ask questions about family violence as part of routine history taking; question should be asked in private, separately from the partner, screening needs to cover factors other than just physical violence such as financial abuse or intimidation, service professionals need to be aware of factors impeding disclosure, sympathetic and non-judgemental conduct is essential for screeners, understanding that women are unlikely to overestimate risk, training and management protocols for the operation of routine screening are critical for success, the outcome of screening should be that perpetrators are made accountable and victims protected from further risk. (Braaf & Sneddon, 2007)

Some issues with the screening tools are increased workloads, a lack of protocols and training in using the tools, and that using the tool does not necessarily increase protection for the victim or improve long-term outcomes. (Robinson & Moloney, 2010) The Cochrane Collaboration conducted a review into the benefits of screening and found that screening doubled the likelihood that abused women would be identified but did not increase the numbers referred to specialist help. Screening did not reduce the level of violence experienced, nor did it improve women’s health and wellbeing between three and eighteen months after screening. (Taft, et al., 2013)

However, the Domestic Violence Resource Centre of Victoria believe that asking about abuse is an important signal of support. It may suggest to a woman experiencing family violence that she is believed and respected, that abuse has been encountered before, that the issue is being taken seriously and that she can get help. (DVRCV, 2013)

The Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria has a booklet of referral options for health providers which can easily be downloaded.

Perpetrator programs or programs for men who use violence

Perpetrator programs aim to reduce the risk of further offending by known perpetrators by changing attitudes and behaviour. (Mitchell, 2011) Although there is agreement that men need to be part of the solution to overcoming gender inequality most program interventions are short term and few have been systematically evaluated. There is little evidence that such programs are empowering for women, or will enable men to resist gendered social norms. Evaluation tends to focus on men’s pathological behaviour, and do not capture change to cultural stereotypes of masculinity. (Keleher & Franklin, 2008)

The programs range from community-based and voluntary, through to court-mandated programs. They can vary in their purposes, emphasis and core understanding of family violence. (Bartels, 2010) While these programs are a part of the intervention story, critics argue that they may place the safety of the partner at risk by creating a false sense of hope for improved behaviours on the part of the perpetrator. (Jamieson & Wendt, 2008) The Cochrane Collaboration reviewed cognitive behavioural programs for men who had physically abused their partners and found that the evidence was insufficient to draw any conclusions on their efficacy. (Smedsland, 2007)

The following programs have been evaluated:

  • The LifeWorks Men’s Behaviour Change Program
  • The Gold Coast Domestic Violence Integrated Response
  • Strength to Change

The Victorian DHHS have Voluntary Men’s Behaviour Change program guidelines.

Perpetrator programs will not be suitable for every community and may have little effect in rural and remote communities due to concerns regarding anonymity and confidentiality, fear of gossip and embarrassment, and strongly patriarchal community attitudes. A more holistic approach will be required in these types of communities. (Jamieson & Wendt, 2008)

Safe at home programs

This model holds perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions and removes them from the family home, allowing women and children to stay. An exclusion order will require the perpetrator to seek accommodation elsewhere. The 2010 Victoria Police Code of Practice for the Investigation of Family Violence specifically includes supporting at risk family members to stay safely in their own homes. Family Violence Safety Notices are issued by police officers and place temporary conditions, including exclusion from the home, on a perpetrator. Safe at Home in Victoria is an integrated model of partnership between police and welfare agencies based on outreach services. Once police have issued a Safety Notice they make a referral to an appropriate agency who can assist the at risk family member with advice about permanent removal of the perpetrator from the family home. (Spinney, Home and Safe? Policy and Practice Innovations to Prevent Women and Children who have Experienced Domestic and Family Violence from Becoming Homeless, 2012)

A comparison of the experiences of women who were obliged to leave the family home and those women who were able to stay in safety in the family home indicated that when safe at home programs are offered among a range of alternatives, they may overcome many of the problems of traditional forms of support including: shortage of appropriate refuge accommodation; shortage of any other types of appropriate accommodation; severance of links with key services and networks; and the physical and emotional difficulties of leaving the family home. It is also a cost-effective alternative. (Netto, Pawson, & Sharp, 2009)

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute found that the most effective homelessness prevention schemes should integrate legal issues, housing, and welfare provision. They require effective law to exclude perpetrators, improved police responses and training, access to legal and welfare support which may not otherwise be available if the victim does not seek refuge in shelter networks, judicial support and consistency in treatment of breaches of injunctions and related issues, and accessible, available housing options. (Spinney, 2013)

These programs are not suitable for women and children at extreme risk of violence, and for women who do stay a personal alarm system (Bsafe) is one method which was evaluated and found to be effective in reducing incidence and severity of family violence. (Mitchell, 2011) (WHGNE, n.d.)

Economic Advocacy

Economic advocacy can help build financial capacity following violence. This involves assisting clients to identify and address their financial needs, often through negotiating with banks and other financial institutions, government agencies, employers and targets the structural barriers that impede financial security. It is different to financial literacy and does not focus on individual financial knowledge. Economic advocacy could be pursued more strongly to support women following family violence. (Meyering, 2012a)

Secondary and Tertiary Intervention in the EMR

See Share for local activities


Family Violence References

Family Violence References