Family Violence


Family Violence Review Paper 2018 Part B

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.

Paper continues in Part C