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What is family violence and domestic violence?

You have probably heard the terms domestic violence and family violence. But what is the difference between the two and what do they mean?


The term domestic violence refers to violence between people who have (or have had) an intimate relationship in domestic settings[1] such as a home. It includes verbal, physical, financial, sexual, emotional, social, spiritual, and psychological abuse.


Family violence is a broader term that refers to violence between family members, as well as violence between intimate partners[2]. When the term family violence is used, it describes behaviour that controls or dominates a family member and which causes them to fear for their own  or another person’s safety and wellbeing[3].


There is no simple explanation for the behaviours behind physical violence and the nature of interpersonal relationships[4]. Nonetheless, Domestic Violence and Family Violence is often part of a behavioural pattern (rather than a single episode).


How does family violence affect children and families?

Family, domestic and sexual violence is a major social health issue, predominantly affecting women and children, although violence perpetrated by women, or in same sex relationships, is not uncommon.

In Australia, approximately one woman per week and one man per month die as a result of violence perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner[5].

Among victims, family violence can contribute to depression, anxiety, self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse, social isolation, gambling addiction, feelings of low self-esteem and many more negative effects on wellbeing.

Family and domestic violence can also have long-term effects on the physical and mental wellbeing of children.

The Family Court of Australia puts it as follows: “Research has consistently found that children who are exposed to family violence have higher levels of emotional and behavioural problems than children who have not. Children who are in violent homes are also at a greater risk of physical abuse or having their physical and emotional needs neglected.”

Children who are exposed to abuse are more likely to develop mental health problems, have trouble forming relationships and friendships, drop out of or have difficulties at school, experience homelessness, engage in or be the victim of bullying, engage in self-harm or drug and alcohol abuse, and even perpetuate abuse in an ongoing inter-generational cycle.


What can you do about family violence?

Family and domestic violence is often a very complex issue that can be difficult to understand.

Help is available. For people experiencing abuse, numerous services are in place which can provide advice and support. A person experiencing abuse can discuss the issue with their GP or other health practitioners. An extensive list of services covering northern, western and central Melbourne can also be found here.

As mentioned, a characteristic of abuse is that it often goes beyond physical harm and violence. People experiencing abuse may be worried not only about their physical safety, but also about money, where they will stay, whether their children and/or pets will be safe, whether they will be believed, whether they will have to lodge a police report or submit to a medical examination, and more. If that is a concern, it’s worth remembering that services focussing on domestic and family violence are trained to deal with these issues.

If you know or suspect that someone is experiencing domestic and family abuse, there is a lot that you can do to help.

If you genuinely suspect that someone is experiencing abuse (perhaps they have physical signs of harm like cuts or bruises, or you sense their behaviour changes dramatically when around their partner) then it’s ok to let them know you’ve noticed changes, that you care about them, and that you’re available to help and support. Ensure that this conversation occurs in a private and discreet place.

If someone talks to you about abuse that they are experiencing, then the most important thing you can do is listen without judging or interrupting. Do not blame, make excuses, or ‘hijack’ the conversation with your own experiences.

There are many ‘hands-on’ ways in which you can support someone, once they have shared their experiences with you. For example, you can help by driving them, taking them to appointments, offering temporary accommodation or minding children or pets.

For someone experiencing abuse, simply knowing that support is available can be the first vital step toward resolving a difficult and potentially traumatic situation.


Concerned? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Want to know where else you can get help? Find out how to access additional community support.

If you or someone’s safety is at risk then call 000 immediately.


The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.


[1] A Morgan and H Chadwick, Key issues in domestic violence, Summary paper, no. 7, Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), Canberra, December 2009,

[2] ibid

[3] Dwyer, J., Miller, R. (2014). Working with families where an adult is violent: Best interests case practice model. Specialist practice resource. Department of Human Services, Victoria, Australia

[4] Day, A., Chung, D., O’Leary, P., & Carson, E. (2009). Programs for Men who Perpetrate Domestic Violence: An Examination of the Issues Underlying the Effectiveness of Intervention Programs. Journal of Family Violence, 24(3), 203-212. doi:10.1007/s10896-008-9221-4

[5] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 2018; Day, 2015; Our Watch, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROW), & VicHealth, 2015