Family violence explained (2022)



Read the full fact sheet
  • The causes of family violence include deeply held beliefs about masculinity.
  • Perpetrators tend to blame other people, alcohol or circumstances for their violent outbursts.
  • Perpetrators often minimise, blame others, justify or deny their use of violence or the impact of their violence.
  • Perpetrators undergoing counselling for their violent behaviour need to recognise that regaining the trust of their family will take time, and that their partner has the right to end the relationship if they choose to.

On this page

  • What is family violence?
  • Common factors in family violence
  • Resistance to seeking help for violence
  • Getting help for family violence
  • Rehabilitation after family violence
  • Where to get help



What is family violence?

Family violence (also called domestic violence) is the use of violence, threats, force or intimidation to control or manipulate a family member, partner or former partner. In such a relationship, there is an imbalance of power where abusive behaviour or violence is used to control others.

Not all family violence is caused by men, but research shows that men are most often the perpetrators of violence in domestic relationships, and women and children are often the victims. In Australia, 1 in 3 women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by a man they know.

Family violence can occur in any kind of family relationship, including between couples, family members, and against people who are elderly or disabled.

Although family violence can affect anyone, regardless of their social or economic status, or their racial and cultural background, some people are at greater risk, including:

  • Indigenous women
  • women in regional or remote areas
  • young women
  • women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • pregnant women
  • LBGTQIA+ and gender diverse people
  • women living with disability.

Common factors in family violence

Gender inequality between men and women, including deeply held beliefs about masculinity, is a significant factor that contributes to the high rate of violence by men towards women in relationships.

Masculinity refers to a set of practices, attitudes and behaviours that include the social norms and 'unwritten rules' about how to behave in society. Social expectations of men and boys are learnt through institutions, policies and laws.

Many traits commonly associated with people who identify as a man or boy are also exhibited by others, including those who identify as a woman, a girl, trans, intersex, queer or gender non-binary.

There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ perpetrator of family violence. However, researchers have found that perpetrators often:

  • use violence and emotional abuse to control their families
  • believe that they have the right to behave in whatever way they choose while in their own home
  • hold certain beliefs about masculinity, including that a ‘real’ man should be tough, powerful and the head of the household. They may believe that they should make most of the decisions, including about how money is spent
  • believe that men are entitled to sex from their partners
  • don’t take responsibility for their behaviour and prefer to think that loved ones or circumstances provoked their behaviour
  • make excuses for their violence – for example, they will blame alcohol or stress
  • report ‘losing control’ when angry around their families, but can control their anger around other people. They don’t tend to use violence in other situations, for example, around friends, bosses, work colleagues or the police
  • try to minimise, blame others for, justify or deny their use of violence, or the impact of their violence on family members.

Coercive control in the context of family violence is complex and can be challenging to describe and define. Although the tactics and pattern of behaviours used by each perpetrator and the experience for each victim-survivor is unique, coercive control is common to all experiences of family violence. It significantly impacts on the safety, autonomy, health and wellbeing of all victim-survivors, ultimately robbing them of their sense of identity and liberty.

Some perpetrators have grown up in an abusive household themselves, but the majority have not.

Resistance to seeking help for violence

While some men who are violent may think about getting help, the majority of them don’t. Some of the reasons men do not seek out help include:

  • Acceptance of violence – a man who thinks that he is entitled to dominate family members, and that it is okay to solve problems with violence, may not believe that he needs help. He may blame the victim for ‘provoking’ his behaviour.
  • Notions of masculinity – for many men, the idea of what it means to be a man includes silence and strength. A man may avoid seeking help because he doesn’t want to look ‘weak’ or feminine.
  • Fear – feelings of shame can prevent many men from seeking help.

Getting help for family violence

Regular counselling with a trained counsellor can help family violence perpetrators to understand and change their behaviour. Counselling and behaviour-change programs focus on examining and addressing deeply held beliefs about violence, masculinity, control of others, the impact of their use of violence towards others, self-control and responsibility for one’s actions.

Men’s behaviour change programs encourage male perpetrators to examine motivations for violence and teach practical strategies, including:

  • Learning that violence and abuse is not caused by anger, but the desire to hurt or dominate others.
  • Learning how violent behaviour damages his relationship with his partner and children, and how he can behave in more respectful ways.
  • Self-talk and time out – the man is taught how to recognise signs of anger, and how to use strategies like self-talk and time out. A man can use self-talk messages, such as ‘Anger will not solve this problem’, to remind himself to remain calm.

A trained counsellor can help a man find his own effective self-talk messages. Time out means walking away from the situation until the man feels calmer. Time out must be discussed with the man’s partner, so that both parties understand how and why to use it. However, time out is not an avoidance technique, and the man must try and work out the problem at a later opportunity.

Rehabilitation after family violence

Adult and child victim-survivors who live with a perpetrator of family violence, live in a constant state of anxiety and fear. A perpetrator who is undergoing counselling for their violent behaviour needs to recognise that regaining the trust of their family, and the behaviour-change process, will take time. They also need to accept that their partner has a right to end the relationship if they wish.

Where to get help

  • In an emergency, call triple zero (000). If you have a hearing or speech impairment, dial 106 to use the text-based emergency services network on a teletypewriter.
  • Men’s Referral Service Tel. 1300 766 491 – a confidential and anonymous telephone service for men who want to stop their violent or abusive behaviour towards family members
  • Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre (24 hours, 7 days) Tel. 1800 015 188 – the Victorian statewide service for women experiencing violence and abuse from a partner or ex-partner, another family member or someone else close to them
  • Safe and Equal - find a service directory
  • 1800 RESPECT: National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service (24 hours, 7 days) Tel. 1800 737 732 – free telephone counselling helpline

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:

Family violence explained (2)

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:

Family violence explained (4)

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Content disclaimer

Content on this website is provided for information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not in any way endorse or support such therapy, service, product or treatment and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. The information and materials contained on this website are not intended to constitute a comprehensive guide concerning all aspects of the therapy, product or treatment described on the website. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions and to ascertain whether the particular therapy, service, product or treatment described on the website is suitable in their circumstances. The State of Victoria and the Department of Healthshall not bear any liability for reliance by any user on the materials contained on this website.

Reviewed on: 08-02-2022

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