What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is a form of violence that can occur within any relationship, including in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships.
It can affect people of any age and occurs in all socio-economic groups.
It can sometimes be referred to as ‘Intimate Partner Violence’. However, this term does not capture the violence by former partners or other family members. Domestic violence can be between family members, ex-partners or current partners.
What are the different types of Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence can be in many forms, not just physical abuse.
Involves contact intended to cause feelings of intimidation, pain, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm.
This includes: hitting, slapping, punching, choking, pushing, burning and other types of contact that result in intended physical injury to the other person.
It can also include denying the person of medical care when needed, depriving the person of sleep or other functions necessary to live, or forcing the person to engage in drug/alcohol use against his/her will.
Also called psychological abuse or mental abuse, can include humiliating the individual privately or publicly, controlling what the person can and cannot do, withholding information from the person, deliberately doing something to make the individual feel diminished or embarrassed, isolating the person from friends and family, implicitly blackmailing the person by harming others when the person expresses independence or happiness, or denying the person access to money or other basic resources and necessities.
Involves one intimate partner having control over the other partner’s access to economic resources. Economic or financial abuse can include:
- Rigid controlling of partner’s finances
- Withholding money or credit cards
- Making partner account for all money spent
- Withholding basic necessities (food, clothes, medication, shelter)
- Restricting partner to an allowance
- Preventing partner from working or choosing their own career
- Sabotaging partner’s job (making partner miss work, harassment at work)
- Stealing from or taking partner’s money
A form of abusive behaviour involving verbal attacks through the use of language, including intimidation and harmful or threatening language.
Any situation in which force or threat is used to obtain participation in unwanted sexual activity.
Excessive and unwanted attention, including invasion of privacy, such as reading someone’s mail, emails, or through social media.
Involves denying or ridiculing someone’s religious choices or beliefs, or forcing someone to partake in religious practice against their beliefs.
What are some signs of domestic violence in a relationship?
- Fear of a partner
- Constantly watching what is said in order to avoid a blow-up
- A partner who belittles or tries to control the other
- Feelings of self-loathing
- Helplessness and desperation
- Escalating threats and verbal abuse
- Physical evidence of violence, such as bruises, cuts and even broken bones
The Impact of Domestic Violence
The emotional and psychological consequences of domestic abuse can be severe. Abusive relationships can destroy someone’s self-worth, and may lead to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression or even homicide or suicide. It can be particularly traumatic when children are involved, as their physical and emotional health can be greatly damaged.
A framework to better understand Domestic Violence
Domestic Violence follows a cyclic pattern and identifiable stages.
When the perpetrator identifies these stages, it is often the beginning of the process by which they start to understand their violent behaviour and begin to take responsibility for it.
Recognition of this cycle by the victim can also be the time that they begin to understand that the abusive behaviour follows a definite cycle that cannot be influenced by anything they may do.
Each of the stages has unpredictable lengths of time and frequency.
The cycle of violence
DV-Alert (Domestic Violence Response training) explains the cycle of violence that domestic violence follows:
Build up – the perpetratorexperiences a build up of tension over common domestic issues, such as money, children, jobs
- is pre-occupied by their own view of the world
- has an exaggerated sense of entitlement
- avoids social and emotional responsibilities
- relies on others to meet their needs
- blames others and circumstances
- is full of righteous indignation with beliefs about how the world should, ought and must be
- engages in self-intoxicating thoughts and beliefs
This stage escalates regardless of external circumstances, and is independent of their partner’s behaviour. The victim may try to stop the violence but it is generally at a high level of tension and is not able to be controlled.
This is the most dangerous stage and is where the physical violence begins. It is triggered by an external event or the abuser’s mental state. The episode can be brief or escalate over hours.
Regret and Remorse
- Feelings of remorse, helplessness or guilt, whilst often at the same time blaming the victim or external circumstances for what has happened.
- Alternate between taking responsibility for their behaviour and placing responsibility elsewhere.
- Seek forgiveness from partner and offer explanations such as ‘I lost control and did not know what I was doing.’ This demonstrates they are not accepting responsibility for their behaviour. The perpetrator believes and tries to persuade their partner that the abuse will never happen again.
- Makes promises about change that are conditional on their partner’s behaviour, and promises of changing behaviour that are unlikely to be carried out.
- Attempts to show their sincerity and caring by buying gifts or being more attentive.
- The perpetrator has resolved nothing by their remorse.
- Their language and behaviour seem so unrelated to their violent behaviour that it is confusing for the victim, who wants to believe that they have changed. The victim may try to cover their distress and fear and accept the promises in the hope that things will improve.
- The perpetrator begins to build up again and moves back into stage one after this period of remorse.
What happens if the victim leaves?
Some people leave their partner during the cycle of violence. The perpetrator may respond to their partner leaving them, in one of three distinct sets of behaviours:
- Buy back
It is possible for the perpetrator to engage in all three forms. It is also possible for them to move through all three pursuits during one conversation.
This is recognised by the perpetrator buying gifts, making promises, declarations of love, extensive apologies and attempts to show they have ‘changed’. They may make promises to attend counselling or do anything to add credibility to their claim of having changed. Buy back relies on creating a sense of goodwill, guilt and hope in their partner.
The perpetrator may threaten their partner with harm or make threats to kill them and/or the children. They continue with harassing, stalking, creating problems with family and friends, trashing their belongings, or creating difficulties in regards to Family Law Court proceedings etc. Violence and threats of violence aim to induce fear to obtain their goal. Some victims return to dangerous situations at this point, because they are terrified of what might happen to them or the children if they don’t return.
The perpetrator behaves in ways that indicate to their partner that they are unable to manage without them. They may express that they are unable to eat, sleep, go to work. They may say they have an illness or make explicit threats of suicide. Helplessness relies on the victim feeling obligated for the perpetrator’s well-being, and guilt for their hurt. There is a recognisable pattern which occurs in violent relationships.
While there is no single cause that leads to domestic violence, there are a number of risk factors associated with perpetrators and people who experience domestic violence.
A perpetrator’s drug or alcohol use may exacerbate violence. A previous history of violence or offending behavior may also indicate possibility of domestic violence. The victim may be vulnerable from childhood abuse or insecurities and worries about their financial stress, dependence on the perpetrator for income, or other issues causing anxiety and fear.
Where do I go for help?
The WayAhead Directory is an online resource providing a comprehensive list of mental health related services in NSW.
Mental Health Information Line
1300 794 991
Anxiety Disorders Information Line
1300 794 992
Your local doctor (GP)
Translating & Interpreting Service
(TIS) 131 450
Please call the Mental Health Information Line through the Telephone Interpreter Service (TIS). Free to Australian citizens or permanent residents.
This information is for educational purposes. As neither brochures nor websites can diagnose people it is always important to obtain professional advice and/or help when needed.
This information may be reproduced with an acknowledgement to WayAhead – Mental Health Association.
The Association encourages feedback and welcomes comments about the information provided.