Family violence is a term that describes violence between family members, including between intimate partners, parents, children, siblings, in-laws, extended family and chosen family members or your mob (for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people).
This page has a specific focus on violence between family members outside of intimate partner relationships.
Violence Between Family Members
Violence and abuse can occur across all families. However, there are some forms of abuse that are specific to LGBTQ+ individuals.
Sometimes family members do not understand that diverse sex, sexuality or gender is not a choice. These family members may choose to use physical and emotional abuse, may stalk or harass their LGBTQ+ family member, and/or exile them from the family.
Family violence can have significant impacts on one’s life, including physical effects of violence, being forced to withhold and hide their sexuality or gender identity, abandonment and estrangement from family members, significant mental health issues, homelessness and poverty, and particularly in the case of younger people, having to withdraw from education.
Am I Experiencing Family Violence?
All families can experience tension, anger and disagreements. However, there is a difference between common, healthy family disagreements and abuse.
Sometimes family members are unfamiliar with diverse sexualites and genders and can take some time to understand. These times can be tense, but often these situations are not violent and will resolve themselves over time.
You should never have to experience discrimination, abuse and violence. If you relate to some of the statements below, you may want to consider getting support.
- My sexuality or gender is being used in attempts to humiliate me.
- I have experienced physical threats or violence by a family member.
- Family members are trying to change my gender or sexuality.
- I have been restricted from leaving the house.
- Family members are forcing me into relationships I do not want to be in.
- My family member is depriving me of my basic needs, such as food, shelter, education and safety.
You should not have to stay in an unsafe and abusive circumstance. If you are in danger, call 000 right away.
If you live with abusive family members, it is important that you find somewhere safe to stay to remove yourself from violence and abuse. Sometimes people stay with friends or non-abusive family members who they can trust. There are also accommodation support services which are supportive of LGBTQ+ people.
If you are experiencing abuse from family members that you do not live with, this can be a sad, scary and occasionally traumatising experience. It is important that you have safe people to talk to and it can be useful to speak with a professional.
Always make sure you call from a safe and private space and delete your phone history.
Forms of Family Violence Against LGBTQ+ People
Including using acts and/or threats of physical violence against an individual, themselves, another person or a pet. This can start slowly and subtly and get more intense or worse over time.
Examples of statements that reflect physical violence/abuse:
- Sometimes they throw things at me.
- Although they sometimes push or hit me, they generally are not violent.
- They threaten to withhold my access to hormones and medical treatment.
- I am scared of them when they are angry or intoxicated.
- Although it was an accident, I am still hiding the reason for my bruises.
- They once hit me, and sometimes I am scared they will do it again.
- They pressure me into taking drugs or drinking alcohol.
Emotional and Psychological Abuse
This is where someone tries to take away an individual’s confidence, independence and self-esteem through verbal and non-physical acts.
Examples of statements that indicate emotional and psychological abuse:
- Nothing I do is good enough and/or I am regularly compared to others.
- They make fun of my gender or sexuality – sometimes in front of friends, other family and/or in public.
- They insult me regularly.
- They blame me for their behaviour.
- When/if we talk about their abusive behaviour, they say that my recollection is wrong and I am crazy.
- I feel like I am “walking on eggshells”.
- I can’t be by myself. I have to think, feel and behave in a way they want.
- My self-esteem has gotten worse as a result of being with them.
When your control over finances or money is taken away.
Examples of statements describing financial abuse:
- I am unable to spend my own money.
- I am not allowed to have my own bank account and/or they have restricted access to my account.
- I’m being put into debt that I cannot afford.
- They are withholding the money I need for food, medications or other necessities.
- They are stopping me from working.
This include any form of forced or unwanted sexual activity. It can be through inappropriate touching of a sexual nature, non-consensual sharing of intimate images, unwanted exposure to sexual acts and/or rape.
Sexual abuse can happen within families – both extended and immediate. “Corrective” rape is illegal and a human rights abuse. It entails the rape of individuals of diverse sexuality or gender, either to punish them or in the misguided belief that rape can “fix” them. More information is available here.
Examples of statements that reflect sexual violence/abuse:
- They forced me to have sex.
- They are pressuring me to have sex with other people and I do not want to.
- There are images or videos of me being shared with people without my consent.
- They make me feel shame about the sex I do or don’t want.
This is when a family (i.e., parents, siblings, extended family or chosen family) rejects and separates an individual from their family due to their diverse sex, sexuality or gender.
While family exile can occur in any family, it tends to be more common in families with more conservative social backgrounds or from culturally diverse groups that are not accepting of LGBTQ+ people and communities.
Examples of statements describing family exile include:
- I have been completely rejected by my family and kicked out the house. They don’t care if I am homeless.
- I am banished from joining any family gatherings.
- Members of my family are restricting my communication with other family members and/or family friends.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities
Violence is not a part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. The ongoing impacts of colonisation have resulted in disadvantage, breakdown of kinship systems, disconnection to culture and language, as well as the forced removal of children from their families over generations and the resulting trauma have all played a part in higher rates of family violence across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
There are unique challenges in recognising and reporting abuse in these communities, as many people are uncomfortable engaging in a system which has contributed to inter-generational trauma. However, if you are the victim of abuse, it is important to seek help and remove yourself from the situation. Think about seeking support from any trusted elders you know or a trusted Aboriginal community controlled organisation.
Examples of statements describing abuse in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities include:
- No one in my mob will talk to me.
- I am not welcome at community functions.
- A member/members of my family and/or mob have physically and/or sexually assaulted me.
- I have been forced into situations I am deeply uncomfortable with as a result of my community’s response to my sexuality.
Conversion Therapy is the dangerous and unethical practice of trying to change a person’s sexuality or gender, and is generally undertaken through organisations that identify with a religious belief.
Being forced or pressured to undertake this practice constitutes a form of abuse. It is based on the incorrect position that there is something wrong with diverse sexuality and gender, and the premise that a person’s sexuality or gender can be changed.
There is no evidence to support this practice. In 2020, Queensland became the first Australian state to make conversion therapy illegal (it is currently not illegal in all other Australia states), it is strongly opposed by the Australian Psychological Society, the Australian Medical Association, the Australian Social Worker Association, as well as many community, government and LGBTQ+ health organisations.
Conversion therapy is not restricted to just one religious belief. Practices can range from unfounded therapies to conversion camps, exorcisms, physical and sexual assaults, forcing people to ingest poisonous substances and even female genital mutilation.
This is when someone is forced to get married against their will. This can happen to people regardless of age, gender, sexuality, or religious and cultural background. It is illegal in Australia.
In an LGBTQ+ context, a person may be forced to marry someone of a gender that they are not emotionally or physically attracted to, sometimes in an attempt to avoid bringing perceived shame to the family.
Honour abuse is when violence or abuse is committed against a person in the perceived defence of, or to protect the honour of a family or community. A family may consider diverse sexuality and gender as dishonouring them.
Examples of statements describing honour abuse (all in the context of restoring a family’s perceived honour in their community):
- I have been exiled from my family as they are ashamed of how my sexuality impacts their reputation.
- I have been forced into marriage with a member of the opposite sex who I do not want to marry.
- I have been raped/sexually assaulted by a member of the opposite sex in an an attempt to “correct” my sexuality.
- I have been physically assaulted as a result of my sexuality.
- I have been verbally assaulted and threatened.
- I have been restrained and/or imprisoned as a result of my sexuality.
Stalking, Harassment and Monitoring
This is an attempt to control, intimidate or create fear. It can be used in the endeavour to alter the behaviour of a family member, or to create fear of being caught engaging in activities such as dating, socialising or sexual activity that does not conform to family beliefs.
Spiritual and Cultural Abuse
Denying someone the right to practice their faith or spirituality. This also applies to using spiritual, religious or cultural beliefs and practices to control and dominate a person.
This includes physical and sexual assaults, restraining the animal for long periods of time, depriving the animal of food, water or shelter, denying vet care or withholding affection or putting a healthy animal down to die.
As pets and animals are often regarded as family members, users of family violence may intentionally harm or threaten to harm animals as a tactic of control or emotional and psychological abuse. Abusers may manipulate their family member through their pets to get their demands met, as “punishment” or as a “see what I can do” type of threat.
Using Immigration Status Against a Family Member
This type of abuse includes threatening deportation to a family’s country of origin, based on the belief that gender and sexuality is a western phenomenon and their return will change them.
Abusers may intentionally harm or threaten to harm animals as a tactic of control and/or emotional and psychological abuse.
The statements below are examples of animal abuse:
- My pet is scared or flees when my family member is near.
- They physically hurt my pet.
- They say they are looking after my pet but when they do my pet seems hungry, thirsty, overheated or cold, dishevelled.
- They won’t let me take my sick/injured pet to the vet.
- They threaten to hurt or kill my pet.
- Pets have mysteriously died when alone with my family member.
Spiritual and cultural abuse is denying someone the right to practice their faith or spirituality. It also applies to using spiritual, religious or cultural beliefs and practices to control and dominate a person.
The statements below are examples of spiritual abuse:
- They tell me I am stupid for my beliefs.
- They tell me I can’t be both LGBTQ+ and keep my beliefs.
- They threaten to tell my spiritual community that I am LGBTQ+.
- They say that I am going to hell or will be punished by my higher power.
- They follow me to my place or practice/worship or won’t leave me alone to practice my spirituality.
Social abuse is when an individual is isolated from friends, partners, their workplace and/or other people in their community.
Examples of statements describing social abuse:
- They try to control who I see and/or do not allow me to see my friends or certain family members.
- They prevent me from going to work.
- They are constantly putting down my friends/partner/people in my network and make it awkward and uncomfortable when I see them.
- They threaten to disclose something about me to my friends, work and/or community that I am not comfortable with them knowing (e.g., disclosing my sexuality or gender history/identity, HIV or STI status).
- They use my social media, pretending to be me.
- They have spread rumours about me and have tried to turn people against me.
- They say my friends/partner don’t care about me.