Artist: Edison Chen, Sydney

Understanding Domestic Violence

An overview

Sexual, family and intimate partner violence (SFIPV) is a crime and a major health and welfare issue that can have lifelong impacts for victims, perpetrators, extended family and friends, witnesses and the whole community.

On average in Australia, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. On average, one man a month is murdered by a partner, with the overwhelming majority of these men murdered by a female partner who was a victim of their abuse (therefore, they were likely murdered as a result of self-defence or retaliation).

It is challenging to ascertain numbers of men murdered by their male partners in Australia, however in NSW GBTQ+ men make up about 12% of the total number of men killed by a partner.

Approximately 17 people are hospitalised in Australia every day due to sexual, intimate partner or family violence.

Australian police deal with an average of 657 domestic violence matters every single day – that’s one every two minutes.

An average of 25,000 sexual assaults are reported to Australian police every year. However, it should be noted that the vast majority of sexual assaults never get reported to police, so the true prevalence of sexual assaults occurring in Australia is unknown.

Understanding Domestic Violence

Sexual, family and intimate partner violence (SFIPV) includes any type of abusive behaviour or action used to gain and maintain control over an intimate partner, ex-partner, family member (including chosen family or your mob), carer or member of the same household. There are many forms of abusive relationships, but no form of abuse should ever be excused.

The underlying causes of domestic and family violence are complex. Abusive relationships are based on power imbalances, which are caused and contributed to by deeply entrenched views about gender, sexuality, masculinity, power and relationships.

These entrenched views are often internalised and demonstrate problematic attitudes held by the users of violence and abuse, including:

  • Entitlement and even a sense of ownership over a partner or family member
  • Incorrectly equating violence with being strong, respected or important
  • Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic attitudes against partners or family members
  • Excusing abuse as something which is normal and not a big deal

There is nothing normal or acceptable about abuse and the attitudes and behaviours that lead to it.

Although a history of abuse, poor anger management, substance abuse and mental health issues may provide context and/or contribute to the frequency and severity of abuse in relationships, it is never an excuse or a reason for someone to hurt another person or an animal. If you know someone who is using abuse and you are not sure what you can do, check out our friends and family toolkit.

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The Cycle of Violence

Abusive relationships can move through cycles of abuse that include periods of tension and calm.

Relationships that end in abuse often start very positively, passionately, excitingly and quickly. People fall in love hard and fast, lives quickly become intertwined and it can be difficult to unravel them.

Remembering these good times can be part of why a person will stay in the relationship. It can make it difficult to leave an abusive relationship, or even to recognise it as an abusive relationship. A period of calm may falsely give someone a sense of security or lead them to think the abuse is over. However, once a cycle of violence begins, the abuse is sure to happen again unless either the relationship ends or the abuser undergoes a serious and genuine change.

It can be incredibly helpful, even life-changing, when either a person in the relationship or a person outside of the relationship can recognise the cycle of violence. However, helping your friend or family member will not be as easy as identifying the violence. Additional support is available here.

The theory that domestic violence occurs in a cycle was first developed in 1979 by psychologist Lenore Walker. The cycle of violence is used to understand abusive relationships and help people to understand both why a person stays in an abusive relationship and why an abuser seems to dramatically change their personality.

The cycle of violence goes through many stages, and many survivors of violence can relate to it, however it is important to note that the experience of violence is not the same for everyone and there is no telling how long each phase will last for: it could be moments, days, months or years. The cycle tends to get quicker over time and often the pursuit phase or the pleasant phase can be skipped.

In some cases, leaving a relationship can be one of the most dangerous times and it is important to be prepared. The friends and family toolkit is a great resource for identifying and supporting a friend or family member in an abusive relationship. It is important that a person experiencing violence has a safety plan if they are at any risk of danger. For guidance, use our Safety Planning Tool.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is sexual, family, and/or intimate partner violence that common in LGBTQ+ relationships?

    Both national and international research suggests that LGBTQ+ people experience sexual, family and/or intimate partner violence at the same rate or higher rates than women in the wider population. However, there has been very limited research into sexual, family and intimate partner violence experienced by LGBTQ+ people both in Australia and internationally.

    This could be in part because of stigma associated with both violence and abuse, as well fear of discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ communities. It could also be that it has not been prioritised.

    More research is needed to understand abusive relationships in our community and the best ways to support people who experience violence and abuse.

    Please see our research and resources section for more information on prevalence, such as the Pride in Prevention guide.

  • Who is more likely to experience violence and abuse in relationships?

    Violence and abuse can happen to anyone at any time of their life.

    However there are factors that can increase the risk of someone experiencing abuse. These include but are not limited to (in no specific order):

    • Race
    • Age
    • Disability
    • Social isolation
    • A history of abuse
    • Homelessness or poverty
    • Mental health issues
    • Living in a crisis situation (such as natural disaster or war)
    • Being a woman
    • Being sexuality diverse
    • Being gender diverse

    The Kirby Institute’s 2018 Australian Trans and Gender Diverse Sexual Health Survey found participants reported rates of sexual violence or coercion nearly four times higher than found in the general Australian public.

  • How does gender have anything to do with violence in LGBTQ relationships?

    Sexual, family and intimate partner violence is complex. These forms of violence are based on power imbalances and gender is one of the biggest power imbalances in our society.

    Many people grow up in communities or families with traditionally “masculine” or “feminine” roles. When a person realises they are LGBTQ+, they may sub-subconsciously or consciously take on attributes which they think will demonstrate they are “masculine” or “feminine” to themselves and their families.

    There are also many identities and groups within LGBTQ+ communities, some of which are more traditionally “masculine” or “feminine”. Generally, these groups reflect people being themselves and is a way some people are connected to their communities. Some people dangerously associate masculinity with dominance and femininity with weakness, and this dynamic can play out in LGBTQ people’s relationships.

    LGBTQ+ people are not immune to the whole-of-society’s views on power, so many LGBTQ+ people strive for and adopt the same forms of supposed power that heterosexual cisgender men do over their female partners. This can include who makes the decisions in the relationship, who controls the money, who does the majority of domestic work, who spends more time with friends, who has the better job, and so on.

    Cisgenderism is privileging those who are cisgender over those who are not. In a relationship (romantic or other) this may be another source of power for the person who is cisgender, over the person who is not.

  • How does homophobia, biphobia and transphobia contribute to violence and abuse in LGBTQ+ relationships?

    Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are examples of power imbalances in our society, based on discriminating against individuals and communities of people because they are being themselves.

    Many LGBTQ+ people can internalise these attitudes, which can lead to violence and abuse. Examples include:

    • Using homophobic, biphobic or transphobic slurs against a partner or family member
    • A partner or family member belittling someone’s affirmed gender or refusing to use their pronouns
    • Being violent or abusive because they do not like or accept their partner/family member’s sexual identity or affirmed gender
  • How do we prevent violence from happening in the first place?

    People are not born violent. Their experience growing up, whether it be in their family, friendship group or communities, contribute to developing the attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence.

    Being a community that clearly rejects violence, as well as the attitudes and behaviours that support it, is critical that we create the change that will stop violence before it starts.

    More information is available on our Community Response page. 

  • How can I help someone in a violent relationship?

    You may be in a position to stop abuse from happening, to prevent abuse from escalating or to support someone involved.

    It is important to be aware of both the victim’s and your own safety. You need to make sure you are not accidentally escalating the violence.

    A friends and family toolkit has been developed to support people who observe violence and abuse or know someone in an abusive situation and want to help.

    You may also want to speak to someone about how to approach this. If so, try the following resources:

    • QLife (3pm- midnight): 1800 184 527 or online.
    • 1800RESPECT (24 hours): 1800 737 732 or online.
  • I think my friend is abusing their partner. What should I do?

    You may be in a position to stop abuse from happening, to prevent abuse from escalating or to support someone involved.

    Read the friends and family toolkit, which has been developed to support people who observe violence and abuse.

  • Is it abuse if drugs or alcohol were involved?

    Yes. Regardless of whether the victim or perpetrator is intoxicated or not, all abusive and violent behaviour is inexcusable and illegal.

    Drugs and alcohol can be linked to:

    • Perpetration of violence
    • Victimisation
    • Being used as a coping mechanism by people experiencing violence

    There are clear associations between alcohol and/or drug consumption and violence. In Australia, between 23 and 65 per cent of all family violence incidents reported to police involving alcohol (read the full report here).

    However, research has found that there is little evidence to suggest alcohol or drugs are the primary cause of violence – rather it is a contributing factor that can make the violence and abuse worse.

    Most people who drink or take drugs do not engage in violence or abuse. Violence is complicated and caused by behaviours and attitudes around gender, power, discrimination and entitlement. However, alcohol and drugs can increase the frequency and severity of the violence experienced or perpetrated.

  • My friend has lots of casual sex, surely they’re asking to be assaulted?

    No one asks to be assaulted!

    Believing that someone is “asking for it” contributes to prevalent “rape myths” and victim blaming in broader society, and that leads to violence and a lack of support seeking from victims.

    Many people enjoy casual sex. Although this may be different to your personal approach to sexual activity, everyone is different.

    If you have a friend that has been assaulted, you should be supportive, non-judgemental and help them seek support. See our friends and family toolkit for tips.

  • My friend keeps making the same mistakes. How do I help them so they don’t get abused again?

    Unfortunately, there are some people who experience repeated abuse of violence from the same or different partners or people.

    There could be any number of factors that contribute to this abuse. It could be particular attributes they are attracted to which correlate with higher levels of violence, past trauma, a feeling that they deserve the abuse or simply bad luck.

    Understanding why is better left to family violence and mental health professionals.

    What is important for you to do is be a supportive friend when they need it – see the friends and family toolkit for help.

    If your friend is ready to talk about it, services are available. Find more information here.  

  • I want to be an advocate/activist for this issue. What can I do?

    It is important that people begin to talk about sexual, family and intimate partner violence in LGBTQ+ communities. With more awareness around this issue, more people may identify that they are in a violent or abusive relationship, and may seek support and/or be encouraged to seek support.

    As a starting point, you can speak to your friends about things you have learnt. You can review and share information about what you can do as a community member here.

    If you want to be more involved, contact a local LGBTQ+ organisation that supports people experiencing violence.

  • I have more questions about sexual, family and intimate partner violence. Who can I talk to?

    If you have any additional questions – just ask. You can contact us here.

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