[Jan Breckenridge: Professor and Head of School of Social Sciences and Co-Convenor of Gendered Violence Research Network, University of NSW, Sydney]
Domestic and family violence isn’t only about physical abuse or sexual abuse it actually is a whole range of tactics or strategies that one person uses to dominate or control another person. It’s often referred to as coercive control.
Sometimes we see in the media that the only thing that is mentioned would be physical abuse or some of the lethality that results from some episodes of physical abuse. There are a range of behaviours and relational patterns that constitute domestic and family violence: physical abuse and threat, sexual abuse and threat, phycological abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, it could be stalking, it could be cyber abuse where people are continually harassed online – whether by email, phone or being tracked by certain apps.
Recently spiritual abuse has emerged where people are vilified for their religious beliefs or not allowed to worship. It could be things like financial abuse and making sure they have no capacity to control their own finances. We would suspect from research that around 80 percent of victims have experienced some form of financial abuse or are left with some debt or homelessness.
Very often when people are talking about domestic violence, they’re referring to intimate partner violence, but actually, domestic and family violence is much broader than that. It can be elder abuse where adult children are abusive towards their older parents, it can be adolescents who are perpetrating violence to their parents and it could be related to drug use, it could be mental health or people could have experienced domestic and family violence as children themselves.
We also talk about lateral violence where, in certain communities, it’s not just between the intimate partners it can be that family members line up against family members. But domestic and family violence could also be seen in institutional care so you may well have people with a disability living in residential institutions. Previously those kinds of behaviours would have been seed as difficult behaviours as opposed to people living together who are abusive towards one another.
Understanding domestic and family violence is an important part of providing appropriate support. These resources contain further information to help you when responding.