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Domestic and Family Violence: Information Page


1) Domestic Violence and Australian Law


Domestic Violence is a global issue and a criminal offence in Australia. The violence can take shape in many forms and remains the most underreported of crimes because of the predominately intimate relationship shared by the perpetrator and victim. [1]


2) United Nations (UN) Definition of Violence Against Women


In its Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women Charter, the United Nations (UN) defines Domestic Violence Against Women as, “any act of gender-based violence that results, in, or is likely to result, in physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” [2]


3) Australian Definitions for Domestic and Family Violence


As evidenced below, there are various definitions for family and domestic violence in Australia:


The Government defines Domestic Violence as “acts of violence that occur between people who have, or have had, an intimate relationship in domestic settings. These acts include physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse. Domestic violence is most commonly perpetrated by males against their female partner, but also includes violence against men by their female partners and violence within same-sex relationships.” [3]


The Family Court of Australia defines Family Violence as, “violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family (the family member), or cause the family member to be fearful. [4] The violence covers a broad range of controlling behaviours including physical, sexual, and/or psychological nature, which typically involves fear, harm, intimidation and emotional deprivation. It occurs within a variety of close interpersonal relationships, such as between spouses, partners, parents and children, siblings and in other relationships where significant others are not part of the physical household but are part of the family and/or are fulfilling the function of family.” [5, pg4]


Within the context of Indigenous Family Violence, which is the preferred term by the communities, as it better reflects their experiences, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, defines it as, “violence that involves any use of force, be it physical or non-physical, which is aimed at controlling another family or community member and which undermines the person’s well-being, It can be directed towards an individual, family, community of particular group. Family violence is not limited to physical forms of abuse, and also includes cultural and spiritual abuse. There are interconnecting and trans-generational experiences of violence with Indigenous families and communities.“ [6]


The above definitions are important to note as they enable the government to have a better/broader understanding of the situation. This ensures that any developed policies/follow-ups to prevent domestic and family violence are implemented and delivered in an effective and appropriate manner. [3]


4) Brief Overview of Behaviours Associated with Domestic and Family Violence


The following are the recognised ‘patterned’ behaviours associated with perpetrators of domestic and family violence: [3]


  • Emotional Abuse – ie: blames the victim for all the problems in the relationship

  • Verbal Abuse – ie: ongoing swearing and humiliation, attacking the victim’s intelligence, sexuality etc

  • Social Abuse – ie: isolates the victim from family and friends

  • Economic Abuse – ie: has control of all the money, does not allow the victim to work

  • Psychological Abuse – ie: perpetrator driving dangerously, destroying property or harming pets

  • Spiritual Abuse – ie: denial/misuse of religious beliefs/practices to force victim into subordinate role

  • Physical Abuse – ie: direct physical assault on the body or the use of weapons and other objects

  • Sexual Abuse – ie: pressured/unwanted sex or any sexual degradation such as sex without consent


5) Australia’s First Domestic Violence Refuge for Women and Children


The 1970s brought social change to Australia: [7], [8]


  • The feminist movement began to address the issue of domestic violence and sexual assaults

  • Societal inaction on the issue was challenged

  • In 1974, the first women’s refuge, Elsie Cottage, was established by feminist ‘squatters’ in Sydney

  • Prior to that time there was no place for battered women to ‘shelter’ safely

  • The founding members, engaging with the media, made people aware of the issue of domestic violence

  • Domestic violence moved from the private realm into public discourse

  • Elsie provided shelter for 48 women and 35 children, within the first six weeks of opening

  • Elsie members begin lobbying the government for financial assistance

  • The then Labour Minister, Bill Hayden, after visiting the Elsie Refuge, immediately agreed to assist

  • This was the start of women’s refuges in Australia receiving ongoing government funding

  • In 2014, 40 years after it first opened, Elsie Refuge continues to ‘home’ battered women


6) Legislative Recognition of Domestic and Family Violence in the NSW Crimes Act


In 1981, the NSW Task Force on Domestic Violence published a report detailing the widespread problem of domestic violence. The NSW Sate Government responded by reforming existing laws: [9], [19]


  • The Crimes (Sexual Assault) Amendment Act 1981 removed spousal immunity in marital sexual assault.

  • The Crimes (Homicide) Amendment Act 1982 acknowledged that a woman who killed her husband could be justified if she was found to have suffered ongoing abuse by the deceased.

  • The Crimes (Domestic Violence) Amendment Act 1982, made the following changes: 1) it extended the domestic violence offence to include common assault, 2) apprehended domestic violence orders were introduced (ADVOs) imposing a 6 month restriction on the spouse’s conduct, 3) spouses could give evidence in domestic violence cases, 4) police were given rights to enter private premises to investigate domestic violence complaints when invited, and 5) allowed magistrates to issue radio-telephone warrants if entry into premises was denied to police.

  • This Act was broadened in 1983 to include people previously married or in defacto relationships into the domestic violence definition formally recognising that violence occurs between couples.

  • In 1987, the domestic violence offence included the wording ‘family violence’ in the domestic realm.

  • The Crimes (Personal and Family Violence) Amendment Act 1987, the Bail (Personal and Family Violence) Act 1986 and the Crimes (Apprehended Violence) Amendment Act 1989 were amended further to extend the operations of the ADVOs. For example, the 6 month time limit on ADVOs was deleted because it was recognised that it was not long enough to remove the threat from perpetrator.

  • In 1989, the ADVO was replaced with the AVO, and made available to anyone who feared personal violence, or was subjected to any conduct that amounted to harassment or molestation, regardless of whether there was a domestic relationship.

  • In 1992, the Firearms Act 1989 was amended to recognise the use of weapons in domestic violence. It allowed police to confiscate firearms and suspend shooter licences for those with an AVO against them. 

  • The Crimes (Registration of Interstate Restraint Orders) Amendment Act 1993 now allowed restraint orders made in other states to be registered and enforced in NSW.

  • The Crimes (Domestic Violence) Amendment Act 1993 provided telephone interim orders and increased penalties for AVO breaches, and introduced stalking or intimidation with intent to cause fear within a domestic setting as an offence.

  • The Bail (Domestic Violence) Amendment Act 1993 saw the removal of presumption of innocence and therefore bail, which existed in the Bail (Domestic Violence) Act 1978, especially in situations where the accused had a history of breaching court ordered ADVOs.

  • In 1994, this Act was further amended to extend the offence of stalking beyond ‘domestic relationships’.

  • Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 allows victims to apply for AVOs

  • In 2013 this Act was amended to allow police Sergeants to issue provisional Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders (ADVOs).


7) Available Statistics on Violence Against Australian Women


Statistics are available from the 2005 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey, which collected data on the violence experienced by women in their lifetime since the age of 15. [10] White Ribbon Australia have summarised the ABS results and provide the following findings: [11]


  • 40% have experienced physical and/or sexual violence

  • 29% have experienced physical assault

  • 17% have experienced sexual assault

  • 16% have experienced violence by a current or previous partner

  • 33% have experienced inappropriate comments

  • 25% have experienced unwanted sexual touching

  • 19% have been stalked


However, the above figures are not a true reflection of the extent of experienced violence in Australia. As the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children (NCRVWC) explain, there are limitations associated with collecting consistent and accurate data across all jurisdictions because of issues with underreporting and surveys not reaching the most vulnerable groups such as, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Women, rural women and women from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities who speak limited or no English. [12]


For a full copy of the ABS Personal Safety Survey visit:


For a full copy of White Ribbon Fact Sheet No. 5 visit:


8) Health Impacts of Intimate Partner Violence


VicHealth (2004) study, (reprinted in 2010), lists the documented health impacts of Intimate Partner Violence, even after the abuse has stopped: [13, pg 21]


  • Femicide (men killing women)

  • Suicide

  • Sexually transmitted diseases ie: HIV/AIDS

  • Injuries to breasts and abdomen, especially during pregnancy

  • Death of mother either during or after childbirth

  • Physical injuries ie: broken bones, bruising etc

  • Problems related to reproductive health for women

  • Various mental health issues ie: depression, anxiety, etc  

  • Harmful abuse of drugs and alcohol

  • A range of other disorders


For a fully copy of the 2004 VicHealth study visit:


9) Relationship between Domestic Violence and Homicide


The Australian Institute of Criminology which monitors the national rate of domestic violence, through the National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) found in 2007-08 that “52% of the recorded homicides were domestic homicides involving one or more victim who shared a family or domestic relationship with the offender” and that “incidents involving intimate partner violence comprised the largest proportion (60%)” [14, pg31] with the majority being female victims. While the frequency of intimate partner homicides in 2009-10 has remained stable, “female victims continue to be over-represented in this category.” [15, pg30]


As White Ribbon Australia currently reports, “one woman is killed every week in Australia by a current or former partner.” [11, pg1]


10) Economic Impacts


The Access Economic (2004) study on health and economic costs associated with domestic and family violence, reports the following findings: [16]


1) Health costs related to premature deaths of women from domestic violence totals in the billions with calculations taking into account, hospital visits, pharmaceutical treatments, depression costs, physical injuries, and alcohol and drug abuse related assistance.


2) Costs to the economy totals in the hundred of millions and is measured through lost productivity ie: absenteeism (victim), incarceration (perpetrator), providing services to children affected by domestic violence, legal assistance costs, temporary accommodation due to homelessness, and the loss of tax revenue for the government due to victims/perpetrators losing employment.

11) Significant Risk Factors


Available research reveals women reporting the following factors in them experiencing violence: [3], [17]


  • Cultural support that violence between a husband and wife is a private matter

  • Cultural/religious acceptance of violence against women as evidenced by weak legal sanctions

  • Strict adherence to perceived gender roles/stereotypes

  • Perpetrator possessing a controlling/possessive/aggressive personality

  • Perpetrator being exposed to violence/child abuse in childhood

  • Pregnancy and separation

  • Alcohol

  • Drug use


12) Groups ‘At Risk’


Identified as the most vulnerable group to experience domestic and family violence are: [3], [12], [17], [18]


  • Young children – in the care of their mothers and witnessing violence

  • Young women – especially from low socio-economic backgrounds who are exposed to violence

  • Pregnant women – partners resentful of the focus/intrusion of the baby

  • Indigenous women – higher rate of victimisation than non Indigenous women, cultural issues 

  • Women living in rural and remote areas – living in isolation and away from family/friends

  • Women with disabilities – vulnerable to abuse from carers

  • CALD Women – cultural/religious gender expectation issues


13) Current Information on the Prevalence of Domestic Violence in Australia


The National Council (NCRVWC) gives the following short summary on domestic violence prevalence: [12]


  • All women are susceptible to abuse as there are no known geographical, socio-economic, age group, cultural or religious boundaries.

  • Approximately 1 in 3 Australians women experience physical violence, and almost 1 in five women experience sexual violence over their lifetime.

  • Women usually experience violence at the hands of men they know, and often in their own homes.

  • Women from CALD backgrounds more likely to be murdered as a result of ongoing domestic violence.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women report higher levels of physical violence than other women and are more likely to suffer severe injuries.

  • Children of victims are at risk of repeating the behaviour with their own children.

  • Women/children from domestic violence backgrounds more likely to have poor health and need to use health services.

  • Violence against women and children has a high economic cost. It is estimated that if there is no reduction in statistics it will cost the economy around $15.6 billion by 2021-22.


For a full copy of Time of Action report visit:


14) Barriers to Reporting Sexual Assault and Domestic and Family Violence


Research reveals that many women will not disclose or report experienced abuse to police because: [3], [12], [18]


  • They believe the incident is too minor to report

  • A lack of awareness that such action constitutes an offence

  • A desire to ‘keep it private’ and deal with it themselves

  • They feel shame/cultural stigma

  • Fear of the perpetrator/retaliation

  • A sense of ongoing responsibility for the safety of children and other family members

  • Are financially dependent on their abusive partner

  • A lack of awareness about, or lack of availability of culturally or age appropriate responsive services

  • Lack of family support, especially if abuse has been occurring over a long period of time

  • They have experienced abuse from other family members, including children

  • A fear of not being believed or that no-one can help

  • Previous experience of asking for help but feeling re-victimised by parts of the services response (such as having to re-tell the story to multiple services, or the ordeal of being cross-examined)

  • Language barrier if unable to speak English


15) Development of Policies/Programs and Services in Australia


The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (NCRVWC) 2010 (National Plan) was released in February 2011, after being endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). It recommends that federal, state and local governments, along with community agencies, work together in an integrated and co-ordinated manner in order to reduce domestic and family violence, with victim’s safety being the main priority. [12]


i) Overview of Government Policy Responses to Domestic and Family Violence


The following intervention responses are in place in nationally:


  • Police Force - Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs) - Victims can apply for an AVO under the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007. An AVO is an “order by the court telling the person who has been violent to the victim what they must NOT do. The AVO aims to protect the victim from the violence being experienced” [19, pg40] Amendments to the above Act in 2013 means that police officers can now issue Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders (ADVOs). This means that any officer above the rank of Sergeant can issue provisional ADVOs. [19]


  • Health Services - Routine Screening for Domestic Violence - Due to ongoing intimate partner abuse, hospitals utilise a screening tool comprising of carefully worded questions to identify victims of domestic and family abuse. For instance, hospitals have routine screening in maternity services as research shows that there is a pattern of attacks against pregnant women. Victims who present with suspicious bruising or broken bones are also questioned separately either with or without an interpreter in a sensitive manner. [20]


  • Education Departments - Mandatory Reporting Requirements - School/teachers/childcare workers and any person who works in education/children’s services are mandated by law to report if they believe on ‘reasonable grounds’ that a child is at risk and/or if a child/student discloses abuse. [21]


  • NSW Department of Community Services (DOCS) - Removal Powers - Community services, like police, have the power to remove a child/young person from their parents/carers if they believe that the child is at risk of immediate harm. [22]


ii) Overview of Community Responses to the prevention of Domestic and Family Violence


The following intervention responses by the community to keep women/victims safe have been developed:


  • Residential programs - eg: Safe at Home Programs (when it is difficult for women to leave) [23]

  • Non-residential perpetrator programs - eg: Domestic Abuse Program and The Domestic Abuse Maintenance Program (prison run strategies), Men’s programs, Counselling, Mentoring, etc [24]

  • Indigenous programs - eg: Aboriginal Child, Youth and Family Strategy (intervention program) [25]

  • Media reporting - eg: Promotion of ethical reporting of family and domestic violence [26]


16) Current National Campaigns


  • White Ribbon Day ‘November 25’ - Commemorating the United Nations ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women’

  • Purple ‘October’ Campaign - Promoting ‘Domestic Violence Awareness Month’

  • Advertising Campaign - eg: ‘Family Violence, Australia says NO!’

  • On-Line Petition - eg: ‘Make Women’s Safety A Man’s Issue Too!’


17) Getting Help


  • Domestic Violence Hotline: 1800 656 463 (statewide free-call number available 24/7)

  • Child Protection Helpline: 132 111

  • Immediate Police Assistance: 000

  • Aurora App – New ‘domestic and family violence app’ available (ie: mobile/tablet application)






[1] NSW Police Force (2014) Domestic and Family Violence. Accessed 15 August 2014.

Available from:


[2] United Nations (UN) (1993) A/RES/48/104: Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[3] Parliament of Australia (2011) Domestic Violence in Australia – An Overview of the Issue. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[4] Family Law Courts (2014) The Family Law Act and Family Violence. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[5] Drabsch, T (2007) Domestic Violence in NSW: Briefing Paper No. 7/07. NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[6] Australian Human Rights Commission (2009) Ending Family Violence and Abuse in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities – Key Issues 2006. Extracted from: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Addressing Family Violence in Indigenous Communities, Chapter 5, Social Justice Report 2003. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[7] Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) (1997) Timeframe: Elsie. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[8] Laing, L (2000) Progress, Trends and Challenges in Australian Responses to Domestic Violence. Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[9] Griffith, G (1995) Domestic Violence: An Overview of the Legislative Changes in NSW: Briefing Paper No.18/95. NSW Parliamentary Library. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[10] Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2006) 4906.0 - Personal Safety, Australia, 2005 (Reissue).

Accessed 30 July 2014. Available from:


[11] White Ribbon Organisation (2014) Fact Sheet 5, Violence Against Women: Facts and Figures. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[12] National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children (NCRVWC) (2009) Time For Action: The National Council’s Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children: A Snapshot. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[13] Victoria Health (2004) The Health Costs of Violence: Measuring the Burden of Disease Caused by Intimate Partner Violence. A Summary of Findings. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[14] Virueda, M & Payne, J (2010) Homicide in Australia: 2007-2008 National Homicide Monitoring Program Annual Report, Monitoring Report No. 13, Australian Institute of Criminology. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[15] Chan, A & Payne, J (2013) Homicide in Australia: 2008-09 to 2009-10. National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) Annual Report. Monitoring Report 21.

Australian Institute of Criminology. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[16] Access Economics (2004) The Cost of Domestic Violence to the Australian Economy: Part 1. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[17] Victoria Health (2011) Preventing Violence Against Women in Australia; Research Summary, November 2011. Accessed 30 July 2014.



[18] Trijbetz, T (2013) Domestic and Family Violence and People from Immigrant and Refugee Backgrounds. Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, Fast Facts 11. Accessed 30 July 201.

Available from:


[19] NSW Police (2013) Code of Practice for the NSW Police Force Response to Domestic and Family Violence. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[20] Laing, L (2003) Routine Screening for Domestic Violence in Health Services. Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse Accessed 30 July 2014. Available from:


[21] Australian Government (2013) Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect. Australian Institute of Family Studies, Child Family Community, Australia. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[22] NSW Government (2014) Care and Protection Proceedings in the Children’s Court. Child Wellbeing & Child protection – NSW Interagency Guidelines. Accessed 30 July 2014.

Available from:


[23] Barret Meyering, I & Edwards, R (2012) Safe at Home Programs. Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse. Accessed 15 August 2014.

Available from:


[24] NSW Government (2013) Compendium of Correctional Programs in New South Wales: Domestic Abuse Programs. Accessed 15 August 2014.

Available from:


[25] NSW Government (2014) Aboriginal Child Youth & Family Strategy. NSW Family and Community Services. Accessed 15 August 2014.

Available from:


[26] Lee Thomas, V & Green, R (2009) Family Violence Reporting: Supporting the Vulnerable or Re-enforcing Their Vulnerability? Accessed 15 August 2014. Available from:

1. Domestic Violence and Australian Law
2. United Nations (UN) Definition of VAW
Australian Def for Domest and Fam Violence
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