The ethnicity, class, age and religious backgrounds of the perpetrators of domestic and family violence are extremely varied.
While perpetrators of DFV can be any gender, research indicates that domestic, family and sexual violence is overwhelmingly committed by men against women.
Women are at least three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner (ABS, 2013) and research shows that since the age of 15, one in six Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner, compared with one in 20 Australian men (ABS, 2013).
What’s more, women are five times more likely than men to require attention or hospitalisation as a result of violence from their intimate partner, and five times more likely to report fearing for their lives (Mouzos, 1999 and Statistics Canada, 2003).
On average, at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2015).
The Urbis Literature Review on Domestic Violence Perpetrators (2013) highlights that there is very little available data on the demographic characteristics of domestic violence perpetrators.
What causes Domestic and Family Violence (DFV)?
While a range of contributing factors can increase the likelihood of DFV (eg alcohol and substance misuse, early exposure to violence and discrimination, according to White Ribbon Australia), the leading cause of DFV is gender norms and gender inequality.
Change the Story (Our Watch, 2015) identifies that gender inequality sets the necessary social context in which violence against women occurs. Sometimes men feel pressure to be dominant and in control. Some people believe men must be strong and powerful. These characteristics are called gender norms.
Men often have more power and a higher status than women. We see this in private and public life: in the home, workplace and community. This imbalance is known as gender inequality. Violence against women is more easily accepted in societies where men and women are not equal.
The drivers of men’s violence against women include:
- gender norms;
- accepting and sometimes approving of men’s violence against women;
- men controlling decision-making;
- limits to women’s independence in public and private life;
- interactions between men that are aggressive and disrespectful towards women.
There are also a number of reinforcing factors that, while not a direct cause of men’s violence against women, increase its likelihood and severity:
- experience of and exposure to violence;
- alcohol and substance use;
- some cultural and religious practices;
- lack of knowledge of Australian laws;
- loss of traditional family and community support systems.
Only some men use violence against women; most men think that violence against women is never acceptable.
Men are also victims of violence. However, most of the time men and boys are victims of violence by other men (Our Watch, 2015).
Sadly, both women and men are more likely to experience violence at the hands of men. Around 95% of all victims of violence, whether women or men, experience violence from a male perpetrator (ABS, 2015).
What are the Signs of an Abusive Relationship?
These are some of the ways that violence and abuse are perpetrated. Do you do any of the following?
- unfairly and regularly accuse your partner of flirting or being unfaithful;
- control how your partner spends money;
- decide what your partner wears or eats;
- humiliate your partner in front of other people;
- monitor what your partner is doing, including reading their emails and text messages;
- discourage or prevent your partner from seeing friends and family;
- threaten to hurt your partner, the children or pets;
- physically assault your partner (hitting, biting, slapping, kicking, pushing);
- yell at your partner;
- threaten to use a weapon against your partner;
- constantly compare your partner with other people;
- constantly criticise your partner’s intelligence, mental health and appearance;
- prevent your partner from practicing their religion.
If so, you are perpetrating domestic and family violence.
There are several identified types of domestic and family violence. These include physical, verbal, financial, emotional, sexual, spiritual, dowry, reproductive and social abuse as well as stalking behaviour.
Physical abuse includes:
- shaking, slapping, pushing, punching or scratching
- spitting or biting
- trying to strangle or choke
- using weapons
- driving dangerously
- destroying property and throwing things
- abuse of children or pets
- locking someone out of their house or in the house
- sleep and food deprivation
- forced feeding
- physical restraint eg pinning against the wall or bed.
Verbal abuse includes:
- continuous criticism
- swearing and humiliation in public or in private
- attacks on someone’s intelligence, body or parenting
Financial abuse includes:
- someone taking complete control of finances and money
- restricting access to bank accounts
- providing an inadequate allowance and monitoring what their partner spends money on
- forbidding a partner to work
- taking a partner’s pay and not allowing them to access it
- preventing them from getting to work by taking their keys or car
- identity theft to secure credit
- using their credit card without their permission
- refusing to work or contribute to household expenses.
Emotional abuse includes:
- blaming a partner for all the problems in a relationship
- constantly comparing them with others to undermine their self-esteem and self-worth
- usually being in a bad mood
- intentionally embarrassing them in public
- name calling
- yelling, insulting or swearing at them (also known as verbal abuse)
- controlling someone’s finances (also known as financial abuse)
- telling them what to wear
- preventing them from seeing their friends and family (also known as social abuse)
- threatening suicide
- making them feel guilty when they refuse sex
- threatening to report their immigration status
- online humiliation and intimidation.
Social abuse includes:
- monitoring someone’s phone calls and emails
- deciding which friends and family members your partner can talk to and spend time with
- continuously criticising your partner’s friends and family
- not allowing your partner to meet or spend time with neighbours
- moving the person far away so they cannot reach family or friends
- verbally and/or physically abusing them in public or in front of other people.
Sexual abuse includes:
- deliberately causing pain during sex
- assaulting the genitals
- forced sex without protection against pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- forcing someone to perform sexual acts
- using sexually degrading insults
- unwanted touching
- unwanted exposure to pornography
- sexual jokes
- withholding sex as punishment
- using sex to coerce compliance
- forcing a partner to undergo procedures on their genitalia such as female genital mutilation (FGM).
Consent is key to healthy sexual experiences. Always have sex with consent. Do not pressure your partner into having sex or performing sexual acts they do not agree to. Do not ignore someone if they say “No” or seem reluctant. Your partner always has the right to say “No” even if you are married or living together. Silence does not mean they agree. Importantly, if someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they cannot consent.
- making unwanted repeated phone calls
- sending unwanted numerous text messages
- loitering outside or near a person’s home or work
- leaving unwanted messages on social networking sites, such as Facebook
- leaving unwanted notes on a person’s car
- leaving unwanted flowers at a person’s home
- following or continually staring at the person they are stalking
- monitoring a person’s use of technology, including phone, email and other communications.
Spiritual abuse includes:
- preventing someone from practicing their religion
- misusing spiritual or religious beliefs and practices to justify other types of abuse and violence
- forcing someone to act against their spiritual or religious obligations
- accusing someone of being too religious or not religious enough
- ridiculing someone’s understanding of religious practices or beliefs.
Image-based abuse includes photos or videos of:
- A nude person
- A person whose breasts or genitals are visible
- A person engaged in a sex act
- A person showering or bathing
- ‘Up-skirting’ and ‘down-blousing’: taking photos up
someone’s skirt or down their top
- A person’s face digitally added to a pornographic or sexualised image.
It includes images that were taken with and without a person’s consent.
Reproductive coercion includes:
- Refusing to use contraception
- Not allowing a partner to use contraception
- Forcing a partner to undergo a pregnancy termination
- Forcing a partner to continue with an unwanted pregnancy
- Forcing a partner to undergo sterilisation.
Dowry is an ancient cultural practice, where parents gift their daughter jewellery and/or cash at her wedding. It stems from cultures in which girls are often not formally educated or financially independent. The dowry acts as a safety net for the bride to use in ’emergency’. The practice of dowry varies in different cultures:
- Mahr is the gift given by the groom to the bride in an Islamic wedding.
- Stridhan are the gifts given by the parents to the bride in Hindu marriage ceremonies. Stridhan translates to ‘property of woman’.
- Lobola or ‘bride gift’ is the payment (in cash or cattle) made by the groom’s family to the bride’s family as a gesture of gratitude for their efforts in bringing up their daughter, who in turn unites the two families. It is a practice in some South African cultures.
Dowry in various forms exists in most of the European, Asian and other cultures. This exchange of gifts at the time of a wedding takes place wherever the wedding is believed to be not just a union of two individuals but the joining of two families. This practice is slowly phasing out as more and more girls and women are formally educated and becoming financially independent.
Dowry-related abuse can occur when the dowry is deemed unsatisfactory by the groom and/or his family. This results in harassment of the bride before, during or after the wedding, for example:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Social abuse such as isolation, controlling behaviour or house imprisonment
- Threats of revoking visa sponsorship
- Threats to harm wife’s parents and siblings residing overseas
- Extreme violence or ‘dowry death’, which can occur when a woman is driven to suicide due to the continuous harassment and abuse by her husband and/or his family in an effort to extort an increased dowry.
For many new migrant women from diverse communities, there are barriers to recognising dowry abuse, understanding its impact and accessing support. This applies not only to the victims of dowry abuse, but other forms of abuse as well. Some of these barriers include:
- Feeling of shame or failure
- Fear of retribution
- Social stigma associated with being sent back to their country by their husbands
- Lack of awareness of their rights and the support available
- Language barriers.
Post-separation violence includes:
- Stalking, in person and online
- Threats of violence and murder
- Escalation of violence
- Threatening to harm or kill a partner’s child
- Abuse of children or pets
- Sexual assault
- An escalation in any form of violence a perpetrator has previously used.
Domestic and family violence is illegal in every state and territory of Australia. Legislation varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. DFV is relevant to Family Law and Child Protection issues.
It’s Ok to Ask for Help
Have you ever said to yourself:
- “She knows what upsets me and does it on purpose. And she knows what happens when I get angry.”
- “I’d had a hard day at work and was already pissed off, she shouldn’t have provoked me.”
- “I had a few drinks and lost control, it’s not my fault.”
- “She didn’t have to call the police, it wasn’t that serious.”
Denying or excusing your actions and trivialising your partner or family member’s response are barriers to taking responsibility for your behaviour. It can be hard to face up to how your behaviour has affected others, but statements like these hide the fact that using violence or control is a choice.
We make choices about how we act all the time, but we aren’t always aware of making them. We sometimes choose to behave differently in different settings, with different people.
Some men say they ‘lost control’ or ‘just exploded’ when they have used violence against a partner or family member. However, these same men usually don’t use violent or controlling behaviour against their boss, at their friends’ houses or when police are around, even when they are feeling angry or frustrated. For example, at the beginning of counselling, one man said, “If someone knocked on the door when I was pushing her around, I would instantly become Mr Nice Guy, but the second they left, I would start exactly where I had left off”.
Recognising that the use of violence is a choice, opens up the possibility that – with help – you can make the choice to always treat those you care about with respect. It takes strength and courage to admit to using violence or control, which is the first step towards changing your behaviour.
The approach taken is NOT about anger management, because anger is not the cause of domestic and family violence.
It is about attitudinal and behavioural change, using strategies that work for each individual. Where violence and abuse exists, there is no place for relationship counselling. The violence is an individual issue pertaining to the person who is perpetrating the violence and abuse.
Author: Merryl Gee, BSocWk, AMHSW, MAASW, MACSW, MANZMHA, MPACFA.
Merryl Gee is a psychotherapist working from a strengths-based, person-centred framework. With over 30 years’ experience, she has a particular interest in helping people who have experienced trauma such as sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychotherapist Merryl Gee try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013). Personal safety, Australia 2012, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Canberra.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015). Personal safety survey: additional analysis on relationship and sex of perpetrator, Australia 2015, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Canberra.
- Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), 2015.
- Mouzos, J. (1999). Femicide: an overview of major findings. Australian Institute of Criminology Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, 124, pp.1–6
- Our Watch (2015) Change the Story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia, Our Watch, Melbourne Australia
- Statistics Canada. (2003). Family violence in Canada: a statistical profile 2003. Canada: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Ministry of Justice
- Urbis (2013) Literature Review on Domestic Violence Perpetrators, Urbis Pty Ltd Australia
- White Ribbon Australia (2015) What causes violence against women, https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/understand-domestic-violence/what-is-violence-against-women/causes-domestic-violence