Domestic and family violence (including sexual violence) is more common than you think: according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in 3 women over the age of fifteen reported having experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. That means that all of us will may know someone in the ACT who is facing (or has faced) domestic or sexual violence.

But domestic and family violence isn’t just a “women’s issue” – it’s everyone’s problem. It does not matter how old you are or what gender you are; what your sexual orientation, religion or cultural background is.  Nor does it matter what your education level or financial status is. All people can experience domestic, family and sexual violence.

It can occur in different relationships: between husband and wife or girlfriend and boyfriend; in same sex relationships; between adults and children or adults and older parents; between extended family members; or between people living together in a non-sexual relationship. It does not matter whether the relationship is past or current.

Statistics show that domestic and family violence (including sexual violence) is most likely to be committed by men and women are more likely to experience domestic and family violence than men.

That is why we need people in the ACT to know how they can be part of the solution. We all have a responsibility to change this and everyone can do something to help prevent domestic and family (including sexual violence) – especially against women and their children.

It is not easy to know what to do, how to help or how to speak up about this issue. But it is important and it is the right thing to do!

What is it?

There are many terms used, including domestic violence, family violence, intimate partner violence, sexual violence and elder abuse.

Domestic violence refers to acts of violence that occur between people who have, or have had, an intimate relationship. While there is no single definition, the central element of domestic violence is an ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling a partner through fear, for example by using behaviour which is violent and threatening. In most cases, the violent behaviour is part of a range of tactics to exercise power and control over women and their children, and can be both criminal and non-criminal. Domestic violence includes physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse.’ (from The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022)

Domestic violence is not a one-off violent attack. It is about power and control, and involves deliberate and long-term violent, abusive or intimidating behaviour which aims to control every part of a partner’s life. It takes many forms such as physical violence, sexual abuse, financial control, constant criticism, isolating from family and friends, stalking or other kinds of harassment. The violence is intentional and systematic and often increases in frequency and severity the longer the relationship goes on.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone. and can affect anyone in the community, regardless of their gender, age, disability, sexual identity, race, culture, ethnicity, religion, economic status or location. Women are most likely to experience domestic violence, in their home from someone they know – most often an ex-partner.

Perpetrators of the violence often act very differently in public so that family and friends and workmates may have no idea it is happening.

Sometimes the abuse is obvious, as in the case of physical or verbal abuse. Sometimes it is less obvious, such as financial, emotional or psychological abuse. Usually it occurs in the home so it is hidden from view.

Perpetrators use many tactics to maintain power and control, such as:

• Physical assaults, for example choking, beatings, pushing and threatening harm.
• Acts of sexual violence, forced sex or forcing someone to do sexual acts they don’t wish to do.
• Emotional abuse, name calling and put downs, disrespectful treatment.
• Isolation from supports, family and community, or using family and community to intimidate. This can include sending texts or posting on Facebook.
• Stalking or monitoring ‘every move’, including stalking on the internet, through social media, or use of GPS tracking devices etcetera.
• Psychological abuse, such as blaming the person being abused for the behaviour; telling the person being abused that they have mental health problems or anxiety disorders; manipulating or deliberately twisting reality; moving personal belongings or furniture and then denying that this has been done; and denying that the abusive behaviour occurred.
• Financial abuse, such as denying living expenses or ‘housekeeping money’; preventing someone from working; manipulating the child support system; intimidating someone to sign legal and financial documents that put them in debt; standing over someone to demand money.
• Preventing someone from practicing their spirituality or faith, or forcing them to adopt a faith or spirituality which is not their own.
• Harming or threatening to harm loved ones including children.
• Harming or threatening to harm pets.
• Legal abuse, such as exploiting the family law system to intimidate, exhaust, exploit or disempower someone.
• Using manipulative behaviours, like threatening suicide or self-harm when someone tries to leave a relationship.
• In a situation where a woman with a disability is reliant on assistance or care, the withdrawal of that care or the manipulation of that care in ways that establish a pattern or control.

Family violence is violence and abuse that occurs within the family unit and it occurs when a family member exerts power and control over their family member(s). The relationship can include spouses, partners (or former partners), siblings, parents and children. It is conduct that is violent, threatening, coercive, controlling or intended to cause a family or household member to be fearful. It can include: physical, verbal, emotional, sexual or psychological abuse, and neglect.

Sexual violence is a broad term that describes a range of sexual behaviours that make someone feel uncomfortable, frightened, intimidated or threatened. Sexual violence includes behaviours ranging from rape to stalking to circulating explicit images of someone without their consent and telling sexual jokes to make someone uncomfortable. It can happen to anyone regardless of sex, sexuality, or gender, but women and children are statistically more likely to be victims of sexual assault/violence and perpetrators are usually male.

Elder abuse is mistreatment of an older person that is committed by someone with whom the older person has a relationship of trust such as a partner, family member, friend or carer. Elder abuse may be physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual and can include mistreatment and neglect.

Who is affected?

Domestic and family violence (including sexual violence) is not restricted to any particular socio-economic, racial or cultural group and can be experienced by anyone, of any gender, age, religion and ethnic or economic background: they may be working in high earning jobs, or taking care of children.

Violence can occur within any kind of relationship. This includes violence by women towards men, violence targeting older people or people with disabilities, and violence by teenagers towards parents. It may occur in heterosexual or same sex relationships; in a spousal relationship; an intimate personal relationship; a family relationship or an informal care relationship.

Some groups of may be at greater risk of experiencing domestic and family violence:

• pregnant women – pregnancy has been shown to increase and escalate a woman’s risk and experience of domestic and family violence by her intimate partner
• separated women – many women have found that the violence increases at the time of separation and after separation
• women with disabilities
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women
• women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds
• older people
• young women
• the children of these women
• Gay, lesbian, bisexual. transgender and intersex people

What are the Statistics?

Statistics show that women experience domestic, family and sexual violence at far greater rates than men, but that men can also be victims. While both sexes are more likely to experience violence at the hands of men, men are more likely to experience violence by other men in public places, while women are more likely to experience violence from men they know, often in the home.

We cannot tell exactly how many people in the ACT have experienced domestic, family or sexual violence from reported crime statistics because most people who experience these types of violence do not report it to the police. But we do know from statistics kept by the Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) for 2016-17 that the majority are women and the demand is continuing to increase in 2016:

• The number of calls to the DVCS 24/7 crisis line was 24, 956 (up from 17,698 calls in the previous year), equating to 68.4 calls every day of the year, or almost 3 calls an hour;
• 1819 crisis visits/interventions were provided by DVCS to families immediately after an incident of violence was disclosed to ACT Policing (compared to 1270 the previous year;
• through the DVCS Court Advocacy Program 445 clients were assisted with a Domestic Violence Order or FV criminal matter as a witness (compared to 377 the previous year); and
• 293 sessions were provided to children and young people who had been impacted by having lived with domestic/family violence.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey 2012:

• one in 3 women over the age of fifteen reported having experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives – this could mean around 60,635 ACT women in the ACT (based on December 2015 ABS demographic statistics);
• 1 in 6 women had experienced sexual or physical violence from a current or former partner – this could mean around 30,317 women in the ACT (based on December 2015 ABS demographic statistics); and
• Almost half of the women who experienced violence by an ex-partner said children had seen or heard the violence.
Australian research has found that between two and five per cent of Australians over the age of 65 have experienced domestic and family violence, and the most common perpetrators are the older person’s adult daughter or son.

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, the majority of family homicides occur between intimate partners, and the majority of intimate partner homicides involve males killing their female partners. A woman dies at the hands of a current or former partner almost every week in Australia – this means that the most dangerous place for a woman to be in regards to violence and murder is in her own home and with her own intimate partner.

Myths and misunderstandings

Domestic Violence

A victim of domestic and family violence is able to leave the abusive relationship: Many victims of domestic and family violence may be motivated to leave, however they may face barriers, such as lack of financial resources; concerns for the welfare of their children, family and pets; a lack of alternative, safe accommodation; a lack of support systems or social networks; religious and cultural beliefs which prevent them from leaving; or fear of retaliation from the perpetrator. The perpetrator may also use a variety of coercive and manipulative tactics to actively prevent the victim from leaving. These barriers may be too great for a victim to ever overcome.

The domestic and family violence will stop when the victim and perpetrator separate: A victim leaving an abusive relationship may be viewed by the perpetrator as a direct threat to the perpetrator’s ability to maintain control over the victim. Research has shown that one of the most dangerous times for a victim is in the months after separation.

Men and women are equally victims and perpetrators of domestic and family violence: While men do experience domestic and family violence, and women can be perpetrators, research demonstrates that, predominantly, women are the victims and men are the perpetrators of this form of violence. In 73% of female homicide cases, the current or intimate male partner is the perpetrator/offender. Women are also more likely than men to experience emotional abuse by their partner and are more likely to experience anxiety and fear as a result.

You can find more information at:

http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/uploads/media/updated_factsheets_Nov_13/Factsheet_10_Ten_Common_Myths_and_Misconceptions.pdf

http://www.ourwatch.org.au/Understanding-Violence/Myths-about-violence

http://www.avertfamilyviolence.com.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2013/06/Myths_and_Facts_about_Family_Violence_Fact_Sheet_for_web_2014.pdf

Sexual violence

You can find information about myths about sexual violence at http://www.crcc.org.au/resources/facts-about-sexual-assault-and-rape.aspx