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What is domestic and family violence?

Domestic violence is defined as behaviour by a person towards another person (with whom they are in a relevant relationship) that is:

  • physically or sexually abusive
  • emotionally or psychologically abusive
  • economically abusive
  • threatening or coercive
  • in any way controlling or dominating of the other person and that causes them to fear for their safety or wellbeing or for that of someone else.

(adapted from the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012).

Domestic violence is often an overt or subtle expression of a power imbalance, resulting in one person living in fear of another, and usually involves an ongoing pattern of abuse over a period of time. Perpetrators of domestic violence are solely responsible for their use of violence and coercion and the impact this has on other people.

Domestic and family violence impacts on the fundamental human rights of children and families to live in safety and security, especially in their own home.

It can occur within any form of relationship, towards any person, at any time, regardless of personal, cultural, or economic standing. (Not Now, Now Ever: Putting an end to domestic and family violence in Queensland, 2015.)

The term family violence is commonly used:

… when referring to violence that occurs within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities. This concept places a greater emphasis on the impact on the family as a whole and contextualises this type of violence more broadly, recognising the impact of dispossession, breakdown of kinship networks, child removal policies and entrenched disadvantage, as well as intergenerational trauma and grief on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities. This describes all forms of violence (e.g. physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, sociological, economic and spiritual, in intimate partner, family and other relationships of mutual obligations and support.  (Domestic and Family Violence: Death Review and Advisory Board 2016–17 Annual Report 2017.)

The term ‘domestic and family violence’ is used throughout this practice kit as it is defined within the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012.


While domestic and family violence affects both women and men, it is violence perpetrated by men against women and children that makes up the overwhelming majority of domestic and family violence in Australia. Violence against women is a human rights issue.

A fundamental human right

Freedom from violence—whether sexual, mental, emotional, financial or physical—is a fundamental human right. Domestic and family violence violates a wide range of human rights including the right to:

  • life
  • the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
  • decent work
  • freedom of expression and the right to hold opinions without interference
  • leisure and play (for a child or young person)
  • education
  • be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

(Australian Human Rights Commission, 2015)

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