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Non-physical violence

Talking to young people about non-physical violence

It is important to talk to young people about the dynamics of domestic and family violence. And just how complex these can be.

Young people’s early relationships have an enormous effect on their self-esteem, confidence and future wellbeing. So experiences of being put down, told what to do, humiliated, threatened or coerced can devastate a young person’s sense of self.

Control, harassment and stalking — talking about psychological, emotional and non-physical violence

Control is a complicated thing for many adults to see and understand, so it is especially important that young people are made aware of what coercion and control look like and how it can affect them. Use the Duluth Power and Control wheel to talk about the many ways control is used in relationships.

It is worth noting that young people are less likely than older Australians to recognise the harms of non-physical forms of violence, such as harassment, stalking and controlling behaviours.

In 2013, 50 per cent of young men agreed that tracking a partner electronically without their consent was acceptable to some degree—as did 40% of young women—compared to 35% of those aged between 35 and 64 (who still minimise such behaviours).

Young Australian’s Attitudes towards Violence Against Women, 2013.

Examples of how you can talk to young people about non-physical violence

What she says What you can say
It can’t be violence — he doesn’t hit me
  • Tell me about the great things about the relationship.
  • Are there times that Matt makes you feel bad about yourself? Tell me about that.
  • Does Matt ever tell you what to do or who you can speak to?
  • Are there times you feel unsafe or uncomfortable?
  • You told me that you sometimes feel scared about how Matt will react. Do you change what you do so that he doesn’t get angry?
  • Are there other things you do or don’t do so Matt doesn’t get angry?
  • Violence can include many things. It can include physical and sexual assault, but it can also be anything that makes you feel scared, bad about yourself or controlled. Sometimes these things can be confusing because you think they are your fault or your partner might tell you that they’re your fault. It’s normal to feel confused about this.
He texts or calls me all the time because he loves me
  • What do you do when Matt is constantly texting or calling you?
  • Does it feel like love and care, or does it feel like being hassled or monitored?
  • Are you worried about what Matt would do or say if you were honest about where you are or who you are with?
  • What do you think would happen if you asked Matt to stop calling?
  • Tell me about Matt calling and texting all the time. What do you do? What do you think? What does he do?



See Making them count – Indigenous victims of family violence for a video about family violence and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

Use of technology to abuse

The use of instant messaging applications (apps) and social networks mean young people’s everyday lives and online lives are one and the same. Young people check in with friends, partners, and romantic and sexual interests in many ways, including through social media, messaging and video apps, blogs, dating apps and more.

There are positives to this heightened connectivity, but it leaves young people open to multiple points of contact for harassment, stalking and controlling behaviour. The location tracking or check-in application embedded in many online apps also exposes young people to unwittingly letting a stalking or harassing person know their whereabouts.

Helping young people stay safe online is not as simple as suggesting that they block people or avoid certain games or social media sites—technology is an integral part of their world. Instead, you must encourage young people to look at the privacy settings of the apps they use. Get carers and parents to learn about these safety features too.

You should also help young people understand that what they do online is as much a part of their life as what they do in the street or with their friends. There are real effects and consequences to online harassment and bullying.

Information on privacy settings for popular social networks used by teens is available at Huffpost. The e-Safety Commissioner website has some information on privacy settings for phones and computers. Common Sense Media also have information about where young people are hanging out online and what parents need to know about this.

Sexting and sharing images

It is also important to talk with young people about sexting, but not in a way that makes them feel guilty or shamed. If a young person is being attacked and harassed by someone with nude or semi-nude photographs or videos of them, they need to know they can speak to you about it in a safe environment.

A young person is never responsible for being attacked, harassed or stalked online—the person doing those things is responsible.

Young people also need to know that sharing nude or sexual pictures of themselves or others is a crime. Exchanging or asking for pictures is popular with young people, but many are not aware they are breaking child pornography laws. When you use an internet or a mobile phone the national law of Australia bans sexting for anyone under 18.

Young people sexting run the risk of being placed on the sex offender register and serving prison time. This is a complicated and new issue that you should familiarise yourself with. Legal Aid Queensland provides information and advice about sexting and sharing photos.

For further information about sexting or any other concerns about a young person’s online experience, visit the Office of the eSafety Commissioner website.

Practice guide: Schedule of criminal offences.

Resources about abuse and technology for young people and parents

Use the Women’s Services Network Power and Control Wheel: On Technology and Abuse to explore the young person’s experiences of abuse by technology.

watch Sam’s story, a re-enactment of a real story about a young woman whose intimate images were publicly shared by a former sexual partner, along with her name and phone number.

You can also watch Alison’s story — Alison worried her grand-daughter Jess was being put down and humiliated online by her boyfriend Tim. Alison also noticed that Jess was becoming withdrawn, smoking and losing weight. The video covers some of the ways Alison was able to provide support to Jess by approaching her about the abuse, listening to Jess talk about Tim’s stalking behaviours and helping her create a safety plan to leave. This is a good video to watch with parents and carers.

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