Dynamics of domestic and family violence

Domestic and family violence is predominantly perpetrated by men against women in the context of intimate partner relationships. Children may be exposed to the violence in a variety of ways or may be directly victimised. While the violence may take place within a range of relationships and take many different forms—physical or non-physical, sexual and non-sexual, direct or indirect, actual or threatened—it is characterised by a pattern of abusive behaviour involving a perpetrator’s exercise of control over the victim, often for an extended period. This behaviour may occur throughout a relationship, or it may be initiated or exacerbated at times of heightened risk, for example, pregnancy, attempted or actual separation, and during court proceedings dealing with children or joint property matters.

Professionals who work with victims and perpetrators have endeavoured to explain the distinctive nature of domestic and family violence. Commonly referenced is the Duluth “Power and Control Wheel”. This figurative representation identifies domestic and family violence as a cycle of violence in the form of a wheel, comprising an outer ring highlighting physical and sexual violence and an inner ring including descriptions of multiple abusive behaviours with power and control consistently at their centre. Models like this one assist understanding but are not intended to be definitive. Each case of domestic and family violence involves a unique and complex series of facts that must be considered as a whole in order to understand the victim’s experience of violence, and to respond appropriately to risk of future violence and perpetrator accountability. Making assumptions about parties’ motivations and behaviours, or attempting to categorise violence according to severity or parties’ general circumstances may result in a misunderstanding of the dynamics of violence in a particular case and inappropriate responses to the needs of the victim and perpetrator.

Victims of domestic and family violence may sustain long-term harm to their physical, mental or emotional wellbeing. While they may obtain legal protection from future harm, it may take years of treatment and counselling to recover from the effects of the violence. Children who are affected may continue to experience violence in adulthood or they may, as adults, exhibit attitudes and behaviours that reflect their childhood experiences.