Understanding domestic and family violence

  • Access Economics, The Cost of Domestic Violence to the Australian Economy, Part 1 (Commonwealth of Australia, 2004).
    This report analyses the cost of domestic violence to the Australian economy. It uses what it describes as the most common definition of domestic and family violence which includes identifying that: ‘Domestic violence occurs when one partner attempts by physical or psychological means to dominate and control the other’ (see p3).
  • Altobelli, Federal Magistrate Tom ‘Family Violence and Parenting: Future Directions in Practice’ (Paper presented at the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration Family Violence Conference, Brisbane, 2 October 2009).

    This paper presents some of the findings and associated research from the 2007 Wingspread Conference, which brought together 37 practitioners and researchers ‘to identify and explore conceptual and practical tensions that have hampered effective work with families in which family violence has been identified or alleged’ (p1). The paper discusses some of the implications of those findings for the daily practice of family law, including the need to: differentiate families’ experiences of family violence, screen and triage family violence effectively, assess the appropriateness of processes and services for different families, and ensure successful outcomes for children.

    This paper draws on recognized research in this field to emphasise that there cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to recognising family violence in family law proceedings, and presses for an understanding of the variety of behaviours and typologies of family violence that may occur in abusive relationships (pp12-13, 15). It stresses that understanding that different families experience violence in different ways assists not only in recognising family violence, but also managing effective responses to it in family law proceedings (p15, 19).
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia (Report, 2018).

    This report usefully compiles and summarises current statistics on family violence, domestic violence and sexual violence from multiple sources. Its key points are:

    • women are at greater risk of family, domestic and sexual violence;
    • some groups of women are more vulnerable to all three types of violence (in particular, women who are Indigenous, young, pregnant, separating from a partner or experiencing financial hardship and women with disability);
    • children are often exposed to the violence;
    • the three types of violence are leading causes of homelessness and adverse health consequences for women and create significant financial cost; and
    • family violence is worse for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

    The report also identifies important gaps in the current research on family, domestic and sexual violence. No or limited data is available on:

    • children’s experiences, including attitudes, prevalence, severity, frequency, impacts and outcomes of these forms of violence;
    • specific at-risk population groups, including Indigenous Australians, people with disability, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, including those in same-sex relationships;
    • the effect of known risk factors, such as socioeconomic status, employment, income and geographical location;
    • services and responses that victims and perpetrators receive, including specialist services, mainstream services and police and justice responses;
    • pathways, impacts and outcomes for victims and perpetrators; and
    • the evaluation of programs and interventions.
  • Australian Law Reform Commission and New South Wales Law Reform Commission, Family Violence - A National Legal Response, Report No 114 (Australian Law Reform Commission and New South Wales Law Reform Commission, 2010).
    This comprehensive report considers understandings of and legislative definitions of domestic and family violence across Australian jurisdictions. Part B of this report titled ‘Family Violence: A common Interpretative Framework’ provides a wide-ranging review of literature and views about understanding domestic and family violence. From page 300-301 this report includes a discussion of the common features and dynamics of domestic and family violence. At 235 this report identifies that the improvement of the safety of victims of domestic and family violence and that definitions, and understanding, of family violence are key starting points to ensure safety.
  • Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, Violence Against Women: Key Statistics (ANROWS, 2014).
    This ‘Key Facts’ sheet prevents an overview of statistics sourced from research from the 2012 ABS Personal Safety Survey and Australian Institute of Criminology. It identifies for example that women are significantly more likely than men to experience domestic and family violence.
  • This report notes that, ‘[e]xposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) has serious health outcomes for Australian women and their children, and its prevention is a recognised national priority. Burden of disease studies measure the combined impact of living with illness and injury (non-fatal burden) and dying prematurely (fatal burden) on a population. This report estimated the amount of burden that could have been avoided if no adult women in Australia in 2011 had been exposed to IPV during their lifetime. This “attributable burden” is reported in terms of total, non-fatal and fatal burden’ (p.7).

    Key results for national estimates of burden:

    • ‘Overall, it was estimated that 1.4% of the disease burden experienced by women aged 18 years and over in 2011 was attributable to physical/sexual IPV by a current or previous cohabiting partner. Anxiety disorders made up the greatest proportion of this attributable burden (35%), followed by depressive disorders (32%) and suicide & self-inflicted injuries (19%) (Figure 5.1). More than one-quarter (27%) of this burden was fatal (Figure 5.2)’.
    • ‘Physical/sexual IPV was responsible for almost half (45%) of the total burden due to homicide & violence among adult women in 2011 (Figure 5.3)’.
    • ‘When the definition of IPV was broadened to include physical/ sexual IPV by non-cohabiting partners, it was estimated that 2% of the burden experienced by Australian adult women could have been avoided if no exposure to IPV occurred. When emotional abuse was also considered, it was estimated that 2.2% of all burden experienced by adult women was due to IPV (Table 5.5) and could have been avoided if no exposure to IPV occurred’ (p.7).
    It notes that there has been little change in the rate of burden between 2003 and 2011.
  • Bradley, Judge Sarah 'Family and Sexual Violence and the Development of the Law in Queensland and Australia' (Paper delivered at the launch of the Papua New Guinea Judicial Women’s Association, Port Moresby, 22 – 23 November 2012).

    In this paper, Bradley J provides an overview of the overlap and conflict between varying jurisdictions’ legal frameworks governing domestic, family and sexual violence, particularly in light of The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022. The focus of analysis is on Queensland and Commonwealth legislation. In relation to Queensland, the operation of the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012is explained. Similarly, Commonwealth laws including the Family Law Act 1975, and migration and social security law, are described.

    Reference is made to the ways in which abusive behaviours are understood in Queensland (p4) and Commonwealth (p5) legislation, and examples of behaviours especially prevalent in the context of elder abuse are highlighted (p5).
  • Fehlberg, Belinda et al, and Juliet Behrens, Australian Family Law – The Contemporary Context (Oxford University Press, 2015).
    See especially [5.3] Fehlberg and Behrens focus on the term ‘family violence’ in their analysis. The authors note that behind considerations of the appropriate definition or the types of conduct that fall within the purview of domestic or family violence, there have been long-standing debates regarding appropriate descriptors. They list those terms that are most commonly applied, including ‘family violence’, ‘domestic violence’, ‘family and domestic violence’ and ‘intimate partner violence’. Although stating that ‘all of these terms are seen to have strengths and drawbacks,’ the authors don’t explain the strengths and drawbacks. They do, however, note that ‘[a] central concern in developing and applying terminology [is] to recognise that the behaviour being described occurs in the context of relationships…but not to allow the words acknowledging this to suggest the behaviour is somehow less serious than violence that occurs in other contexts’ (p134).
  • Hunter, Rosemary, ‘Narratives of Domestic Violence’ (2006) 28 Sydney Law Review 733.

    See especially ‘Judicial Knowledge About Domestic Violence’ (from p754) drawing on observations of court proceedings the author notes that magistrates varied greatly in being supportive or minimising harm, affirming or not affirming women, with some questioning why the applicant stayed with her abuser (p755). Several themes emerge from this court observation study. Magistrates’…

    • emphasis on physical violence, especially recent incidents, as discrete incidents rather than patterns of abusive behaviour;
    • understanding relationship conflict as the cause of violence (resulting in obligations to leave, encouraging reconciliation, making mutual orders, and providing potentially insufficient duration of orders);
    • inconsistency around child contact by allowing an exception to protection orders to exercise child contact;
    • denying and minimising violence through reactions to stories;
    • engaging in narratives that frame women as bad mothers or strategically using intervention orders for the purposes of family law proceedings.
  • Irwin, Chief Magistrate Marshall ‘Domestic Violence: Implications of the New Legislation’ (Speech delivered at the Calabro Consulting Family Law Residential 2006, Sunshine Coast, 19 August 2006).
    In this paper Irwin J encourages a more integrated response to family violence, particularly at the level of Magistrates courts. A detailed commentary on the interaction of family violence orders with family law parenting orders, in light of federal reforms, provides a thorough overview (in 2006) of how the jurisdictions interact when inconsistencies arise, and more broadly how family violence is understood and considered in relevant proceedings across jurisdictions.
  • Jordan, Lucinda, and Lydia Phillips, ‘Women’s Experiences of Surviving Family Violence and Accessing the Magistrates’ Court in Geelong, Victoria’ (Report, Centre for Rural and Regional Law and Justice, Deakin University, 2013).

    Drawing on interviews with 37 women who had survived family violence and 23 workers supporting women survivors this research considers among other things the experience of court processes in relation to domestic violence. Of particular relevance is section 3. The research found:

    • many women felt they had a limited opportunity to speak and be heard (from p23)
    • women who reported magistrates were fair described magistrates as demonstrating compassion and understanding family violence (from p24)
    • some women reported their partners made cross applications which they described as a game to further manipulate and shame them(from p26)
    • women had a strong perception that family law was over-emphasised at the expense of their protection (from p27)
    • women reported that undertakings were ineffective and inappropriate (from p28)
  • Stavrou, Efty, Suzanne Poynton and Don Weatherburn, ‘Intimate partner violence against women in Australia: related factors and help-seeking behaviours’ [2016] 200 Crime and Justice Bulletin 1.

    The aim of this study was to ‘determine which factors were associated with (1) female experiences of intimate partner violence (IPV), (2) female reporting of physical or sexual assault by an intimate partner to the police and (3) females seeking help and support after experiencing IPV’. It found that, ‘[t]he risk of IPV varies greatly across the community. Factors associated with a higher risk of IPV included being younger, Australian-born, having a long-term health condition, lacking social support, experiencing financial stress, having previously been a victim of child abuse and having experienced emotional abuse by an intimate partner’ (p.1).

    It also found that, ‘[w]here the most recent incident of physical or sexual assault in the last two years was perpetrated by an intimate partner, less than one in three assaults were reported to the police. Intimate partner assaults were less likely to be reported to the police if the perpetrator was still a current partner of the victim at the time of the interview, the assault was sexual (not physical) and if the victim perceived the assault was “not a crime” or “not serious enough”. Having a physical injury after the incident was associated with an increased likelihood of reporting the assault to the police. Where the most recent incident of violence (assaults and threats) was perpetrated by an intimate partner, a counsellor or social worker was consulted after 30% of all incidents’ (p.1).
  • The National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, Domestic Violence Laws in Australia (Commonwealth of Australia, 2009).
    This document reviews all State and Territory and New Zealand domestic violence- specific laws providing for the making of protection orders as at 2009. Among other matters, it identifies the range of relationships within the legislative scope of domestic and family violence legislation and identifies how it varies across Australia in terms of the kinds of behaviours covered and the types of orders that can be made.
  • Wakefield, Shellee and Annabel Taylor, ‘Judicial education for domestic and family violence – State of Knowledge Paper’, (ANROWS, 2015).
    This paper reports on some of the findings from a survey conducted with 66 judicial officers from Victoria and Queensland. The survey invited their views on domestic and family violence and judicial education for domestic and family violence. Almost half of the participants reported family violence matters was one of their primary work areas. The focus of this report is on elements relating specifically to judicial officers’ views on judicial education in the areas of domestic and family violence however the report writers discuss literature previously published about judicial understandings and attitudes to domestic and family violence, see especially pp16-20.
  • There is an excellent fact sheet on pp.2-4 with an overview of the most recent statistics on the burden on the health of women and their children of intimate partner violence (IPV). A textual overview of the key findings is available at p.7 of the report. Some of these findings about intimate partner violence are that:

    • IPV is prevalent and it affects one in three women since the age of 15. ‘One in four women have experienced violence or abuse from a cohabiting partner. If we only consider physical and sexual violence, then one in six women have experienced at least one incident of violence by a cohabiting partner’.
    • It has serious impacts on women’s health including poor mental health, problems during pregnancy and birth, alcohol and illicit drug use, suicide, injuries and homicide.
    • Contributes an estimated 5.1% to the disease burden in Australian women aged 18-44 years and 2.2% of the burden in women of all ages.
    • IPV is estimated to make a larger contribution than any other risk factor to the gap in the burden between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women aged 18-44 years.
    The report further notes that ‘there has been no increase in the prevalence or health burden of intimate partner violence since both were last measured in Australia’. It provides key strategies to reduce the health burden of intimate partner violence.


  • Hyman, Judge Eugene M. and Liberty Aldrich, ‘Rethinking Access to Justice: The Need for a Holistic Response to Victims of Domestic Violence’ (2012) 33 Women’s Rights law Reporter 449.

    While this paper has been written by a US based judge his overview of the issues suggests strong similarity with some of the issues reported in the Australian context. Justice Hyman highlights the variety of issues in the court system in addressing domestic violence, including lack of information-sharing, and court structures creating silos for specific legal issues where families experience multi-faceted ones. It discusses the specific court structure of California’s superior court system, including the Family, Probate, Juvenile (Dependency and Delinquency) and Criminal Courts, and the training the respective judges receive to deal with domestic violence. It encourages judicial education on domestic violence, and better understandings of the roles of each of the various players at court.

    In providing an overview of domestic violence, the paper notes that: ‘Domestic violence manifests itself in many forms. The most commonly recognized forms of abuse are physical aggression and sexual abuse. However, the lesser known forms of abuse that may fall under the radar can be just, if not more, devastating, such as emotional abuse, controlling behavior, intimidation, stalking, and economic deprivation’ (p450).
  • Hyman, Judge Eugene M; Wanda Lucibello and Emilie Meyer, ‘In Love or In Trouble: Examining Ways Court Professionals Can Better Respond to Victims of Adolescent Partner Violence’ (2010) 61(4) Juvenile and Family Court Journal 17.
    While this paper has been written by a US based judge his overview of the issues suggests strong similarity with some of the issues reported in the Australian context. In this article Justice Hyman explores adolescent partner violence and the responses to it from the legal system. He observes that research suggests that as many as 45% of high school students have experienced some form of adolescent partner violence. Despite these findings, the legal response to domestic violence has focused on assisting adult victims and has often excluded adolescents. When discussing the nature and characteristics of adolescent partner violence, this article notes that, similar to adult domestic violence, a range of behaviours are used ‘as part of the pattern of controlling behaviour’, including isolation, sexual and physical violence, stalking and emotional manipulation (p20). Furthermore, adolescent partner violence ‘is not limited to, or even typified by, physical assaults’ (p20).
  • Special Issue on Coercive Control: Criminology & Criminal Justice Volume 18, Issue 1 2018.

    Edited by Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Sandra Walklate and Jude McCulloch.

    See overview here.

    Authors in the special issue cover the following topics:

    • What is coercive control and to what extent does it offer a new lens for understanding intimate partner abuse?
    • How do you distinguish coercive and controlling behaviour in law? And to what degree is coercive control experienced by women in domestically abusive relationships?
    • When legislating in the area of domestic violence, should the criminal law remain gender neutral or be framed to reflect the gendered nature of domestic abuse?
    • To what extent can an understanding of coercive control inform practitioner views and practice?
    • Is legislating for another criminal offence the answer or part of the answer to improving court responses to domestic abuse?
    • What challenges and unintended outcomes may arise, or have emerged, in jurisdictions that have introduced a new offence to capture patterns of non-physical violence?
  • Stark, Evan, Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life (Oxford University Press, 2007).
    This book is a key text on domestic and family violence. Although Stark is based in the United States his work has been highly influential in Australia. In this book Stark explains that domestic and family violence is a pattern of controlling behaviours more akin to terrorism and hostage-taking. Drawing on court records, interviews, and FBI statistics, Stark details coercive strategies that men use to deny women their very personhood, from food logs to micromanaging dress, speech, sexual activity, and work. Stark urges us to move beyond the injury model and focus on this form of victimization. Stark reframes abuse as a liberty crime rather than a crime of assault. He explains how the perpetrator is able to control the victim through a variety of techniques which essentially lead to deprivation of liberty (pp373-374).
  • While focused on Canada, this report gives a good overview of the impacts of domestic and family violence on health. It notes the economic costs of family violence (p.15), how violence, abuse and neglect can increase the risk for early death by homicide and suicide (p.16), and examines the impacts of family violence on physical and mental health (see an overview fact-sheet at p.17). The report shows that family violence has indirect impacts such as chronic stress, increasing risky behaviour (such as alcohol consumption, drug taking), and affecting mental health. Other impacts of family violence including negatively affecting social relationships, increased difficulties at school for children, and challenges at the workplace (p.18).
  • Westmarland, N. and Kelly, L., ‘Naming and Defining ‘Domestic Violence’: lessons from research with violent men’, (2016) 112 Feminist Review 113.
    In this paper the authors draw on data from in-depth interviews with men who have used violence and abuse within intimate partner relationships to provide a new lens from which to view the conceptual debates on naming, defining, and understanding ‘domestic violence’, and the consequent policy, legislative and practice implications in England and Wales. They argue that the reduction of domestic violence to discrete ‘incidents’ supports and maintains how men themselves talk about their use of violence, and that this in turn overlaps with contentions about the appropriate interventions and responses to domestic violence perpetrators. The authors revisit Hearn’s 1998 work, The Violences of Men, connecting it to Stark’s later concept of coercive control in order to develop and extend understandings of violence through analysis of the words of those that use it.