What is family violence?

Family violence is behaviour towards a family member that may include:

  • physical violence or threats of violence
  • verbal abuse, including threats
  • emotional or psychological abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • financial and social abuse.

A child's exposure to family violence constitutes child abuse. This exposure can be very harmful and may result in physical harm and long-term physical, psychological and emotional trauma. Action must be taken to protect the child, and to mitigate or limit their trauma.

Research shows that during pregnancy and when families have very young babies:

  • there is an increased risk of family violence
  • pre-existing family violence may increase in severity
  • there is an opportunity for intervention as families are more likely to have contact with services.

The longer that a child experiences or is exposed to family violence, the more harmful it is. This is why if you suspect that a child is exposed to, or at risk of being exposed to family violence, you must follow the four critical actions.

Family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

In identifying family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities it is important to recognise that:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family violence may relate to relationships that aren't captured by the Western nuclear family model (grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins and other community and culturally defined relationships)
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family violence can also include cultural and spiritual abuse
  • perpetrators of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family violence may not be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family violence occurs in a historical context of colonisation, dispossession, and the loss of culture. This has resulted in the breakdown of kinship systems and of traditional law, racism, and previous government policies of forced removal of children from families.

However, this should never detract from the legitimacy of the survivor's experience of violence, or your obligation to report and respond to any suspected family violence.

What are the physical indicators of family violence?

Physical indicators of family violence may include (but are not limited to):

  • speech disorders
  • delays in physical development
  • failure to thrive (without an organic cause)
  • bruises, cuts or welts on facial areas, and other parts of the body including back, bottom, legs, arms and inner thighs
  • any bruises or welts (old or new) in unusual configurations, or those that look like the object used to make the injury (such as fingerprints, handprints, buckles, iron or teeth)
  • internal injuries.

What are the behavioural indicators of family violence?

Behavourial indicators of family violence may include (but are not limited to)

In an infant or toddler:

  • self-stimulatory behaviours, for example, rocking, head banging
  • crying excessively or not at all
  • listless and immobile and/or emancipated and pale
  • exhibits significant delays in gross motor development and coordination

In all children, infants and toddlers:

  • violent/aggressive behaviour and language
  • depression and anxiety
  • appearing nervous and withdrawn, including wariness of adults
  • difficulty adjusting to change
  • developmentally inappropriate bedwetting and sleeping disorders
  • extremely demanding, attention-seeking behaviour
  • participating in dangerous risk-taking behaviours to impress peers.
  • overly compliant, shy, withdrawn, passive and uncommunicative behaviour
  • 'acting out', such as cruelty to animals.
  • demonstrated fear of parents, carers or guardians, and of going home
  • complaining of headaches, stomach pains or nausea without physiological basis.