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Family, domestic and sexual violence is a major health and welfare issue in Australia.
Anyone can be a victim-survivor of family, domestic or sexual violence. Statistically, most victim-survivors of violence, regardless of gender, report the person who used violence against them to be a male.
These types of violence can inflict:
- physical injury
- psychological trauma
- mental ill-health
- emotional suffering.
This can have a serious effect on people, families, and communities – the effects can be long-lasting and affect future generations.
Also known as ‘intimate partner violence’, domestic violence refers to any behaviour in an intimate relationship that causes physical, sexual, or psychological harm. It is the most common form of violence against women. This includes in:
- current or past relationships
- domestic partnerships
- short-term dates.
Intimate partner violence can also occur outside of a domestic setting, such as: online, in public, or between 2 people who do not live together.
Family violence is a broader term than domestic violence. Like intimate partner violence, family violence can occur between intimate partners. However, it also includes violence involving other family members.
Family violence can include:
- elder abuse
- violence inflicted by children or young people against parents, guardians or siblings
- violence inflicted by parents (and guardians) against children and young people
- violence between other family members
- violence inflicted by extended family, such as parents-in-law, or close community networks.
Family violence can also include forms of modern slavery, such as forced marriage and servitude.
Family violence is the term Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples prefer to use because of the ways violence can occur across extended family networks.
Domestic and family violence behaviours
Both family violence and domestic violence can include behaviours such as:
- physical violence and abuse – anything that causes pain to any part of your body
- sexual violence – when someone forces, pressures or tricks you into doing sexual things when you don’t want to
- emotional abuse – when someone says or does things to make you feel bad
- coercive control – when someone uses abusive behaviours in a pattern over time to create and maintain power and dominance over you
- financial abuse – when someone uses money in ways that hurt you.
Sexual violence involves sexual activity that happens where consent:
- is not willingly given or obtained
- is withdrawn.
It can also occur when a person cannot consent because of their age or other factors. It happens any time sexual activity occurs through force, coercion or manipulation.
Sexual violence can be physical or non-physical in nature, including unwanted sexual contact, harassment and threats. It may occur in forms of modern slavery, such as forced marriage, servitude or trafficking in persons.
Child sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse is any act that exposes a child or young person to, or involves a child or young person in, sexual activities that:
- they do not understand
- they do not or cannot consent to
- the community does not accept
- are unlawful.
Sexual abuse can be physical, verbal or emotional in nature. It can include non-contact and contact activities and can involve a range of behaviours.
Adult victim-survivors are those who have experienced child sexual abuse.
The Australian Government recognises that not all people with lived experience of child sexual abuse will identify with these terms.
Each of these forms of violence can cause significant impacts on the physical wellbeing and mental health of those who experience it. Some examples include:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and complex PTSD
- substance use and addiction
- self-harm and suicidality
- sleep disorders
- unwanted pregnancy
- sexually transmitted infections
- acquired brain injuries and disabilities
- other chronic health conditions.
Effect on children and young people
Children and young people may show signs that they are distressed or going through trauma, which may indicate sexual abuse. These can vary depending on their age and developmental level. Some children or young people may not show any signs or symptoms at all.
Learn more about related national strategies and plans to support and protect Australia’s women and children.
- The National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032 – Australia’s national approach to ending gender-based violence.
- National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Child Sexual Abuse 2021–2030 – this pioneering strategy seeks to reduce the risk, extent and impact of child sexual abuse and related harms in Australia.
- Safe & Supported: the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2021–2031 – read Australia’s current framework to reduce child abuse and neglect. Action plans focusing on children and families experiencing disadvantage were launched in January 2023.
- Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – read the final report of this 5-year inquiry, presented in 2017.
- Inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence – read the report presented to the Australian Parliament in 2021.
- Australian Child Maltreatment Study – this landmark Australian study estimates the national prevalence of 5 types of child maltreatment and their impact in Australia.
- Ending the postcode lottery: Addressing barriers to sexual, maternity and reproductive healthcare in Australia – read the report presented to the Australian Parliament in 2023. It includes recommendations for vulnerable women who experience reproductive coercion and abuse.