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There is no single national or internationally agreed definition of family or domestic violence.  Historically, commonly held views have been more likely to centre on the physical dimensions of violence.  One such example is the framework used by the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS), where the definition of partner violence is restricted to actions that constitute offences under State and Territory criminal law:

“Violence is defined as any incident involving the occurrence, attempt or threat of either physical or sexual assault experienced by a person since the age of 15.  Physical violence includes physical assault and/or physical threat. Sexual violence includes sexual assault and/or sexual threat”[1].

Contemporary definitions are more likely to capture a wider range of intimidating or controlling behaviours.  For example, the Family Law Act 1975 now recognises a broad range of behaviours, including:

“Violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family (the family member), or causes the family member to be fearful.” (Section 4AB)

This broad definition covers physical and sexual assault; economic abuse; deprivation of liberty; harm to animals and property; threats, taunts and stalking; isolation of a family member from friends, family and culture; and exposure of children to violence.  In 2012, the ABS expanded their definition include emotional abuse in light of changes to the Family Law Act; however, ABS statistics are likely to under-report the true rate of domestic violence in the community owing to the narrower definition and the difficulty in collecting information on intimate partner violence due to stigma, shame, economic dependence of the victim on the perpetrator, and safety concerns.

Research suggests that a community’s perception of domestic violence not only has a direct impact on reporting, but also affects help-seeking, service provision, and ultimately outcomes for those impacted by domestic violence.  The focus of Relationships Australia’s January survey was to find out whether visitors to our website consider a broad range of behaviours to be acts of domestic violence.

[1] Personal Safety Survey, 2012

Relationships Australia State and Territory websites