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Family violence is any threatening or abusive behaviour that occurs between people in families, marriages, de facto and LGBTIQA+ relationships. It may be inflicted on adults and children, or it may be between siblings or extended family members.

1 woman is killed almost every week

One woman is killed in Australia by a partner or ex-partner almost every week (Source: Safe+Equal)

Leading cause of homelessness for women

Family violence is the main reason women and children leave their homes (Source: Safe+Equal)

40% continue to experience violence

Almost 40% of women continue to experience violence when separated from their partner

What is family violence?

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Family violence consists of a range of behaviours and may include:
  • Verbal abuse such as insults, name-calling, put-downs and constant criticism
  • Physical violence including pushing, slapping, hitting, punching, etc.
  • Emotional and psychological abuse such as making threats, humiliating you privately/publicly
  • Isolating you from family, friends and social contacts
  • Financial abuse like restricting your access to money
  • Smashing or destroying your personal belongings or property
  • Harming or threatening to harm pets
  • Forcing you to have sex

What are the effects of family violence?

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Family violence impacts on women in different ways, including:
  • Feeling powerless, afraid, depressed, humiliated and withdrawing from others
  • Taking away your fundamental human right to feel safe
  • Feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety, grief, sadness and loss
  • Feeling worthless, not valued, low self-esteem, lacking confidence
  • A sense of shame and embarrassment
  • Afraid to tell others or shutting down to keep the violence hidden
  • Worried about financial security
  • Confused because sometimes your partner is loving and kind
  • Feeling guilty about leaving or scared of coping alone

Why is it hard for a woman to leave a relationship?

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Leaving a violent relationship is difficult and risky

Many women will attempt to leave a number of times before finally separating and there are many reasons for this:

  • Increased risk of harm – most homicides occur in this period
  • Financial pressures – lack of access to money and leaving her job behind
  • Not wanting to disrupt children’s education, lives and links to family and community
  • Believing it’s in the children’s best interest to be close to family
  • Continuing to care for a partner and hoping for change
  • Social isolation and its effects – fear of being ostracised by her community

The impact of family violence

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Family violence is estimated to cost the Australian economy $22 billion each year
  • Family violence is most commonly carried out by men against women who are their current or formers partner; this is known as intimate partner violence
  • Is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in Victoria for women aged 15-44 (source Vic Health 2004)
  • The single largest driver of homelessness for women
  • Women and children with disabilities are twice as likely to experience violence as those without

How family violence effects children

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In homes where family violence occurs children suffer emotional and physiological abuse, even if they are not physically abused. It can affect them in many ways including:
  • Taking away a child’s fundamental right to feel safe
  • Becoming withdrawn and fearful
  • Have difficulty relating to others or being unable to concentrate at school
  • Blaming themselves for causing the perpetrator’s anger
  • Suffer post-traumatic stress, feeling helpless and overwhelmed with anxiety
The cumulative effect of family violence on children
  • Impacts on the brain’s neural pathways, affecting cognitive development and stress response systems
  • Mental health problems including anxiety, depression, symptoms of trauma, eating disorders and, for some, suicide attempts
  • Can affect their long term relationships

Client stories

Names and details have been changed to protect client privacy.

Amal*

Amal*

Amal was referred to Kara Family Violence Service by the Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service in early 2011 after she fled the family home with her two teenage daughters.

Amal met her husband, a resident of Australia, in Lebanon in 2009, whilst he was on holiday. A year later they married and she moved to Australia with her daughters. Within months of their married life, Amal was a victim of domestic violence perpetrated by her husband and his former wife. Amal was sexually abused, financially abused and she was isolated. Several weeks later, unobserved by her husband, Amal and her daughters walked out of the house. A passer-by seeing the distressed family took them to a police station and three days later she in our crisis accommodation. Amal could not speak English, did not have permanent residency, and didn’t know Australia or its laws and customs. She had no money, was responsible for two children, was homeless and could not return to Lebanon. Over the three weeks that Amal was in refuge, Kara Family Violence Service helped her to link into a GP, Centrelink, migration support, sexual assault counselling and legal aid. We also provided Amal with food vouchers and material aid for 10 weeks before she was eligible for Centrelink income. She was taught basic living skills – how to catch public transport, where to shop, Australian money, the Court system. Amal and the children were transferred to a transitional property with the help of Kara Family Violence Service and her support continued. There were many court visits which impacted greatly on Amal’s health. She was linked into a psychologist. The children were enrolled into a language school and they commenced counselling. Amal and her daughters remained in transitional housing until 2014 when she was offered a property through the Department of Housing. Amal can now speak English, and she has permanent residency and she receives a benefit from Centrelink. Her daughters speak English and have continued on with their education. They are settled and they feel safe.

Merryn*

Merryn*

Merryn is 46yo and was born in the Cook Islands. Merryn* and her husband met 28 years ago. Family violence had always been a part of their relationship and several times Merryn left the marriage, but returned because of the children or because he said he had changed. After a significant separation and against the advice of her family,

in 2019 Merryn’s husband enticed her to move to Australia. Unfortunately the violence continued and Merryn was forced to leave her home. Merryn was referred to Kara Family Violence Service for crisis accommodation in October last year. Merryn had one bag, which contained a change of clothes and nothing else. She had no money, no employment and was not eligible to access Centrelink. At this time we had was provided access to a number of transitional one and two bedroom units located on one site. Kara Family Violence Service decided to use this development to support non-permanent resident clients who had been impacted by family violence. Women who are not permanent residents in Australia and on a Visa are not eligible for many of the financial supports from the government and clients like Merryn find it particularly hard to find accommodation. The units were a collaboration between DHHS, and the Woodards Community Foundation. With the generous assistance of You Matter, the units were furnished and made into individual and comfortable homes right down to a vase of flowers and a bowl of fruit on the table. We moved Merryn into a unit, where, with happy tears, she said for the first time in many years she felt safe and cared for. Being in transitional housing allows a client further time and support, from her Kara Family Violence Serivice Practitioner, to access safe and secure long-term housing. Kara Family Violence Service has been financially supporting Merryn – rent, utilities and daily living requirements. As Merryn has re-established her relationship with her family, she wants to return to the Cook Islands; unfortunately lack of funds and COVID has delayed her return, however after securing a managed isolation allocation, we have accessed funding for her to return to her family in March.
*name changed

How to prevent family violence

Family violence is complex and each experience is difference. International evidence suggests the major cause is inequality between women and men – that is, the unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunities. Stereotypical ideas about the roles of women and men in society and the way they should behave, fosters an environment for violence against women to occur. In individual relationships, this inequality plays out in the belief that a man is entitled to exercise power and control over his partner and children.

How it plays out in society

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  • ‘Everyday sexism’ such as sexual and verbal harassment of women and girls
  • Demeaning and sexualised portrayals of women and girls in the media
  • Fewer women in leadership roles, giving men more control over decision making
  • The gender pay gap, caused by men being paid more than women for the same or similar work
  • Women’s sport attracting less sponsorship, prize money and media coverage compared to men’s
  • Individuals – both women and men – are more likely to condone, tolerate or excuse violence against women when they don’t believe women and men are equal

What actions can the community take

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  • Call out rather than condone violence against women
  • Promote independence and decision making by women
  • Challenge gender stereotypes and roles
  • Strengthen positive and respectful relationships

What can the community do to help?

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Crisis response

Support of women and children who are in high risk of harm.

Early intervention

Identification of and support of women and children experiencing family violence as early as possible.

Primary intervention

Population-based and community initiatives to educate and bring about social and cultural change.

Advocate for action

Advocate that action is needed through legislation and policy change by governments and organisations.

Advocate for rights

Advocate for the rights of women and children to live in safety and without fear, using professional practice informed by feminist, human rights and social justice principles.

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