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What Is Domestic Violence? (Recognise the signs and Protect Yourself)

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The breakdown of a relationship is a stressful time for all involved. It is a time of heightened emotions and upheaval in the home. This is especially so when children are involved who may be witnessing domestic violence.

Arguments and disagreements between couples may not fall within the definition of domestic and family violence. Domestic violence is when one party to a relationship is abusive, controlling or violent towards the other.

Whether a person oversteps the boundaries of an argument into the territory of domestic violence can be somewhat hazy. What is and is not domestic violence can be confusing.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is defined in section 4AB of the Family Law Act 1975. This section defines domestic violence as:

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.

Many people associate domestic violence with physically violent behaviour. However, abusive behaviour considered to be domestic violence is much broader than threatening physical harm.

If you’re unsure when a dispute becomes domestic violence, here are ways domestic abuse can manifest.

what is domestic violence

If you are experiencing domestic violence, please reach out to us for assistance. In case of emergency, call the police at 000 immediately.

Domestic and physical violence

Physical abuse is a critical component of domestic violence and can occur in various relationships. These include those between intimate partners, family members, or cohabitants. Physical abuse is not limited to acts that result in visible injuries or scars. It encompasses various behaviours designed to exert power and control over another person. Examples of physical abuse include, but are not limited to:

  1. Hitting, Slapping, and Punching. Striking the victim with hands, fists, or other objects.

  2. Biting and Scratching. Leaving marks or causing injury through biting or scratching.

  3. Choking or Strangling. Applying pressure to the throat or neck to induce fear or cause physical harm.

  4. Throwing Objects. Hurling objects at the victim or near them to intimidate or cause injury.

  5. Restraint and Confinement. Physically restraining the victim against their will or confining them to a particular space to limit their freedom.

Domestic and physical violence

Domestic and sexual violence

Sexual abuse in domestic violence situations refers to any form of non-consensual sexual activity or behaviour that is imposed on one person by another within the context of a domestic or intimate relationship. Sexual abuse is a violation of personal autonomy and bodily integrity and encompasses a wide range of behaviours, including but not limited to:

  1. Sexual Assault. Unwanted sexual contact, including groping, touching, or coercing the victim into sexual acts without their consent.

  2. Forced Participation in Sexual Acts. Compelling the victim to perform sexual acts against their will, including with others or in a way that is degrading or humiliating.

  3. Unwanted Sexual Comments or Advances. Making sexually suggestive comments or advances that are unwelcome and create a hostile environment.

  4. Reproductive Coercion. You are interfering with the victim’s reproductive choices, including tampering with birth control, forcing pregnancy, or demanding abortion.

  5. Exposing the Victim to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Knowingly risking the transmission of an STI to the victim through unprotected sex.

Domestic and emotional abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse can be more insidious and more complex to recognise than physical abuse. It involves manipulating the victim’s emotions and psychological state. Emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse. It can lead to long-term psychological trauma, decreased self-esteem, and other emotional difficulties. Examples of emotional abuse include:

  1. Verbal Abuse. This includes yelling, name-calling, mocking, and other forms of insult.

  2. Isolation. They are preventing the victim from seeing friends, family, or other support networks to increase their dependence on the abuser.

  3. Gaslighting. They are making the victim doubt their memories, perceptions, or sanity through denial, lying, and contradiction.

  4. Constant Criticism. Continually finding fault with the victim’s actions, appearance, or thoughts, often about trivial matters.

  5. Humiliation. Publicly embarrassing or shaming the victim in private or in front of others.

  6. Manipulation. Using emotional manipulation to make the victim comply with the abuser’s wishes or to make them feel guilty for not doing so.

wife and husband having a fight

If you are experiencing domestic violence, please reach out to us for assistance. In case of emergency, call the police at 000 immediately.

Domestic and economic abuse

This type of abuse is a powerful method of keeping a victim trapped in an abusive relationship, as it significantly restricts their autonomy and ability to leave the situation. Economic or financial abuse can manifest in various ways, including but not limited to:

  1. Controlling Finances. The abuser takes complete control over bank accounts, credit cards, and cash, deciding when and how the victim can access money.

  2. Withholding Money. The abuser provides an allowance or withholds money as a means of control. They often require the victim to justify any expenses and sometimes deny them money for basic needs like food, clothing, or medical care.

  3. Sabotaging Employment. The abuser may prevent the victim from working, attending job interviews, or engaging in further education. They might also harass the victim at work, potentially leading to job loss.

  4. Ruining Credit. By accumulating debt on joint accounts or accounts in the victim’s name, the abuser can destroy the victim’s credit score. This makes it difficult for them to rent housing, secure loans, or obtain credit cards in the future.

  5. Exploiting the Victim’s Resources. The abuser might force the victim to sign legal documents that grant the abuser control over the victim’s financial resources or legal matters.


Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate; people of any race, age, gender or sexual orientation can be a victim. If you think that you have been the victim of domestic abuse or are experiencing a family breakdown, it is always worthwhile obtaining legal advice on your options and the best way forward.

We are here to help you if you are in a domestic violence situation. Please call our office on (07) 5491 2159 for an obligation-free consultation.


In an emergency, always phone the police on 000.

DVConnect Womensline: 1800 811 811

DVConnect Mensline: 1800 600 636

Domestic Violence Counselling Line: 1800 737 732

Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

Lifeline: 13 11 14

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Rowena Ferrall


Rowena Ferrall is the principal lawyer of Ferrall & Co. Lawyers, which was established in 2017. The firm specialises in family law, domestic violence and criminal defence.

Rowena is licensed to practice in Queensland and the High Court of Australia. Her approach combines legal expertise with compassion, ensuring clients receive the right advice and emotional support. She’s an active member of several law associations and supports various charities. Contact Rowena for more information.

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