Recognising violence and abuse in families and relationships

The experience of abusive behaviour in one's personal or family relationships can happen to anyone.

While some violence and abuse is very clear, in other situations it can be difficult to know if the behaviour you are concerned about is something you need help to deal with.

Do you need help?

Ongoing violence and abuse in families and relationships is a pattern of behaviour that makes you feel scared and is aimed at controlling you:

  • Has anyone in your family done something that made you or your children feel unsafe or afraid?
  • Have they threatened to hurt you in any way?
  • Do you have any immediate concerns about your safety or that of any children in your care?

If you answered yes to any of these questions and feel unsafe or afraid:

  • Call Triple Zero (000) if you are in immediate danger.
  • You can call the Victims of Crime Helpline on 1800 819 817 between 8am and 11pm, every day, if you would like confidential advice about the options and assistance available to you.

Every year we help thousands of people of different ages, genders and backgrounds who have experienced threatening, abusive or violent behaviour in their personal and family relationships.

We can discuss your situation with you and connect you to support and assistance that best meets your needs and preferences.

Abuse happens in many different personal and family relationships

It can happen:

  • in a de-facto relationship, civil union or marriage
  • between boyfriends, girlfriends or partners
  • between parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and grandparents
  • between people with a disability and their carer
  • between older people and their carer
  • between people in a 'family-like' relationship, according to traditions or social practices
  • in LGBTIQ+ relationships.

On this page you can learn more about:

  • different kinds of violence and abuse in families and relationships
  • how abuse and violence can make you feel.

Types of abuse, violence and control in relationships

There are many different ways that a family member, partner or ex-partner can be abusive, violent or controlling. Things like financial pressures, drug and alcohol use, and mental illness can influence the way the person behaves toward you.

Below are some examples of these types of behaviour. You may be experiencing family violence if similar things have happened to you.

Psychological abuse

Psychological or emotional abuse is behaviour that intimidates or harasses you. It is often one part of a pattern of controlling behaviour.

Types of psychological abuse

The abusive person may:

  • prevent you from making or keeping connections with your family or friends
  • constantly ask where you are or what you’re doing
  • use intimidating body language like angry looks or a raised voice
  • threaten to harm your children, extended family members or pets
  • humiliate, threaten or insult you
  • constantly criticise you
  • control the way you present yourself or things you do
  • destroy or threaten to destroy your important or sentimental possessions
  • drive recklessly with you in the car
  • persistently contact you with phone calls, text messages or emails
  • persistently contact you on social media
  • repeatedly follow you
  • loiter near your workplace or other places that you often visit.

Social abuse

Social abuse is behaviour that is aimed at cutting you off from other relationships. This can be your family, friends, your workplace or a community you belong to.

Types of social abuse

The abusive person may:

  • try to stop you from seeing other people or going to social activities
  • try to stop you from going out
  • make it difficult for you to use your car, other forms of transport or mobility aids
  • intentionally do things that make you be late or miss activities, meetings or appointments
  • repeatedly monitor or check where you go and who you see
  • repeatedly check your phone, email or social media to see who you have been in contact with
  • tell other people things that are not true to make you look bad
  • threaten to tell other people things that may cause problems in your relationships with them.

In some communities, social abuse in relationships and families can take on particular forms. You can learn more about:

Verbal abuse

While arguments can occur in any relationship, ongoing verbal abuse can be a way of controlling your behaviour or intimidating you.

Types of verbal abuse

The abusive person may:

  • scream, shout or swear at you
  • call you names or use put-downs to make you feel worthless
  • constantly criticise the decisions that you make
  • repeatedly taunt you
  • ridicule you, including for your religious beliefs, culture, sexuality or gender identity.

Physical and sexual abuse

Physical and sexual abuse can happen in many ways. Threatening to carry out physical or sexual violence even if nothing happens is also abuse.

Types of physical and sexual abuse

For example, the abusive person may:

  • pull your hair
  • push and shove you
  • pinch, slap, hit or punch you
  • try to strangle you
  • pressure or force you to have sex or sexual interactions when you do not want to have.

You can learn more about:

Financial and economic abuse

The abusive person may use money as a way to control you.

Types of financial and economic abuse

The abusive person may:

  • take full control of all the finances, spending and decisions about money so that you are financially dependent on them
  • prevent you from working so that you are financially dependent on them
  • deny you access to money
  • provide inadequate resources for you to live on
  • demand that you show how every cent is spent
  • incur traffic and parking fines when using your car
  • organise loans for cars, mortgages and credit cards in your name
  • threaten to have electricity, gas and water disconnected
  • coerce you to enter into high-risk financial situations, such as using your house as security for a loan.

Mistreatment and neglect

People who need assistance with tasks of daily living may experience mistreatment or neglect from people who provide their care or people they reside with in a care facility.

Some groups who can be vulnerable to mistreatment and neglect include:

  • people with a disability who need help with daily tasks
  • older people who need help with daily tasks
  • children
  • people who are cared for in institutions or facilities.

Carers can be:

  • someone you have a close relationship with like a partner or another member of your family
  • paid carers who come into your home or provide care in an institutional environment.

Mistreatment and neglect are never acceptable. While they can be unintentional and happen because the carer does not understand or is unable to provide appropriate care, they can also be deliberate behaviours that are aimed at harming or controlling you.

Types of mistreatment and neglect

The abusive person may stop providing (or threaten to stop providing) basic things you need such as:

  • appropriate food and drink
  • access to medical treatment or medication
  • a safe, clean environment for you to live or stay in
  • appropriate, clean clothing and footwear
  • access to bathing, toileting and ways to care for your personal hygiene.

The abusive person may:

  • deliberately leave you in a place or situation that is unsafe
  • take away or stop you from using mobility or communication aids
  • not give you medication as advised by your health practitioner, leading to under- or over-medication
  • treat you in a way that does not respect your privacy or dignity.

Abuse using technology

Technology can be used as a tool to harass or control you.

Types of abuse using technology

The abusive person may:

  • make threatening or abusive phone calls
  • send threatening or abusive text messages and emails
  • check or hack your email or social media accounts
  • monitor your internet or phone use
  • track your location through apps, geotagged photographs, or ‘find my phone’ services
  • spread rumours about you online
  • impersonate you online
  • harass or threaten you, your friends or other family members on social networking sites
  • post or distribute ‘revenge porn’ (false, humiliating, intimate or sexualised videos or photos) without your consent.

You can learn more about abuse using technology and what to do in the information about stalking.

How family violence and abuse can impact how you feel

There are many different ways that an abusive relationship with a partner, ex-partner or other family member can impact how you feel. Ongoing abuse can have serious impacts on your mental and physical health.


More information and help

You can find out more about family violence and general victims services available in Victoria.