Domestic violence and what you can do about it

Domestic violence, or family violence, is violent, abusive or intimidating behaviour in a relationship. There are many types of domestic violence, including emotional, sexual, social, financial, spiritual and physical abuse.

If you’re dealing with domestic violence, there are a number of organisations that can offer you help and support.

This can help if:

  • you’re in an abusive relationship

  • you don’t know what to do about your abusive relationship

  • you don’t know where to go to get help.

2 girls sitting on the sidewalk talking

What is domestic violence?

For violence to be ‘domestic’, it doesn’t have to occur within your home, only within a relationship (with a family member or an intimate partner). It occurs when someone close to you has power and control over you. This control or abuse can be expressed in different ways.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse often goes unrecognised, but it can be very hurtful. Someone who is emotionally abusive towards you wants to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence. Read more here about what emotional abuse is and where to get support for it.

Sexual abuse

The term ‘sexual abuse’ covers rape, indecent assault and a wide range of other unwanted sexual behaviours used by offenders as a way to control their victims. Read more here about the different kinds of sexual assault.

Social abuse

Social domestic violence occurs when someone insults or humiliates you in front of other people, keeps you isolated from family and friends, or controls what you do and where you go.

Financial abuse

If someone close to you controls your finances and access to money, and keeps you financially dependent on them so that you always have to ask them for money, this is a form of domestic violence.

Spiritual abuse

Spiritual domestic violence involves preventing you from having your own opinions about religion, cultural beliefs and values. It may also involve causing you to doubt your thoughts on spirituality in order to make you feel powerless. Attempting to cause shame is a large part of spiritual abuse, as is preventing people from practising their religious or cultural beliefs.

Physical abuse

If you are in a relationship where you are being hurt or threatened, it’s important to know that you don’t have to stay and you don’t have to deal with it on your own. Lots of different kinds of support are available to help you. Click here to find out more about physical abuse and where to get support.

Signs of an abusive relationship

It may not always be obvious that you’re in an abusive relationship. It can be common for someone who is being abused to believe that it’s their own fault and that they somehow ‘deserve’ the abuse. Remember: you’re never to blame for the way an abusive person treats you.

A relationship can be violent and abusive without physical violence. It can include emotional, sexual and physical abuse, and may involve control of your finances.

Here are some signs to look for.


  • They check on you all the time to see where you are, what you’re doing and who you’re with.

  • They try to control where you go and who you see, and get angry if you don’t do what they say.

  • They constantly send text messages and want to know what you are doing every moment of the day.


  • They accuse you of being unfaithful or of flirting.

  • They isolate you from family and friends, often by behaving rudely to them.


  • They put you down, either publicly or privately, by attacking your intelligence, appearance, opinions, mental health or capabilities.

  • They constantly compare you unfavourably to others.

  • They blame you for all the problems in your relationship, and for their violent outbursts.

  • They say things like, ‘No one else will want you.’


  • They yell or sulk, and deliberately break things that you value.

  • They threaten to use violence against you, your family, friends or a pet.

Physical and sexual violence

  • They push, shove, hit or grab you, or make you have sex or do things you don’t want to do.

  • They harm you, your family members or your pets.

How can you keep yourself safe?

An abuser may try to control you by downplaying the seriousness of what they’re doing to you. As a result, it’s easy to underestimate the amount of danger you’re in. It’s very important to protect yourself from harm if you feel that you’re being abused. You never have to do this alone. It’s really important that you have support.

Get support

Making a decision to leave a situation where you feel unsafe may be hard and scary. If possible, talk to someone you trust, such as a friend, counsellor or youth worker.

If you need financial support, contact Centrelink. In some circumstances, they can offer you crisis payments.

Go to a refuge

A shelter or refuge is a place where you can seek temporary accommodation. They will help you with a plan for longer-term accommodation. There are also usually other services available in refuges, including legal advice, emotional support, practical help (such as food and clothing), and good security.

Stay with family or a friend

Ask a trusted family member or friend if you can stay with them while you work out what to do next.

Talk to emergency services or the police

If you’ve been injured or sexually assaulted, contact emergency services or visit your nearest hospital emergency department. You can access counselling from a sexual assault counsellor to support you through this process. If you feel unsafe, talk to the police. They’re there to protect you. You can also call state and territory support lines to talk about the risks you face.

Know your worth

If someone is hurting you, or threatening to hurt you, it can be hard to maintain your self-confidence or feelings of self-worth. You might even want to blame yourself. Remember that it’s never okay for someone to hurt you or threaten to hurt you. The best thing you can do in this situation is to get some support to help you plan a path to safety. Reconnecting with friends or family can remind you of who you are and how much other people love and care for you.

Read about your rights

Check out your legal rights at Youth Law Australia. Every state has laws designed to protect you against all forms of domestic violence.

Visit 1800RESPECT for more information on how to keep yourself safe.

What can I do now?

  • If you’re in immediate danger, call 000 (if you’re in Australia).

  • Want to chat with a peer worker who can listen to you and support you? Book a free, text-based session with ReachOut PeerChat.

  • Contact a support service in your local area.