Signs of domestic and family violence

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Signs of domestic and family violence

  • Signs of domestic or family violence;
  • What to do and say if you suspect something;
  • Who to talk to for more advice.


Domestic or family violence are both terms for range of behaviours used to harm, intimidate, frighten, harass, coerce or control someone you have a 'domestic' relationship with.

A 'domestic' relationship might mean a spouse or partner, but it also includes other family members or people who live together.

The behaviours that domestic or family violence offenders use are different in every circumstance. They are almost always secret, so it can be hard to know whether someone you know might be experiencing domestic or family violence.

If you are concerned someone might be experiencing violence

When you discover that a friend or family member has experienced violence, we often find ourselves asking, 'why didn't I know?' It can be difficult to know if somebody is experiencing domestic violence. It is something that many people find difficult or unsafe to talk about. For others, they may not have recognised for themselves that their partner's behaviour is abusive.

The experience of domestic and family violence is very often tied up with feelings of embarrassment or shame. Secrecy is commonly reinforced by the offending person to protect themselves and to isolate their victim.

To understand the experience of domestic and family violence better, visit this page about at the different behaviours and dynamics that make up this type of violence:

Remember, do not limit yourself to looking for physical signs of harm. The cornerstone of domestic violence is power and control. This is harder to spot, and often the most difficult aspect of the abuse to recover from.

Domestic and family violence offenders are usually very careful to make their violence invisible to others. You may not witness any obvious behaviours from the offender at all. You may even find them charming.

While there may be no outward signs that someone is experiencing violence, these signs could indicate that they may be.

This list is not complete, but can help understand how domestic or family violence might look to friends and family:

  • The offender controls decision making about family or social life and/ or finances. An example of this might be noticing that this person has to seek permission from their partner or relative to make plans or to spend money. They might lack access to money.

  • In intimate relationships (like marriage) the offender shows extreme or unusual jealousy. They might checking their partners' phone and messages, accusing them of cheating or flirting. They might forbid them from speaking to people who they view as sexual or romantic competition.

  • The offender might be intrusively present or constantly 'checking up on' their partner or relative. For example, he calls her 15 times a day or turns up to events uninvited or unexpectedly.

  • The offender might undermine other important relationships in the person's life or 'come between' them and other friends or family. You may simply notice that your friend or relative stops spending time with you and other friends or family.

    For example, offender might tell you (or another friend or family member) that your friend has said something negative about you. This could create a divide between you and your friend or relative that undermines your relationship.

    This is a tactic used by offenders to isolate their partner or relative. It extends the offender's influence and control in their life and diminishes their independence and resources.

  • The person may appear nervous or anxious about how the offender will react to minor things like being late, bumping into a friend by chance, changes in plans, or unexpected bills.

  • One impact of control can be that the person's self-esteem or self-confidence deteriorates. They might start speaking negatively about themselves, saying things like, "Oh, I'm so stupid", expressing feelings of guilt and lack of confidence, or having difficulty making decisions.

You can say something, and it really can help.

How you respond to someone experiencing domestic or family violence can make an important difference.

In the first instance you can ask them about it. Let them know what you have noticed, and that it has worried you.

Don't be surprised or hurt if they don't open up to you or are embarrassed by of afraid of your questions. They may not be ready to talk about what is happening (or has happened) and they may feel ashamed.

If the person experiencing the violence is a man, he may feel particularly confused and reluctant to speak about the abuse, as it might be something that is considered a 'women's problem'. There is a common and wrong belief that men should be stronger and more powerful than women.

If they don't want to talk to you about it, reassure them that the line is always open for them to talk to you in future.

By asking them about what you have noticed in a way that doesn't judge or criticise them or their partner, you are letting them know you are a safe person for them to turn to if/ when they are ready.

Remember, our counsellors are there to give advice to anyone worried about a friend or family member. Here's how to contact us:

NSW Rape Crisis
NSW Rape Crisis
Available 24/7.
Sexual Assault Counselling Australia
Sexual Assault Counselling Australia
For those affected by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Available 24/7.
Online counselling
Online counselling
Online counselling is also available 24/7.