It can be difficult to recognise the signs of abuse.
Abuse in relationships, which is also called domestic violence, is any behaviour that causes physical, sexual or emotional damage, or causes you to live in fear.
Non-physical forms of abuse can be just as damaging as physical violence.
- constantly puts you down or criticises you
- threatens to stop you from seeing your children, or
- threatens to commit suicide if you leave the relationship.
- prevents you from seeing your friends and family
- makes you feel guilty about going to work or socialising
- constantly checks up on your whereabouts.
When your partner or another family member takes control of your financial affairs when you don’t want them to, or prevents you from having access to money.
When someone makes you do sexual things that you don’t want to do. Forcing you to have sex is a criminal offence, even if you are married.
When a partner, ex-partner, or someone else follows you around, or repeatedly tries to contact you, even if you’ve said you don’t want this.
Includes pushing, hitting, throwing objects, driving dangerously to frighten you, or threatening to physically harm you, other people, or pets.
Can this be happening to me?
‘I kept pretending to myself that it wasn’t that bad. It took a long time for me to admit I was being abused’
Abuse can be difficult to identify, because an abusive person doesn’t always act this way. Sometimes they may be loving and kind. But if you often feel afraid of upsetting the other person, and you change what you do to avoid their anger, then this is a sign that you are being abused. See our Warning Signs Quiz.
All forms of abuse have damaging consequences. Your confidence can become worn down by abuse.
If you have been in an abusive relationship you may feel:
- afraid to tell anyone
- worried that it’s your fault
- depressed and alone
- scared of coping on your own
- scared it will get worse if you leave
- worried about what others will think
- afraid that no-one will believe you
- frustrated and sad because you’ve tried everything.
Children are also affected if they live in a home where there is abuse. Remember, you’re not to blame for the abuse. You have a right to feel safe and to live a life free from intimidation.
Common ideas about why violence occurs
- ‘They had a sad or difficult upbringing.’
- ‘They drink too much. ‘
- ‘They have a stressful job. ‘
- ‘They can’t control their anger. ‘
- ‘Something about you causes them to abuse you. ‘
At times, we all experience stress, trauma, anger and fear. An abusive person may use these things as excuses for their behaviour, but really they behave this way to try to control what you do.
How have you coped until now?
You may have:
- ‘tiptoed’ around their moods
- seen less of your friends and family
- changed your behaviour according to what they says they wants
- tried hard to protect the kids from seeing or hearing the abuse
- attempted to talk to them about their behaviour
- tried to fight back against the abuse.
Give yourself credit for everything you tried. But in the end, only the abusive person can change their own behaviour and treat you with respect.
What can I do?
No-one likes, asks for or wants to live with abuse or violence, but working out what to do, or whether to stay or leave can be hard.
The first thing is to understand that the way you are being treated is not okay. Our Warning Signs Quiz can tell you if there are warning signs that you are being abused. The most important warning sign is how you feel – do you feel happy, safe, respected or cared for? If you don’t always feel like this, there’s something wrong. Trust your instincts.
Remember, abuse is not your fault. Don’t blame yourself.
Read these stories from people who have experienced abuse. You can learn from their experiences – how they coped, what they did, and their advice for others.
Video from Tell Someone
Talk to someone you trust.
You don’t have to go through this alone. Finding the strength to talk to someone else can be hard, but many people who have experienced abuse say that the most helpful thing was getting support from someone else. Talking about the abuse and how you feel can help you decide what to do. Talk to a friend, a family member or a counsellor. Whoever you talk to shouldn’t judge you. See our services page for more information. The counsellors at these services are experienced in helping people to deal with abuse. They won’t pressure you to leave, or to take any action unless you are ready.
Understand that abuse and family violence affects children.
If abuse or violence is happening to you, your children will most likely be aware of it, even if they don’t witness it directly. There are things you can do to help your children. For information on how to help protect children, see our information for mothers. Children and young people can read the What's Okay at Home? website.
Everyone, regardless of their age, ability, ethnicity, sexuality, religion or culture, has the right to live free from abuse, fear and threat. It’s against the law for someone to physically hurt you, threaten you, or to coerce or force you into sexual contact. You also have the right to equal treatment before the law.
Your safety is important
It’s important to think carefully about your safety and prepare yourself in case you or your children are placed in physical danger.
It’s against the law for someone to physically hurt you, threaten you, or to coerce or force you into sexual contact.
If you are in immediate danger, or if you have been physically or sexually assaulted, threatened or stalked, you can call the police on 000. If there’s sufficient evidence, they should lay criminal charges.
If you need to stay somewhere safe, contact the Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service to find out about women’s refuges. Refuges provide free and safe accommodation services.
If you need legal protection from further violence, you can apply for an Intervention Order (in Victoria). This is a court order that can say the abuser is not allowed to hurt or threaten you, or is not allowed to come near you. If the abuser disobeys the Intervention Order, he can be charged with a criminal offence. Contact the services listed for more information on your legal rights.
Who can I talk to?
Family and friends can be supportive, but sometimes they don’t understand the seriousness of abuse.
If you have any concerns about being abused, you can contact a counselling or outreach service to talk, or just to get information on what you can do.
They won’t judge you, and they’ll take all forms of abuse seriously. They’ll respect your choices, including whether you leave or stay with your partner.
To find numbers for services in Victoria and Australia, see support services.