Domestic violence support: how to get help


Domestic violence support: how to get help

Published January 2024 | 5 min read
Words by Carrie Hutchinson

Domestic and family violence is at crisis point in Australia. Whether it’s impacting you or someone you know, help is available. Here’s where to find support.

The headlines on news broadcasts are horrifying – and the statistics even more so. Every nine days in Australia a woman is killed by a current or former partner, and almost one in four women have experienced intimate partner violence since the age of 15.

For women in more marginalised settings, the story gets worse. According to Safe and Equal, Victoria’s peak body for specialist family violence services, three in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, almost two in five women with disabilities, one in three refugee and migrant women, and more than two in five LGBTIQ people have experienced some form of abuse by their partner.

In a broader context, family violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children in Australia. A report by PwC, Our Watch and VicHealth estimates violence against women costs $21.7 billion a year in Australia. In 2021 to 2022, 32% (about 6,500 in total) of assault hospitalisations were due to family and domestic violence.

Such is the crisis that, in 2022, the Australian, state and territory governments released the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children. Its aim is to end gender-based violence within a generation by focusing on four specific areas: prevention, early intervention, improving response services, and helping victims to heal and recover.

What is domestic and family violence?

Many people assume domestic violence is only physical, but it can manifest in many ways and isn't limited to intimate partners. For example, family violence can be perpetrated by a parent on a child, older or adult children on their younger siblings or parents, and carers (not necessarily family members) on the elderly and disabled.

Types of domestic and family violence can include:

  • physical violence
  • emotional violence
  • sexual abuse
  • financial abuse
  • neglect
  • stalking
  • coercive control.

Some examples of domestic and family violence are:

  • threatening to hurt you, other family members or even your pets
  • isolating you from family and friends
  • monitoring your phone calls, social media or emails
  • controlling your finances, so you have no money to support yourself or run a household effectively
  • threatening to hurt themselves if you leave.

What is coercive control?

Perpetrators of domestic violence will often use patterns of abusive behaviour that make someone increasingly fearful and take away their independence. That's coercive control.

When Sallie moved in with her boyfriend, his behaviour changed. "He became manipulative and suspicious and didn't respect my privacy," she says. "He was always looking through my things, questioning my activities and questioning me about my past. He consistently put me down about my weight, compared me to his ex-wife and called me names. He made me feel wrong about everything I did or said.

"He would ignore me as soon as he walked into our house. It was as if I didn't exist except when he wanted something. I withdrew into myself and became depressed. It felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore."

Eventually, Sallie regained the emotional strength to question him, tell a close friend and begin doing things for herself again. She ended the relationship and promised herself she would never go back.

You can read Sallie's full story at the Safe and Equal website.

What to do if you’re experiencing domestic or family violence

First, it's important to remember that domestic violence is never acceptable. If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, talk to someone you can trust. This could be a family member, close friend, your GP, or you could contact one of the organisations listed below. They can help you come up with a plan, including arranging ongoing legal protection, such as an apprehended violence order (AVO).

You will likely need to ask for help, sometimes financial and often emotional. Nobody expects you to work this out on your own.

Remember, if you’re in immediate danger, call triple zero (000).

How to help a victim of domestic violence

If you've noticed behavioural changes in a friend or family member – perhaps they're withdrawn, don’t call anymore or can’t meet up – and you suspect they may be a victim of family violence, find a safe and private environment to ask if they're okay. If they’re ready to talk, listen without judgement. Don't push them – they may feel trapped and unable to talk at that time.

"It’s important that people know that whatever their situation, there is help and support available," says a spokesperson for 1800RESPECT. "When someone you know is experiencing domestic, family or sexual violence, the way you respond and listen has a big impact. However, it’s important to consider your own safety and the safety of others before intervening."

Here is some additional advice to help someone who has experienced domestic or family violence:

  • Talk to them in a safe environment. Make sure the partner or perpetrator of the violence won't walk in or could be listening to you during your discussion.
  • Be aware that sending text messages or emails can be dangerous for both of you. The partner may be monitoring their interactions with others.
  • If someone is ready to talk, support them in their choices – remembering that "just leaving" may not be an option – and offer to help them seek support from a professional counsellor or an organisation like 1800RESPECT.

Where to find family violence and counselling support services

The Australian Government’s Respect website has a long list of resources for those needing support or emergency help. The national phone and online counselling service for victims of domestic, family, and sexual violence has also recently been expanded to include a new 'discreet' text messaging option for people who are unable to or are not safe to speak directly on the phone. The number to text 1800RESPECT is 0458 737 732.

Services Australia website also has information on where to access payments and legal and housing support services.

Are You Safe At Home
Safe and Equal

Domestic Violence NSW


South Australia
Break the Cycle of Domestic Abuse

Safe at Home

Western Australia
Family and domestic violence support and advice

Northern Territory
Dawn House

Domestic and Family Violence Support

Mental health support for members

Our mental health services for members, including the free Healthy Minds Check-in*, allow you to access support from psychologists, including if you’re dealing with family violence. There are also support services for children, including Calm Kid Central, an online program for children aged four to 11 facing emotional challenges available for HCF members with hospital or extras cover^.

If you're struggling with depression or anxiety, and need to speak to someone now, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Domestic and family violence support

At HCF, we believe everybody has the right to be free from violence and feel safe and respected in their homes. If you’re experiencing domestic violence, we can help by protecting your personal details, offering options during times of financial hardship and referring you to external services.

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* 1 HealthyMinds Check-in available per member per calendar year. Service is available free to all members with hospital cover. Excludes extras only cover, Ambulance Only, Accident Only and Overseas Visitors Health Cover.

^ Excludes Accident Only Basic cover and Overseas Visitors Health Cover.

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