Domestic or family violence is the leading contributor to illness, disability and death for women in Victoria aged between 15 and 44 (VicHealth 2004). Additionally woman who have experience domestic violence have a greater risk of health problems including stress, depression and phobias (WHO 2000).
The Family Law Act 1975 defines family violence as “violent, threatening or other behavior by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family, or causes the family member to be fearful.” This includes (but is not limited to) behavior such as assault, sexual assault, stalking and repeated derogatory taunts.
As with most forms of abuse, there are both short-term and long-term effects. Short-term effects often include anxiety, depression, social isolation, fear and physical/emotional injury. Long-term effects often include post-traumatic stress disorder, lack of self-esteem and disability. Incidents of violence or abuse from a family member can often be dismissed as the result of stress. However, excuses should not be made for perpetrators and abuse should be reported and dealt with.
Children in a family of violence are also impacted by the violence. More than a quarter of children and young people in Australia have witnessed acts of violence against their mother or stepmother (Indermaur, D. 2001). Children often blame themselves for the violence, copy the abuse behaviour or become nervous or withdrawn as a result of exposure to domestic violence. This exposure also impacts on the child’s cognitive development and progression. Children require education that violence is not the answer to issues and that the violence in the family home is not their fault. An increase in the understanding of the potential risk family violence has on children is necessary to ensure they are supported and their development is facilitated.
Family violence not only impacts the victim themselves and their families, but the entire community, the issue costing billions of dollars every year. There has been a recent rise in the rate of domestic violence in Victoria, of a 39.9% increase. Financial pressure and struggle has been blamed for the rise in figures. An extra $16 million is to be spent over four years by the government in order to tackle the rising rates of family violence.