What is family violence?

In Tasmania, family violence refers to violent, abusive or controlling behaviour by a person against their current or former intimate partner.

The Family Violence Act 2004 (Tas) defines family violence in Tasmania. Family violence occurs where violence is committed directly or indirectly against a person’s spouse, partner or ex-partner. This means family violence can occur in marriages or significant relationships between two adults, or between two people where one or both are aged 16 to 18 years.

  • Assault, including sexual assault
  • Threats
  • Coercion
  • Intimidation
  • Verbal abuse
  • Abduction
  • Stalking
  • Bullying
  • An attempt to do any of those things
  • Economic abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Intimidation
  • Breaching orders relating to family violence
  • Property damage

Signs of family violence

Identifying family violence is a challenging task. Family violence may be masked by other dynamics; deliberately or unintentionally minimised by the victim-survivor; or denied or minimised by the perpetrator.

In some circumstances, it may be difficult to distinguish family violence from forms of conflict that are not usually regarded as abusive.

  • Often there are no obvious signs.
  • Sometimes you may just have a sense or feeling that something is wrong in a relationship.
  • Remember, specialist support services are available to help, provide information and answer your questions.

Signs that a person may be a victim-survivor of family violence include that person being or appearing:

  • Nervous, intimidated or frightened by their partner
  • Withdrawn or reluctant to speak, particularly in the presence of their partner
  • Overly anxious to please their partner
  • They refer to their partner as having a bad temper or being moody
  • They refer to their partner as being jealous or possessive
  • They repeatedly have bruises, cuts, sprains, broken bones or other injuries
  • They are unable to explain or provide unlikely explanations for physical injuries
  • They are reluctant to leave their children with their partner
  • Their children seem afraid of the partner, have behaviour problems and/or seen very anxious or withdrawn
  • They have stopped seeing friends or family
  • Their partner forces them to do sexual things
  • Their partner constantly follows, calls or texts them wanting to know where they are, what they are doing and who they are with
  • Their partner criticises or humiliates them
  • Their partner is jealous and possessive
  • Their partner controls the money and other assets
  • Their partner makes all decisions and orders them about

What is sexual violence?

Sexual violence is behaviour of a sexual nature directed towards a person that makes them feel uncomfortable, distressed or threatened and to which they have not consented.

Sexual violence includes a wide range of unwanted, non-consensual, traumatic and harmful sexual behaviours, including:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Technology-facilitated abuse
  • Unwanted kissing
  • Sexual touching
  • Coercion
  • Sexual assault including rape
  • Child sexual abuse

Sexual assault and rape

The term sexual assault is commonly used to describe a legally defined criminal offence which involves physical assault of a sexual nature directed towards another person without their consent. This includes a range of behaviours legally defined as sexual crimes such as rape, sexual assault, being forced to watch or engage in pornography, forced prostitution, and being made to have sex with friends of the perpetrator.

Sexual acts that constitute a criminal offence in Tasmania, such as rape and sexual assault, are included in the Criminal Code Act 1924 (Tas) and the Police Offences Act 1935 (Tas). Chapter XIV of the Criminal Code outlines sexual crimes, including sexual abuse of children and young people; sexual abuse of a person with mental impairment and indecent assault.

Section 185 outlines the charge of rape: any person who has sexual intercourse with another person without that person’s consent is guilty of a crime.

Continuum of sexual violence


What are the causes of family and sexual violence?

While there is no single cause, and the causes and contributors are complex, family and sexual violence is driven by gender inequality. Other factors may interact with, or reinforce, gender inequality and contribute to increased frequency and severity of violence, but do not drive violence in and of themselves. For example, mental health and use of alcohol and other drugs.


Who are the victim-survivors of family and sexual violence?

Family and sexual violence can affect people of all ages, genders and backgrounds, and occurs in a range of settings, such as homes, schools, workplaces, in communities and online.Some groups are more vulnerable to experiencing family and sexual violence, including children, young women aged 18 to 24 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and people with disability. No two experiences of family or sexual violence are the same.

Why is it referred to as violence against women?

Most men are not violent, but around 95 per cent of all victim-survivors of violence (whether women or men) experience violence from a male perpetrator. Men largely experience violence perpetrated by other men in public spaces and women mostly from men they know in private contexts. Most acts of family and sexual violence are perpetrated by men against women.

All violence is unacceptable, but to prevent family and sexual violence in our community, we must acknowledge and address these gendered patterns.

How widespread is family and sexual violence?

Due to under-reporting, the true extent of family and sexual violence in Australia is unknown. In relation to their most recent sexual assault by a male, nine out of ten women did not contact the police. Despite under-reporting, we know that the extent of family and sexual violence in Australia is significant and persistent.

  • In 2019-20, Tasmania Police attended 3,576 family violence incidents and 2,328 incidents classified as family arguments* or family information reports, a decrease from 2018-19.
  • In 2019-20, 206 sexual assaults were reported to Tasmania Police, a decrease from 240 in 2018-19 and below the five-year average of 236. The number of sexual assaults reported to police can vary significantly from year to year due to the reporting of historical sexual assaults.
  • In 2019-20, 38 per cent of reported sexual assaults were committed more than a year before they were reported, some occurring several decades ago.
  • Females accounted for 88 per cent of sexual assault victim-survivors.
  • Most sexual assaults reported occurred at residential locations (74 per cent).

*  A family argument is a dispute where family violence as defined in the Family Violence Act 2004 (Tas), has not been, and is not likely to be, committed. For example: A couple may engage in a loud argument that attracts the attention of a concerned neighbours who contacts Tasmania Police. On arrival, Tasmania Police make an assessment about whether a situation is a family argument or family violence.

For people outside a violent and abusive relationship, it is hard to imagine why a victim-survivor would stay. Leaving may appear to be a simple solution. However, it can be very hard for a person to leave a violent relationship.

Leaving a violent relationship and abusive partner can be dangerous. When a victim-survivor chooses not to leave, it is important they do not feel judged or feel there is something wrong with them.

  • They may be afraid of what will happen when they leave. The perpetrator may have threatened harm to the victim-survivor, family, friends, children, pets or property or threatened to commit suicide. For many victim-survivors, the violence and abuse gets worse after they leave.
  • They still love their partner because they are not abusive all the time. They want the violence and abuse to end, not the relationship.
  • They believe their partner will change.
  • They think the violence is their fault.
  • They lack the confidence to leave after their perpetrator has make them feel powerless and unable to make decisions.
  • They feel isolated and lonely, having been cut off from family and friends.
  • They feel pressure from their family or community to stay and fear rejection if they leave.
  • They feel they can’t escape their partner because they are part of a small community or live in a rural or remonstrate area.
  • They feel they have nowhere to go – nowhere to live and no access to transport to leave.
  • They don’t have the money, resources or assets to survive if the relationship ends.

If you or someone you know is impacted by family violence call the Safe at Home Family Violence Response and Referral Line on 1800 633 937.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual violence call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis Line on 1800 697 877.

In an emergency, always call 000.

To learn more about family and sexual violence in Tasmania and services available, please visit www.safefromviolence.tas.gov.