Abuse and family violence

Family violence is a serious matter affecting many lives directly and indirectly. Children who witness family violence can grow to recognise it as normal or acceptable behaviour which can lead to it passing from one generation to the next. Family violence is not acceptable, it is a crime.

On this page:

What is family violence?

Family violence (or domestic violence) occurs where a person uses violent and/or abusive behaviour to control another person who they have some type of "family" relationship. Despite what is commonly believed family violence is not limited to relationships between husbands, wives and their children. It also includes violence between defacto couples, gay and lesbian couples, boyfriends and girlfriends and the extended family (relatives) of those couples, including step-children and adopted children.

Family violence may include, but is not limited to, criminal behaviours such as:

  • assault (for example slapping, punching, kicking, grabbing, pushing)
  • threats to physically harm a person
  • confining a person against their will
  • sexual assault
  • child abuse or neglect
  • damage to another person’s property
  • stalking
  • breach of a Domestic Violence Order.

Some other behaviour which are family violence but which may not be criminal offences include:

  • verbal or emotional abuse (for example name calling, humiliation, making another person feel worthless, insults)
  • financial abuse (for example, withholding and/or controlling finances)

See the Understanding Family Violence brochure (PDF, 1MB) for more information.

Who can help you?

No one should have to cope with family violence alone. You may, of course, choose to approach friends or other family members, or a community group for support and assistance. There are also many professionals available to help people who have experienced family violence. In the ACT, our police officers have been specifically trained to investigate family violence.

There are a number of things that police can do to assist those who have experienced abuse or those who use violence, for example:

  • Investigate whether a criminal offence has been committed and if so, they may charge the offender.
  • Obtain an Emergency Protection Order from the court on behalf of a person, either to prevent family violence from occurring, or to protect a person from further harm.
  • Referral to support agencies such as the Domestic Violence Crisis Service and other service agencies.

ACT Policing also works closely with the Domestic Violence Prevention Council to help reduce incidents of domestic violence in the ACT.

Reporting family violence

Reporting family violence can be a difficult process with many influences impacting on this decision. It is important to remember a victim cannot make the decision to press charges. This decision is made by investigating police based on the evidence available to them. It is made with the safety and protection of the victim (and their family) in mind.

Once police charge an offender and refer the case to DPP, the decision to proceed with the charge/s rests with the DPP. You should be aware that family violence charges are treated differently within the criminal justice system. All family violence charges before the court are identified early and fast tracked in a special court. This is done with the aim of reducing the stress and concerns of both parties and the family. When the matter proceeds through court, the focus is on offender accountability and appropriate interventions to ensure victim safety and satisfaction.

Victims should consider a safety plan, which is a personal strategy to help keep them safe. Advice about safety plans is available from the Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS). DVCS is a non government crisis support agency that provides 24 hour, 7 day week assistance to all people affected by family violence. DVCS provides direct crisis intervention and telephone support, access to safe accommodation, court support to people who have been subjected to family violence, referrals and information for women, men and young people.

Relationships Australia also provides support and information for people experiencing family violence. Relationships Australia has good resources for individuals who are trying to separate themselves, and their family, from a violent situation. 

The Legal Aid Office (ACT) Domestic Violence and Protection Order Unit may arrange free legal advice and duty lawyer representation for people who need a Domestic Violence Order (DVO) or Personal Protection Order (PPO) from the court.


Crisis intervention, support, accommodation, information Domestic Violence Service (DVCS) Ph: (02) 6280 0900 (24 hours)
Free legal advice, DVOs Legal Aid Office (ACT
Domestic Violence & Protection Order Unit
Ph: (02) 6217 4299
Victims of crime - police assistance (ACT only) Victim Liaison Officer, City Police Station
London Circuit, Canberra City ACT 2601
Ph: (02) 6245 7441 for appointment
Email Victims liaison
Domestic Violence Crisis Service Ph: (02) 6280 0900 (Crisis Service)