Family Violence

What is Family Violence?

Family violence is any behaviour by a family member towards another family member that:

  • is violent
  • is threatening
  • forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour
  • causes a family member to fear for their safety or the safety of another individual

The behaviour does not need to be criminal for it to be considered family violence.

In the case of a child, direct or indirect exposure to family violence is a form of family violence. The impact for children witnessing family violence is similar to the impact of being directly abused. Family members include any member of a child’s household, including someone one of their parents is dating if that person participates in family life.

Violence in the family is not limited to lower-income families or to certain ethnic or cultural groups. Individuals from all backgrounds experience family violence. Often they suffer alone for a long time, not wanting to admit that they are experiencing family violence.

Even though there is no such thing as a typical person who commits family violence, some studies suggest that there is a typical pattern to family violence. It is referred to as the cycle of violence. It has three distinct phases. During the first phase tension, frustration, and anger on the part of the perpetrator may gradually build up over time. The build-up period may range from days to months, or possibly even years. As the tension builds, the possibility that violence will occur becomes greater.

At some point an explosion occurs; this is the second phase. The violence may last minutes or may continue over a period of days. Following the violence there is usually a period of relative calm; this is the third phase. It is often referred to as the honeymoon phase. During this phase the perpetrator is likely to apologize and try to make amends. Then the cycle repeats itself.

Violent behaviour, however, is not always this predictable. Family violence can vary widely from case to case. The term family violence covers a wide range of behaviour that may or may not involve actual physical violence. The following behaviours are family violence if they are violent, threatening, form a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour or cause a family member to fear for their safety or the safety of another individual:

  • Physical abuse: any aggressive behaviour directed at another person, such as pushing, pinching, squeezing, shaking, grabbing, biting, slapping, punching, kicking, choking, etc. It also includes throwing objects or using a weapon. Needless to say, such conduct will often result in serious injuries. But many victims are subjected to varying degrees of physical violence without suffering physical injury that is visible to the eye.
  • Sexual abuse: forced participation in any type of sexual activity. No one, including a spouse or partner, has the right to force someone to participate in sexual activity if they do not want to.
  • Psychological abuse: the infliction of emotional pain and suffering by doing things to control or degrade another person, such as persistent verbal attacks on self-esteem, repeated accusations of infidelity, threats of suicide or harm to others, and control over things like friends, clothes, and money.
  • Forced confinement: when someone does not allow another person out of a space such as a house, room, bed or chair.
  • Threats or violence towards animals (such as pets) or property involving destroying or damaging property or harming animals. This may include the direct or indirect threat that “you are next.”

Other examples include:

  • threats to kill or cause bodily harm to any person
  • harassment, including stalking
  • failure to provide the necessaries of life
  • financial abuse