People Who Use Violence
“We live in a society that will judge a woman far more harshly for not leaving a perpetrator than we do a perpetrator for perpetrating.”
– Geraldine Bliston (survivor advocate)
By intention, people who use violence aren’t easy to spot – if they were, we wouldn’t be here. It’s an uncomfortable truth that people who use violence are people we know. And they are people in our communities – they aren’t in gaol.
Perpetration of violence rarely occurs in isolation, and without intervention is only likely to worsen. That’s why it’s important to educate about the nature and behaviour patterns of people who use violence, sexual or otherwise.
Men’s violence against women is everyone’s problem. But it begins – and ends – with men.
The Nature of the Perpetrator
People who use violence select their targets in an organised, often opportunistic way. Victims are groomed by people who use violence to accept responsibility for the perpetrator’s behaviour.
People who use violence deflect responsibility for their actions. This serves to justify abusive behaviour.
People who use violence blame their victims for their actions. This puts the onus of stopping the behaviour onto the victim.
People who use violence dismiss their behaviour, laugh it off, distance themselves from it or deny it altogether. This minimises the impact of their behaviour, and manipulates the victim into thinking that the behaviour isn’t that bad.
People who use violence publicly assert their ‘good blokeness’. This manipulates others into thinking that the victim has uniquely called out the abusive behaviour.
Abuse is a choice – a choice of who to hurt, when to hurt and how to hurt.
The victim is never at fault for the abuse enacted against them.
The pattern of behaviour emotionally abusive behaviour exhibited by people who commit domestic violence is known as coercive control. The motivation behind coercive control is for the person to get their way – to make their victim do something, to stop them from doing something, or to punish them. This is achieved through gaslighting, manipulation, humiliation, isolation, control and abuse.
The direct behaviours that make coercive control so impactful are difficult to pinpoint. Often they are gradual, embedded in day to day life so as to insidiously restrict the victim’s freedom. This makes it hard to recognise just when the behaviours become problematic.
Coercive control can look like:
- Controlling where a partner goes
- Restricting who a partner sees
- Monitoring a partner’s finances
- Love bombing a new partner
- Convincing a partner to have sex
- Ignoring the target’s personal boundaries
- Controlling through threats to loved ones – children, pets, family.
A person needn’t be in a relationship to experience the beginnings of coercive control – while an unsuspecting person might be seeking a partner, a perpetrator might be seeking someone to gain power over (Lambert, 2022).
1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced coercive control since the age of 15. Those who experienced or witnessed abuse as a child are twice as likely than those who did not to experience coercive control by a partner as an adult (PSS, 2016). That’s right, experience it again, not perpetrate it.
Coercive control often comes with other forms of abuse, with over 1/2 of women a 1/4 of men who experience coercive control also experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by a partner (PSS, 2016).
States are working towards criminalising coercive control as a standalone offence, given it is a precursor to homicide.
* Indigenous women are consistently mis-identified as perpetrators of coercive control.
It is incredibly difficult to name abuse by a loved one for what it is,
especially when the abuse isn’t physical.
Drivers of Gendered Violence
Child to Parent Violence
Child-to-parent violence (CPV) refers to situations where a young person uses violence towards a parent or caregiver. Like other forms of family violence, this may involve physical and non-physical abuse. CPV is called many things, including ‘adolescent family violence’, ‘adolescent violence in the home’, and ‘parent abuse’.
Minor conflict between parents and their children (particularly teenagers) is normal – it can result in positive changes to the relationship such as new and age-appropriate boundaries. Aggression in early childhood is often normal too, before the young person has the ability to express their needs appropriately. However, in 16% of Australian families in any one year, a young person is frequently verbally aggressive and will use or threaten to use physical violence. Mothers, especially single mothers, tend to experience CPV at the highest rates.
CPV might be reactive (self-defence response to aggression or to perceived aggression), affective (similar to reactive, but the young person may be experiencing anxiety or frustration that is spilling over into their interactions with their parent), or proactive (violence is used to get something they want). CPV is multi-causal, and its development is complex, meaning that there are a range of factors which may interact to make CPV more or less likely. CPV may develop in households where there are other forms of family violence occurring, because the young person witnesses and reproduces the violent behaviours, or is directly victimised themselves and uses CPV to control an unpredictable and frightening environment. Other factors include mental wellbeing, substance abuse, ability to regulate emotion and family cohesion.
Typically, CPV is first observable in childhood, sometimes as young as 5 years old. It often co-occurs with aggression or violence towards peers, and can generalise into early dating experiences. Replicating the pattern of violence across relationships is more likely for those who exhibit proactive CPV.
CPV-specific interventions exist, although as CPV often occurs within a pattern of conduct problems, families may receive school referrals to interventions designed for childhood oppositional behaviours. CPV also often occurs where the young person has a diagnosis of ADHD and/or autism spectrum disorder, so families can receive help for challenging behaviours in these contexts too.
Understanding the function of the behaviour used in cases of CPV is paramount. There is currently a push to make interventions more individualised, with recognition that CPV can look very different between families. Some interventions are also being trialled with younger age groups.
Most people are unaware of how young it can start.
A significant proportion of people who use violence continually do so. This is called reoffending.
Keeping in mind that sexual offences that come to the attention of police represent only a small proportion of offences that occur:
- 7% of child sex offenders reoffend sexually within 10 years of their first offence, with some adapting their offending to target new and different victims in different contexts (AIC, 2022). Indeed, 42% of child sexual assault offenders reoffend non-sexually (AIC, 2021).
- 23% of domestic violence offenders commit a further domestic violence offence within six months, with the highest risk period being the weeks following an incident (AIC, 2019). The rate of short-term reoffending, defined as within 30 to 60 days, increases significantly with each repeat offence.
The risk of reoffending domestic violence and of breaching protection orders increases if the perpetrator is male, is under the age of 35 and is drunk (AIC, 2019).
* Importantly, no single risk factor listed is predictive of reoffending by itself. Rather, their effects are cumulative; multiple risk factors together can predict recidivism.
For all types of domestic and sexual violence, the higher the number of prior offences, the greater the likelihood of reoffending.
Perpetration rarely occurs in isolation.
The Importance of Bystanders
The majority of Australians say they would like to act when witnessing abuse or disrespect towards women, but a concerning proportion of us believe that gender inequality is an exaggerated problem (NCAS, 2017). Is that because most people know someone who has been sexually assaulted, yet no one wants to think of their father, brother or friend as a perpetrator?
Perpetrators thrive on the silent complicity of the majority. If you are not actively condemning violence against women, especially when it comes to the people you know, you are choosing the perpetrator’s comfort, or your own comfort, over the victim’s pain. As a result, victims are routinely disbelieved, and perpetration continues.
Most victims just want to be able to walk with their head held high, and for it to be the perpetrator who looks down in shame. By creating social consequence for perpetration (loss of reputation), community can give victims the justice they seek but often cannot achieve through the legal system.
There can be many reasons why someone might hesitate to act – fear of confrontation, fear of judgement, fear of one’s safety, or fear of making things worse. Choosing not to act might be based on a belief that a bystander can’t make a difference. But bystander intervention can contribute to primary prevention (Chung et al., 2020).
- Do you not want to ‘rock the boat’? Get a new social circle – one that doesn’t perpetuate rape culture.
- Do you want to remain ‘neutral’ until the law proves the truth? Guilty convictions are few and far between.
- Do you think he’s ‘a nice guy’? If a perpetrator was easy to spot, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
- Do you want to protect your friend? Protect him by calling him out before he offends.
Be courageous, take action. This doesn’t require an aggressive confrontation – it’s about challenging unacceptable behaviour with acceptable behaviour.
See our Instagram or call the services under “Get help” at the bottom of this page to assist you to safely confront a friend you suspect is perpetrating violence. Or, the MATE Bystander Program’s Be There app is designed to support you to help someone experiencing or using coercive control.
And be sure to publicly support the victimised person.
Don’t be a bystander – it involves you.
Systemic and institutional accountability:
the responsibility of government authorities and non-government services to hold the perpetrator accountable
the responsibility of families, friends, neighbours or kinship groups to hold the perpetrator accountable
Individual perpetrator accountability:
specialist behaviour programs to facilitate self-accountability by perpetrators, and to address the underlying drivers of their perpetration
Still think the victim is at fault?
Why doesn’t she just leave?
“Why doesn’t she just leave?” is a common question people ask when trying to understand domestic abuse. This question, that shifts blame onto the victim and diverts attention away from the perpetrator, speaks to a core misunderstanding that facilitates abuse; that a victim has any agency to exert power over their abuser.
Victims of coercive control experience a slow and insidious erosion of confidence and independence, sometimes so well hidden that the entrapment goes undetected by the victim themselves. The victim might deny, minimise or blame themselves for the abuse in line with traditional heteronormative expectations, which dictate that a man should exert dominance. In addition, it is often forgotten that domestic abuse involves love – it is incredibly difficult to name abuse by a loved one for what it is. Frontline services are just starting to help victims understand that they are experiencing coercive control as it unfolds in its early stages (Miller, 2022).
In planning to leave, a victim must look at the violence that’s come before, and prepare for the violence that will come after, because the abuse doesn’t stop once they become aware of it. Just the opposite is true; leaving an abusive relationship is associated with a heightened risk of violence, including lethal violence (Tidmarsh & Hamilton, 2020). That is, statistically, a victim is most likely to be murdered when they try to leave. Victims may also fear for the safety of their children, loved ones or pets. So, acting in the short term might impact a victim more dangerously in the long term (Rinaldo, 2022).
Victims may not want to leave for fear of being ostracised from their community. This is particularly true of small, interconnected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, where disclosing victimisation is associated with shame, and leaving means leaving land.
Additional risks for victims with disabilities might be that their abuser is their carer. For migrant women, resident status may be dependent upon their violent partner. Women who hold temporary visa consistently report higher levels of domestic abuse (APO, 2021).
Even if they do manage to flee, victims have likely been isolated from friends and family, as well as their own finances. A shortage of refuge housing further restricts their options. Trans victims face additional barriers to escaping – they struggle to access refuge at women’s shelters, and have a greater likelihood of ending up homeless. In fact, domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for all women and children in Australia (AHURI, 2021).
Why doesn't she just report it?
74% of female victims do not immediately realise they have been assaulted (ABS, 2021). This can be attributed to a lack of sex and consent education, normalised male aggressiveness, and an untrue perception that partners cannot sexually assault one another, among other things. We’ve also established that coercive control often goes undetected by the victim themselves.
Even if they wanted to report, many victims are fearful of the police system. And with good reason – the process of reporting can be entirely re-traumatising. Victims feel alone, in the dark and out of control, with information about what’s to come not widely accessible. A victim might fear that they will not be believed by police, evidenced by the fact that victims are more likely to report with physical injuries (AIHW, 2020), especially in cases of domestic abuse. Or, a victim may lack trust in the process – a significant proportion of victims do not report because they think the police will not be able to do anything for them (ABS, 2021). A lack of trust in police is common for communities that have had negative experiences with police, such as Indigenous Australians, immigrants and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Already disadvantaged due to a lack of remote, let alone culturally-sensitive services, high rates of non-disclosure in Indigenous communities specifically are linked to Australia’s colonial history of condoning the murder, assault and abuse of Indigenous women. Today, when Indigenous women seek help from authorities, they are often met with negligence or further violence (Carlson, 2021). This includes a lack of confidentiality, particularly in small or isolated communities (Willis, 2011), which can lead to culturally related retribution, as well as the threat of child removal.
Besides, only 1/4 of police reports result in charges against the perpetrator (ABS, 2017).
Why doesn't she get a protection order?
One option is for a victim to get a personal protection order or a domestic violence order.
However, domestic violence orders for non-violent abuse require a lengthy course of conduct evidence before a perpetrator’s behaviour is criminalised. Children may misidentify the abusive parent during this time, given that perpetrators aim to undermine a victim’s authority to parent and have meaningful relationships with their children (Hooker et al., 2016). This leaves the victim and any children worse off than before they obtained the protection order.
Even once orders are enacted, the family law system is geared toward shared parental responsibility, meaning children are ordinarily required to spend time with the abusive parent regardless of the protection order. Further, 1 in 4 women killed by a male partner was ‘protected’ under a domestic violence order (ECAV, 2019). The violence does not stop just because the victim and perpetrator separate.
Let’s refocus responsibility on the offending parent, and appreciate the victim parent’s ability to parent in the face of violence.
We don’t ask victims of robbery why they invited a robber into their home. We don’t scrutinise them for claiming that they’ve been robbed.
The victim is not responsible for placing themselves at risk, for provoking abuse, for failing to make themselves safe or for reporting the crime.
Has your son screamed at you aggressively?
Has your father ever slapped or pushed another family member – or threatened to?
Does your friend easily lose his temper at the women in his life?
Have you ever pressured someone into having sex?
Call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 941 or the MensLine on 1300 789 978. Both services offer online chats, and you can remain anonymous. Keep in mind, neither of these services are specialists in sexual assault. No To Violence is the national peak body for accredited Men’s Behaviour Change Programs, which you can locate here.
If you are confused about whether someone in your house is perpetrating violence, go to What’s OK At Home and click on the website that correlates to your age.