Domestic violence and family violence

Domestic violence includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse and often refers to violence in the home and intimate relationships.

The term ‘family violence’ is broader and recognises the complex kinship of First Nations people. It includes violence between couples of the same or different sexes, and between other family members, such as against children, aunties, or elders.

Domestic violence is a form of family violence (Morgan and Chadwick 2009).


Family violence is one of the most complex human rights abuses affecting First Nations people. The prevalence, severity and consequences of family violence affecting First Nations people justifies the urgent implementation of the recommendations of the National FVPLS Forum. Family violence can include:

physical or sexual assault

stalking or harassment

emotional or psychological intimidation & abuse

denying a person their freedom

damage or destruction of property

causing injury or death to an animal

denying financial support or freedom

preventing a person having other relationships and friendships

Domestic violence might be a single incident, or a pattern of behaviour which is violent, threatening, coercive or controlling. It also includes situations where children or young people witness violence or its effects.

Disproportionate rates of family violence affecting First Nations people

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are one of the ‘’most as risk groups’’ for family, domestic and sexual violence and 3 in 5 have experienced physical or sexual violence. First Nations women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalized due to family violence than other women in Australia and 11 times more likely to die due to assault (AIHW 2019 p.113). These homicides are commonly preceded by repeated contact by the perpetrator with police and the courts.

The consequences of family violence on First Nations women, children and communities are extensive, inter-generational and costly:

Children in Care: Family violence is the primary driver of First Nations children into out-of-home care, and 88% of Aboriginal children in care have experienced family violence.

Health: Family violence has been associated with negative health impacts for women and children, including higher rates of injuries from weapons, miscarriage, pre-term birth and low birthweight, and other long-term health consequences (AIHW 2019 p.115).

Trauma: First Nations women who experience family violence are more likely to have a mental health condition, and to experience psychological distress, PTSD, depression, anxiety, suicide and drug and alcohol abuse, and these can also be suffered by their children.

Incarceration: First Nations women are increasingly mis-identified as offenders in family violence incidents, fuelling rates of incarceration.

Homelessness: First Nations women and their children are at risk of homelessness when escaping family violence.

The scale and consequences of family violence are much greater than this, however, as some studies estimate that 90% of violence against First Nations women is not disclosed. First Nations women risk losing their children, their housing and their lives when escaping family violence, and often do not report family violence or seek support because of a lack of trust in police, shame, the risk of retribution, fear of losing their children and housing, and fear that their partner may go to prison.

What are the risk factors?

Gender: More than 80% of First Nations victims-survivors of physical and sexual assaults are female.

Physical abuse: Almost 80% of physical assaults are against First Nations people aged 20 and 54 years, which is an age group that are likely to have children.

Sexual abuse of children & young people: About 80% of sexual assaults victims were aged between 0–19 years, causing life-long effects on the future of these young people.

Rural and remote: Rates of violence against First Nations women are up to 80 times worse than other woman in some rural and remote areas.

Inadequate services: Service mapping shows that regional and remote areas with high need have the fewest number of services available to First Nations victim-survivors.

Disability: Rates of family violence is higher for people who live with a disability.

Alcohol and drugs: First Nations people reported alcohol or other substances contributed to their most recent experience of physical violence (70% of males and 67% of females) and this was higher in remote areas (76% compared to 65%).

Government’s response to family violence & Closing the Gap

The National FVPLS Forum is a founding member of the national Coalition of Peaks which works with Government to Close the Gap on the inequity affecting First Nations people. Target 13 for the National Agreement for Closing the Gap was introduced in 2020 and states that:
“By 2031, the rate of all forms of family violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children is reduced at least by 50%, as progress towards zero.”
Target 13 Closing the Gap has been agreed by Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.

The Australian Government announced that Target 13 would be implemented by a five-year Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan (2022-2027), that would form part of the over-arching National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032. Please see the response of the National FVPLS Forum here to the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022 - 2032. 

The Australian Government is due to deliver the following two reports in August 2023:

The Australian Government appointed an Advisory Council in June 2021 for the development of the overarching 10-year National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032

The Australian Government appointed a separate Advisory Council in July 2021 for the development of a five-year Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan (2022-2027)