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I want to tell people that family violence happens to [anybody], no matter how nice your house is, no matter how intelligent you are.


Intimate partner violence is defined by the World Health Organization as ‘any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship’. Domestic violence emphasises the setting of the violence, whereas family violence is a broader term that includes any violence or abuse that occurs in a family, e.g. elder abuse and adolescent violence against parents.1

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most common form of violence against women. It occurs in heterosexual and homosexual relationships for both men and women; however, as intimate partner abuse is perpetrated more often against women, this chapter focuses on women (and their children) as victims of abuse.

GPs often say we do not see many patients that have experienced violence. However, it has been estimated that full-time GPs are seeing up to five women per week who have experienced some form of intimate partner abuse in the past 12 months.2

A major problem in dealing with IPV is that it is hidden and patients are reluctant to disclose violence when visiting medical practitioners. Another complicating factor is the fact that many patients experiencing abuse and violence may not even be aware that this is the case. Victims stress the importance of a trusting doctor–patient relationship including confidentiality and a non-judgmental attitude.

Key facts and checkpoints4

  • In Australia, 1 in 4 women are subjected to violence or emotional abuse by an intimate partner at some time.

  • Women are nearly three times more likely to have experienced intimate partner violence than men.

  • Of the women who are subjected to IPV, approximately a quarter are pregnant at the time and more than half have children in their care.5

  • Pregnancy is a high-risk time for intimate partner violence.

  • Intimate partner violence is the greatest health risk factor for women aged 25–44.

  • In Australia, 8 women per day are hospitalised and 1 murdered per month due to IPV.

  • Alcohol is a factor in 45% of IPV incidents (i.e. neither the sole cause nor an excuse).6

  • It is estimated that between 65% and 75% of women killed by abusive partners are killed while leaving or after leaving the relationship.7

Practice tip

Safety is the highest priority when working with women who are subjected to violence.

We usually think of domestic violence in terms of physical violence but it can take many forms.3 These include:

  • physical abuse

  • emotional and psychological abuse

  • economic/financial abuse

  • social abuse (e.g. isolation)

  • sexual abuse

  • stalking

  • use of technology to abuse, e.g. sexting

  • other controlling behaviour


In women:


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