Family violence is the use of violent, threatening, coercive or controlling behaviour by an individual against a family member, including those in a past or present intimate relationship, or in an extended family network.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Burden of Disease Study 2018 ranked intimate partner violence as the fourth leading risk factor in living with and dying prematurely from a disease or injury for women aged between 15 and 44. In 2022, at least 57 women in Australia were killed by current or former male partners.
In August 2023, the Australian Government Department of Social Services released 2 action plans under the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032:
- the First Action Plan 2023-2027 and
- the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan 2023–2025.
These are aimed at ending family violence within a generation.
All genders experience family violence, but women and children are affected most often. AIHW research found that in 2021-22 of all people hospitalised due to family violence, 73 per cent were female. Of all people hospitalised because of family violence 63 per cent identified the perpetrator as a spouse or domestic partner, with the remained identifying a parent or other family member.
The role of general practice
General practice plays a vital role in caring for people experiencing family violence. GPs and other primary health service providers are well placed to respond because they see victim-survivors, perpetrators, and children.
Estimates suggest that a full-time GP might see as many as 5 women a week who have experienced partner violence, including some who have experienced severe abuse.
Studies indicate that women are twice as likely to disclose family violence if asked by their GP or a primary care provider. More than one in 5 women make their first disclosure of family violence to a GP.
How you can start the conversation about family violence
Starting the conversation can be challenging, but health professionals are well-placed to do so. With the right tools and supports, they can empower victims to break their silence and seek safety.
Asking is the first step.
Let your patient know they can speak openly to you about their concerns, and that they are in a safe and confidential environment.
Questions could include:
- Is there anything else going on in your life that you’d like to talk about?
- Are your friends and family aware of what’s going on?
- Are you feeling frightened?
- Are you worried about your children’s safety?
Take any opportunity to raise the subject and ask questions. Try to ensure patients feel comfortable and safe talking to you. Consider that perhaps they might feel more comfortable talking to a different staff member and offer that opportunity.
Primary Care Pathways to Safety Program
North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network (NWMPHN) is committed to supporting primary care providers to build their confidence and capability to recognise, respond and refer disclosures of family violence.
To achieve this, we are being funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care to deliver the Primary Care Pathways to Safety program.
The program, designed in partnership with The Safer Families Centre at the University of Melbourne, provides tailored support to general practices to improve confidence in responding to family violence, boost collaboration, and build greater cohesion and coordination across local health, social care, and family violence services.
After a successful pilot in 2019, NWMPHN is providing training to 30 GP clinics from 2023-2026 with grant funding available.
General practice education and training
- Several organisations offer education and training on identifying and responding to family violence. Visit the NWMPHN events calendar to register for family violence education and training sessions hosted by NWMPHN and partners. For information about upcoming sessions subscribe to our fortnightly newsletter.
- Self-directed e-learning modules:
- The Readiness Program is a suite of e-learning modules developed by the Safer Families Centre, providing evidence-based knowledge and basic skills on early engagement actions tailored for victim-survivors and their families, as well as people who use family violence. There are 7 modules available. More information.
- The impact of family and domestic violence on the child is a course developed by National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health and delivered by Emerging Minds. The 1-hour course provides you with an introduction to the impact of family and domestic violence on children. More information.
Quality improvement activities
Our family violence quality improvement (QI) templates are available for general practices to respond to the high prevalence of family violence-related presentations in primary care.
Visit our QI activity hub to download:
- Identifying people at risk of or experiencing family violence
- Increase the confidence of your practice team to identify and respond to family violence
These QI activities may provide GPs with Royal Australian College of General Practitioners continuing professional development (CPD) hours, and support practices eligible for the Practice Incentive Program Quality Improvement Incentive.
For more information or to arrange a visit please phone (03) 9347 1188 or email email@example.com
Clinical Management Tools
HealthPathways Melbourne is a continuously updated clinical management and referral resource for use during consultations. It gives clinicians and health professionals a single website to access management and referral options. Some key pathways are:
Pregnancy and violence
Studies indicate that around 5% of women (aged 18 and over) experience violence during pregnancy from their previous or current partner. The risk of family violence has been found to be higher in pregnant women and in the period following birth, posing serious health risks to both pregnant women and their babies. Additional pathways have been developed to support practitioners identify and refer for family violence, including:
- RACGP – White Book 5th edition.
- GenWest – free family violence services help cards (available in multiple languages) and resource page, where you can access and browse a wide range of fact sheets, brochures and report.
- Safe and Equal – resource library.
- Northern Integrated Family Violence Services – Overcoming Barriers (CALD resource), a toolkit to improve responses to culturally and linguistically diverse women and children who have experienced family violence.
- NWMPHN – Primary Care Pathways to Safety Program: Case Studies.
- Australian Government Department of Social Services:
- Victorian Government – MARAM Framework
Please note this is not an exhaustive list. GPs and health professionals can refer to HealthPathways Melbourne for more clinical and referral advice.
The Orange Door
Services, programs and responses to issues of family violence in culturally and linguistically diverse communities. inTouch develop and implement a number of culturally sensitive and holistic models for the provision of services to both victims and perpetrators of family violence.
Djirra (formerly Aboriginal Family Violence Legal Service)
Elizabeth Morgan House Aboriginal Women’s Service
Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA)
Northern Integrated Family Violence Services Partnership (NIFVS)
NIFVS provide workers with an understanding of the family violence system in the northern metropolitan region. It offers an introduction presentation, interviews with service providers and links to resources to help improve responses to family violence.
No to Violence (men’s referral service)
Seniors Rights Victoria
Switchboard – Rainbow Door
Kids Help Line
Australian Psychological Society
Private counsellors and psychologists.