a women sat crying

Understanding physical abuse

Domestic violence can take many forms – it can include emotional, financial, sexual, spiritual, verbal abuse. The most commonly known is physical abuse, with 16% of women (1.5 million) and 5.9% of men (528,800) in Australia. Below we look at some signs of physical abuse, as well as some steps to address it.

Signs of physical abuse by a partner (or ex-partner) include:

  • Threats of violence (even if not carried out)
  • Any act that causes physical pain to the other person
  • Spiting, biting or scratching
  • Hitting or punching
  • Pushing
  • Physical restraining your partner or preventing them from leaving
  • Forcing your partner to eat, drink or take medication/drugs against their will, or denying them food/medication they require
  • Smashing or breaking things.

These signs may be coupled with other controlling behaviour such as:  

  • Humiliating your partner, publicly and/or privately
  • Staying with your partner all the time and not allowing them out alone
  • Monitoring you partners calls, or continually messaging or calling
  • Withholding access to money or encouraging your partner to leave their job or studies.

Physical violence can be a single act, but it often occurs in cycles. The perpetrator may blame the victim for “causing” the behaviour, and then later apologise for the violence. There are then often periods of relative peace before the violence occurs again, and the victim is again blamed.


Help for those who may be committing abuse

Physical abuse can result in serious physical health problems, and even death (from 2012-2014, one woman a week and one man a month were killed by a current or former partner). It can also have long lasting emotional and psychological affects, not only on the victim, but on children who witness the abuse. Physical abuse often starts slowly and increases over time, so it’s important to look out for early warning signs and get help as soon as possible.

If you think that your behaviour may constitute early signs of physical abuse (or any form of domestic violence) there are some steps you can take:

  • Safety: Call 000 immediately if anyone’s safety is at risk.
  • Learn more about it: White Ribbon, 1800 Respect, Our WatchVerywell Mind and many other websites provide information that can help you better understand what physical abuse is and the massive damage it can do.
  • Talk about it: Discussing your concerns with a trusted friend, GP or a qualified counsellor can be the start of changing this behaviour.
  • Behaviour change: Change is possible but ongoing expert support is your best option for success. Men’s behaviour change programs offer tools for developing better relationships, and learning non-abusive behaviour so that you behave differently in the same situations that used to lead to violence. The programs model an attitude of respect rather than punishment or shame for what you have done. Visit our find a men’s behaviour change program page, or enquire about enrolling in the Changing for Good program.


Further reading


If you’re experiencing family or domestic violence you can call MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78, access online counselling or visit 1800RESPECT.