The Domestic Violence Signs That Are Still Overlooked

'It's easy to gloss over the signs, they can be so subtle when they start.'

What you need to know
  • Domestic violence against women and children in Australia remains high
  • Emotional and verbal violence not taken seriously enough, says expert
  • Understanding early warning signs could save you or a loved one

There has been a big push to tackle attitudes around domestic violence, but the rates of this crime in Australia are still alarmingly high.

Horrifying cases of such violence against women and children continue to make headlines -- but often authorities only get called in when it's too late.

Experts say the early signs of domestic violence are still not widely known, and at times even disregarded.

Mother of two Shelley* says she hates being seen as a statistic or a victim, but in hindsight admits that's exactly what she is.

"It's easy to gloss over the signs, they can be so subtle when they start," she told ten daily.

"He controlled me in so many ways. I remember many times watching TV and I'd ask to change the channel and he would just never let me, ever. I know it sounds small, but then it went on to him having complete financial control over me," she said.

According to recent data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in six women and one in 16 men have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous partner since the age of 15.

While it cuts across all all ages, socioeconomic and demographic groups -- it overwhelmingly affects women and children.

Image: Getty Images

The most likely victims are some of society's most vulnerable and disadvantaged. They include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, pregnant women, those living with a disability and women who witnessed or experienced domestic violence as children.

Shelley didn't share her grievances with friends and family, and instead made excuses for ex-partner's behaviour.

"When you think you are in danger and need to leave, how do you do it when you have no access to finances? Soon enough I stopped being able to make decisions for myself and I had lost all power and confidence," she said. 

The early traces of domestic violence are often silent and invisible said Moo Baulch, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW. 

"Someone who is experiencing domestic violence may stop coming to social events, withdraw from work or personal activities. Their appearance may change. They may seem nervous, on edge or be getting lots of phone calls or texts," Baulch told ten daily.

It's not just about physical violence -- it's about fear and a lack of control. Often choices, autonomy and freedom are taken away.

This is why Shelley believes it took so long for her to recognise what was happening to her.

"For me the domestic violence was at its worst even though he didn't hit me. He hit me in another way that hurt so much. He began uploading compromising photographs of me onto adult match making sites and created fake profiles  I now I know that's called  revenge porn -- at the time I didn't know that," she said.

It was at this point that she told friends, who encouraged her to go to the police and warned her that physical violence may well be next.

Baulch said loved ones have an important role to play, even though at times it can be frustrating watching repeated domestic violence unfold.

"Tell them you believe them, and be aware that it may take a number of attempts before someone is ready or able to leave," she said.

Lisa Harnum was thrown off a Sydney balcony by her fiance in 2013. Image: Supplied.

In recent years, Baulch has seen attitudes towards domestic violence begin to shift, and this includes media coverage of the issue.

She said a real turning point was the high profile murder of Lisa Harnum in 2013. The former ballerina was thrown off a Sydney balcony by her fiance.  

"The public was really captivated by the horror of her last few hours.
"But it still only makes the front pages when it ends in tragedy when there is horrific violence. But many many more thousands of women are living with emotionally abusive partners and many others still face repeated violence, every day," said Baulch.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, dial 000. If you need help and advice, call 1800Respect on 1800 737 732, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

A range of domestic and family violence resources based around the country can be found here

For further information about depression contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.