Family Violence



1. What is family violence?

Family violence (also called domestic violence) is the use of violence, threats, force or intimidation to control or manipulate a family member, partner or former partner. In such a relationship, there is an imbalance of power where abusive behaviour or violence is used to control others.

Not all family violence is caused by men, but research shows that men are most often the perpetrators of violence in domestic relationships, and women and children are often the victims. International research has shown that, globally, one in three women experience violence from a partner (WHO, 2017).

Family violence can occur in any kind of family relationship, including between couples in heterosexual and homosexual relationships, between family members, and against people who are elderly or disabled.

Family violence is an under-reported crime. It can affect anyone, regardless of their social or economic status, or their racial and cultural background. Some population groups are at greater risk for family violence: for example: children, young people, pregnant women, or people living with special needs.


2. Common factors in family violence

Gender inequality between men and women is a significant factor that contributes to the high rate of violence by men towards women in relationships, families and also communities.

There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ perpetrator of family violence. However, researchers have found that perpetrators often:

  • Use violence and emotional abuse to control their families/friends/partners.
  • Believe that they have the right to behave in whatever way they choose while in their own home.
  • Hold certain beliefs about masculinity, including that a ‘real’ man should be tough, powerful and the head of the household. They may believe that they should make most of the decisions, including about how money is spent and how things are done within the household.
  • Do not take responsibility for their behaviour and prefer to think that loved ones or circumstances provoked their behaviour.
  • Make excuses for their violence – for example, they will blame alcohol or stress.
  • Report ‘losing control’ when angry around their families, but can control their anger around other people. They don’t tend to use violence in other situations, for example, around friends, bosses, work colleagues or the police.
  • Try to minimise, blame others for, justify or deny their use of violence, or the impact of their violence on family members.


3. Family violence and the alcohol myth

It is commonly thought that family violence is primarily caused by alcohol abuse. This is not the truth. While alcohol can be a trigger, it is seldom the cause. The perpetrator is sober in about half of domestic violence cases where the police are called. Also, not all alcoholics or binge drinkers resort to violence when angered or frustrated.


4. Why Me? Why Now?

At this time, our country is faced with a severe challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many students are now at home and situations at home are no longer the same. Some students have been away from home, using the university life as an escape. Coming back home and having to face violence, many students find it hard to survive and cope with the situation.


5. How to address the issues without hurting anyone within the household?

It is evident that most people feel offended when they are confronted for portraying violence within their homes. The following are a few steps that one can follow in order to address family violence during the Covid-19 pandemic:

Step one: Address the behaviour - Find time to talk to the family member who is causing violence within the family.

Step two: Focus on the behavioural points - Talk to the family member about how you feel; the impact that it is causing within the family.

Step three: Understand how the perpetrator feel (reasons behind the portrayed behaviour).

Step Four: Consult other family members: Have a family meeting and let everyone talk out their emotions.


6. Resistance to seeking help for violence

While some family members who are violent may think about getting help, the majority of them do not. Some of the reasons why they do not seek out help include:

  • Acceptance of violence – the perpetrator who thinks that he/she is entitled to dominate family members, and that it is okay to solve problems with violence, may not believe that he/she needs help. He/she may blame the victim for ‘provoking’ their behaviour.
  • Notions of masculinity – for many men, the idea of what it means to be a man includes silence and strength. A man may avoid seeking help because he doesn’t want to look ‘weak’ or feminine.
  • Fear – feelings of shame can prevent many family members from seeking help.


7. Getting help for family violence

  • Encourage the perpetrator to create time for himself or herself - self-talk and time out – the individual is taught how to recognise signs of anger, and how to use strategies like self-talk. A person can use self-talk messages, such as ‘Anger will not solve this problem’, to remind himself to remain calm.
  • Regular counselling with a trained counsellor can help family violence perpetrators to understand and change their behaviour. Contact SCD. Click here.
  • Counselling and behaviour-change programmes focus on examining and addressing deeply held beliefs about violence, masculinity, control of others, the impact of their use of violence towards others, self-control and responsibility for one’s actions.
  • Behaviour change programmes for men encourage male perpetrators to examine motivations for violence and teach practical strategies, including:
    • Learning that violence and abuse are not caused by anger, but by the desire to hurt or dominate others
    • Learning how violent behaviour damages his relationship with his partner and children, and how he can behave in more respectful ways


8. How to cope as a student

Accept that you are not the problem and that the problem is with the person causing violence within the family. It is imperative for students to seek help when they are confronted with family violence:

  • Contact your respective campuses’ Student Counselling and Development or Protection Services (Click Here), or refer to the National Helplines (Click here).

Things to remember:

  • The causes of family violence include deeply held beliefs about masculinity.
  • Perpetrators tend to blame other people, alcohol or circumstances for their violent outbursts.
  • Perpetrators often minimise, blame others, justify or deny their use of violence or the impact of their violence.
  • A man who is undergoing counselling for his violent behaviour needs to recognise that regaining the trust of his family will take time and that his partner has the right to end the relationship if she chooses to.


9. Videos

Stop Family Violence:

How do people cope with life inside a violent home?:

How Domestic Violence Impacts Children | Child Anxiety:

Preventing domestic violence:

Domestic Violence: Risk Factors and Interventions Video – Brigham and Women’s Hospital:



Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2012. Personal Safety Survey. Retrieved from

Centre for Alcohol Policy Research. 2010. The range and magnitude of alcohol’s harm to others. Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. Retrieved from'S_HARM_TO_OTHERS 

Department for Child Protection. 2012. How to deal with domestic violence – a self-help book for men who want to change.

Morgan, A., & Chadwick, H. 2009. Key issues in domestic violence. Research in practice no. 7. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

VicHealth. 2019. Preventing violence against women: A framework for action. Retrieved from

White Ribbon Foundation. 2013. Understanding the Statistics about Male Violence Against Women. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. 2014‎. Violence against women: Intimate partner and sexual violence against women: intimate partner and sexual violence have serious short- and long-term physical, mental and sexual and reproductive health problems for survivors: fact sheet. World Health Organization.

World Health Organization. 2017. Violence against women. Retrieved from


Compiled by Donald Molema (Social Worker at Student Counselling and Development, Mahikeng Campus)

July 2020