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​Bruises aren’t the only sign of an abused woman

May 18 2016 By Mary Barry, CEO Our Watch

When it comes to violence against women, it’s often the most brutal and horrific murders that make the headlines. And rightly so.

When, on average, once a week in this country a woman’s life is brutally cut short by someone who was supposed to love them we are, and we should be, shocked and horrified.

In the past week, the Twitter hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou has shone a light on the many forms violence can take, including a partner controlling who a woman talks to. 

It’s appropriate that we are seeing a growing recognition of the prevalence of these kinds of crimes. Crimes that should be unthinkable.

At the same time however, when it comes to violence against women, these murders are the tip of a much bigger iceberg. For every woman murdered, hundreds of thousands are living with violence and abuse — violence which takes many different and often less obvious forms.

Physical violence itself takes many forms — including hitting, slapping, shoving, kicking or, biting. And it is shockingly common — statistics tell us one in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15.

But just because no punches are thrown, doesn’t mean no harm is done.

The national counselling service 1800RESPECT launched their Support a Friend campaign, which aims to help Australians recognise the signs someone may be experiencing domestic violence and how best to support them. One of the most important aspects of this campaign is its focus on the many different kinds of violence, abuse and controlling behaviour that people might be experiencing, not all of which are physical.

In order to support a family member, friend, or work colleague who may be experiencing violence, we must understand that violence takes many forms.

We must look out for more than bruises.

In the past week, the Twitter hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou has shone a light on the many forms violence can take:


  • But he tries to control who you talk to, where you go, what friends you can have, and acts like he’s doing it out of love.
  • But he makes you constantly “check-in” with him, and is always calling, texting or messaging under the guise of concern.
  • But he coerces you into having unprotected sex and says if you get pregnant, you HAVE to keep it.
  • But he tells you how worthless and lost you’d be without him.
  • But he controls your access to money and demands to know how you’re spending every cent.
  • But he threatens to kill or harm himself anytime you try to leave or suggest he change.
  • But he threatens friends, family, or pets, and threatens to reveal personal information about you to others.
On average, one woman is murdered every week in Australia by someone who was supposed to love them. But we must also look beyond the bruises when identifying violence.

This is what the spectrum of violence against women looks like. It is the rest of the iceberg.

Controlling behaviours, sex without consent and emotional or psychological abuse are all types of violence too, as are taunting, manipulating, humiliating, threatening, victim-blaming, coercing and stalking.

Violent and controlling behaviours can include telling a woman what to wear, where she can go, when she must come home and who she can talk to. It can mean exerting financial control — like withholding money, controlling family finances, or taking out loans in a partner’s name without her consent.

Emotional or psychological violence can involve belittling and humiliating her, making threats against children or pets, threatening to commit suicide or self-harm if demands are not met, and deliberately isolating the person from her friends, family or culture.

So if you notice that a friend, work colleague or family member’s behaviour has suddenly changed (maybe they don’t go out any more, their self-esteem is low, they seem fearful of or anxious about their partner, or they never have any money), take these things seriously. Check in with them and see if they’re OK.

All forms of violence against women, whether physical, sexual, emotional or financial, are expressions of power and control. What they have in common is an intent to intimidate and create fear. All forms of violence are harmful and unacceptable.

If someone tells you she is experiencing violence — of any kind — don’t minimise it. Don’t imply she might be at fault. Don’t ask what she did wrong. Don’t make excuses for the perpetrator — such as “he was drunk” or “he didn’t mean it” — and don’t justify his behaviour because “he really loves her”.

All forms of violence against women begin with inequality and disrespect. The best thing you can do to support a woman you know who may be experiencing violence — of any kind — is to take it seriously. Show her respect, listen to her, believe her and make sure she knows you’re there to support her. And know the signs aren’t always bruises: the Support a friend campaign can help.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit the 1800RESPECT website.


This article was first published on Rendez View on 16 May 2016.

Media contact

For enquiries or further information: Hannah Grant, Our Watch, mobile 0448 844 930, email Hannah.Grant@ourwatch.org.au

*If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline:

“If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.”

About Our Watch 

Our Watch’s (previously the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children) purpose is to raise awareness and engage the community in action to prevent violence against women and their children.
Our Watch was conceived of and brought into existence in 2013 by the Commonwealth of Australia and the State of Victoria. The Northern Territory, South Australian, Tasmanian and Queensland governments have also since become members of the organisation.
Our Watch’s work derives from the government’s commitment to the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022 and gives expression to many of the activities in the Second Action Plan 2013–2016 – Moving Ahead.