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The causes of violence

The social conditions that lead to violence are what we call ‘drivers’ or causes of violence, which often reflect inequalities in social or economic power among different groups of people.

Understanding the drivers of violence is critical to ensuring prevention strategies are effective for everyone across our diverse Victorian community.

The drivers of violence against women

The most common form of family violence is male intimate partner violence against women. Extensive research identifies the following expressions of gender inequality shown to be most consistently associated with higher levels of violence against women:

  • condoning of violence against women
  • men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence
  • rigid gender roles and identities
  • male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women

Gender inequality is characterised by an unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunity between women and men. This leads to women being less valued in society and creates a social environment that enables violence against women.

The National Community Attitudes to Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) is the best available tool to measure the beliefs and attitudes held by the community about violence against women, relationships, acceptable behaviour and men’s and women’s roles in society.

Findings from the 2013 survey include:


While gender inequality is a critical driver of violence against women, it cannot be considered in isolation.

The Victorian Government commissioned the Equality Institute to undertake an investigation into:

  • the factors that contribute to experiences of family violence among diverse communities
  • existing knowledge on what works to prevent family violence with different population groups
  • the key gaps in evidence that pose substantive barriers to preventing family violence

Family violence primary prevention — Building a knowledge base and identifying gaps for all manifestations of family violence Family Violence Primary Prevention — Building a knowledge base and identifying gaps for all manifestations of family violencePDF (1.62 MB) Family Violence Primary Prevention — Building a knowledge base and identifying gaps for all manifestations of family violence Family Violence Primary Prevention — Building a knowledge base and identifying gaps for all manifestations of family violenceDOC (290.02 KB) Other social conditions that lead to family violence and violence against women

Many Victorians are subjected to discrimination based on factors beyond their gender, including other forms of discrimination and inequality which also drive and compound experiences of violence such as:

  • racism
  • ageism
  • ableism
  • homophobia, biphobia and transphobia

This inequality and discrimination can intersect with gender inequality to drive violence against different groups of women by increasing the risk of perpetration against them and drive the social conditions for family violence, in particular for:

  • Aboriginal people
  • people with a disability
  • immigrant, asylum and refugee communities
  • older people
  • people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans (and gender diverse) and/or have an intersex variation (LGBTI)

Aboriginal people

In recognition of the fact that Aboriginal people experience entrenched and systematic forms of inequality, the drivers and context for violence against Aboriginal people is described separately - on the Unique experiences of Aboriginal people page.

People with a disability

The leading causes of violence for people with disabilities are the social norms, structures and practices that privilege people without a disability, while discriminating against those with a disability.

In particular, for women with a disability, the intersection of these factors means their experiences of violence are often ignored or poorly understood.


  • women with disabilities are 40% more likely to be the victims of family violence than women without disabilities
  • 90% of Australian women with an intellectual disability have been subjected to sexual abuse, with 68% having been sexually abused before they turn 18 years of age

Immigrant, asylum and refugee communities

Structural and systemic discrimination and gender inequality contribute to an environment that condones violence against members of immigrant, asylum and refugee communities, including women.

These social conditions perpetuate ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman, as well as racial stereotypes and racist attitudes that influence and drive the perpetration of violence.

Where racial discrimination intersects with gender discrimination we can see compounding impacts on women’s experience of violence.


Older people

Elder abuse, or violence against older people, is caused in part by society’s marginalisation of older people, affording them less power and social status.

This is caused by attitudes and practices that view ageing as a negative process associated with decline, loss and frailty, and view older people as less valuable in society. 

LGBTI people

People from LGBTI communities may experience discrimination and violence in their families and personal relationships as a result of broader, negative social attitudes towards their gender identity or sexual orientation, including homophobia. Like in other relationships where violence occurs, violence in LGBTI relationships is linked to unequal power and the exercise of control by one person against another.

While violence in LGBTI relationships may not be driven by gender inequality, rigid social constructions of gender, gender roles, sex and sexuality (which are drivers of violence against women) also contribute to violence against and within LGBTI communities. Therefore, strategies that address rigid gender binaries, and gendered drivers of violence, may aid the prevention of violence against people from LGBTI communities. However, further research is needed to investigate both the full range of drivers and the suitable violence prevention initiatives for LGBTI people and communities.


Reinforcing factors

A range of additional factors can increase the frequency or severity of violence when they intersect with the drivers discussed above. They do not predict violence but they do play a role, and need to be considered in any holistic prevention strategy.

Some of the factors that can interact with the gendered drivers to increase violence against women include:

  • condoning of violence in general
  • experience of, and exposure to, violence
  • weakening of pro-social behaviour, especially harmful use of alcohol and/or drugs
  • socio-economic inequality and discrimination
  • backlash factors (when male dominance, power or status is challenged)

Other factors for consideration

In addition to the reinforcing factors for violence against women, there are other factors which can increase the frequency and severity of family violence. These additional factors include:

  • geographic isolation - can be exploited as a way to control people, making them more vulnerable to violence
  • social isolation - can exacerbate the drivers of violence and put women in the position of being dependent on male partners

Historically, mental ill-health has been mistakenly thought to be a driver of family violence against women. While mental ill-health could be a factor in some instances, it is not a driver of family violence and violence against women in its own right. Through this strategy, we will work with mental health experts and services to understand the link between mental ill-health and perpetration of violence.

How family violence affects children and young people

Children and young people are victims of family violence, whether they experience violence directly or witness it.

Witnessing violence against their mothers or other caregivers causes serious, lasting harm to children. It can affect their attitudes to relationships and violence, as well as behavioural, cognitive and emotional functioning, social development, education and later employment prospects.

Evidence suggests that children who experience violence, including witnessing it, are at greater risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence later in life.


Preventing violence will also prevent associated harm and other consequences for children and young people, including intergenerational harm. This is particularly urgent in relation to Aboriginal children, their families and communities.