What is family violence?

Family violence is something that makes a family member feel scared or unsafe. It’s not only about hitting, punching or kicking, it’s about:

  • Scaring
  • Controlling
  • Bullying

It doesn’t matter if the family live together or not.

Family violence usually happens between parents. It can also happen between others in the family, like siblings or children and their parents.

What is child abuse?

Child abuse is when someone, usually an adult, hurts a child. This can mean hurting them:

  • in a physical way (hitting, kicking, punching)
  • in a sexual way (touching or making them do sexual things)
  • in an emotional way (calling them names, putting them down, making them sad)

It can also include neglecting the child. This means the adult is not giving the child what they need to be able to grow and be healthy. For example, not enough food or sleep, clean clothes or showers.

What is child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse is when someone uses their power to involve a child in sexual activity. This means:

  • making a child have sex
  • touching their private parts
  • making them touch the adult
  • taking naked photos or videos
  • making the child look at the adult’s naked body
  • making the child look at images or videos of people having sex or,
  • making the child have sex with people.

Any kind of unwanted touching is NOT OK.

Is it worth telling someone what's going on?

YES! If you can find someone who will understand and support you, it will help you deal with family violence or abuse. It’s okay to feel nervous about telling someone. For example, you might feel:

  • embarrassed or worried that people might judge you
  • guilty that you’re telling a family secret
  • scared that people won’t believe you
  • scared that someone will blame you
  • afraid of getting someone in trouble
  • worried about making things worse.

But there are good things about telling someone, like:

  • relief at finally getting the problem out
  • feeling less alone
  • getting someone else’s advice and ideas on what to do
  • getting help to stay safe or to stop the abuse

When you find someone who listens to you, believes you and supports you, it will help you feel better. Read these real stories to hear how talking about it helped other people.

Who should I tell?

A friend can help you feel better but tell a trusted adult or a professional too. Your friend could go with you to tell a counsellor or a teacher, or call a hotline to get information for you.

If a person you tell doesn’t help, keep telling people you trust!

Tell an adult you trust. It could be a:

  • neighbour
  • a family friend
  • your friend’s mum or dad
  • an aunt or uncle
  • grandparent
  • or an older brother or sister.

An adult might be able to:

  • find a safe place for you when things get scary at home
  • help you to talk to others about what’s happening
  • contact a helpline for you
  • contact the police if you are in danger.

A teacher, student wellbeing coordinator, counsellor, doctor or helpline [link to Q. How can a teacher, student wellbeing coordinator, counsellor or doctor help me] can also help.

“I told mum that dad’s yelling scares me. It was hard because I know she’s scared of him too. She didn’t realise how much I know about what goes on between her and dad. It was a relief to have it out in the open between us.” Read more real stories.

How should I tell them?

It can be hard to know how to tell someone about violence or abuse.

You could say, “Can I talk to you about something that’s happening at home?” or “I need to talk to you about something important”.

Take your time and tell the person if it’s hard to talk about things. You don’t have to tell them anything you don’t feel comfortable saying.

You can ask what an adult will do if you tell them about the violence or abuse. They should tell you what they’ll do with the information you give them.

How will they react to what I tell them?

They might be surprised, upset or confused. Don’t let their reaction stop you from talking about it. No one should make you feel bad about talking about violence in your family. You have a right to get help and you’ve done nothing wrong.

If you talk to someone and they don’t or can’t help you, keep trying until you find someone who supports you.

How can a teacher, student wellbeing coordinator, counsellor or doctor help me?

A professional (like a counsellor, teacher, school student welfare coordinator or doctor) can:

  • Listen and help you work out what’s going on
  • Help you stay safe
  • Help you deal with your feelings and the effects of abuse or violence
  • Talk to other family members who could help to protect you
  • Take action to protect you if you’re in danger [See Q: Will they keep what I tell them private?]

How can a helpline or support service help me?

If you call a helpline or support service they will listen, help you understand what’s happening, how you feel and what you can do about it. You don’t have to give them your name.

They are experts in helping young people. They have spoken to lots of others dealing with abuse and violence. They won’t judge you.

Kids Helpline has email or web-chat, which might make it easier to contact them.

If I tell a teacher, doctor, counsellor or helpline, will they keep what I tell them private?

It can feel like you lose control over things once adults know what is happening. But getting help will be better than feeling alone or afraid.

Counsellors, teachers, doctors, nurses, and helplines won’t tell anyone else what you say. Unless they think you are in danger.

If you tell a counselling service or a teacher about violence or abuse, they have to make sure you are safe. They could contact a parent or relative to protect you. Or they could call a government department called Child Protection and/or the police.

You could:

  • ask them questions like, “Will you keep anything I tell you private? If not, what will you do with my information?”
  • tell them why you are worried about your privacy. They may still say that they have to take action if you are unsafe but at least they’ll know how you feel about it! They should listen to you and tell you what is going to happen.

Professionals have to tell Child Protection or the police to keep you safe. You haven’t done anything wrong!

Remember – you are not to blame for the abuse and you have a right to feel safe.

For more information see FAQs about calling hotlines or support services.

What might happen if someone makes a report to Child Protection?

Child Protection is a service that helps to make sure children or young people are safe. Child Protection can work with your family on the problems that are causing the violence or abuse.

What might happen if I ring the police?

If you are in danger or if you think someone else will be hurt, call the police on 000. It’s their job keep people safe.

A helpline or counselling service can listen and help you understand what’s happening, how you feel and what you can do. They won’t judge you.

If you or someone in your family is in danger, call the police on 000 immediately.

What if I’m nervous about contacting them?

Lots of people feel nervous calling a helpline. The counsellor will understand and can help you feel comfortable.

You don’t have to tell them your name if you don’t want to.

Some services have email or web-chat, which might make it easier for you to contact them.

If you’re nervous, you could ask a friend to contact a service for you.

Remember that you have a right to get support and help. The violence or abuse isn’t your fault.

What should I say when I call?

The counsellor will understand if you don’t know where to start or what to say. There’s no rush – you can take your time.

One idea is to start by asking about their service so you can listen to what the counsellor is like. For example, you could say, “I just want to find out what your service does”.

You could say something like, “I want to talk to someone about what’s happening at home”.

Or just start by saying whatever comes to mind and the counsellor will take it from there.

Will the call show up on a phone bill?

It is possible the call might show up on a phone bill but it depends on the type of phone bill you receive and the service you call.

Calls to Kids Helpline are free and are unlikely to show up on your phone bill as the service has arrangements with the main phone companies to make sure this doesn’t happen.

If you are really worried, you can call for free or use the email or web chat to contact a helpline or counselling service.

Will they keep what I say private?

Yes, calls are usually private.

A hotline or counsellor won’t tell anyone what you say unless you or someone else is in danger. The counsellor has to make sure you are safe. If you are thinking of hurting yourself or someone else, they will need to take action.

Where possible, they will let you know if they need to contact other services. The counsellor will ask for your name and where you are so that they can call the ambulance or police.

Will a hotline counsellor talk to my parents / carers?

A hotline or counselling service is confidential. That means they don’t usually talk to your parents or carers, just to you.

A counsellor can help you work out how to talk to your parents, carers or family about what’s going on. In some cases, the counsellor can speak to parents or family for you. But if you don’t want anyone to know you called, that’s fine.


If home is not safe, you don’t have to put up with it. You can get help.
You might be thinking about leaving home, but that’s a big step to take. If you do decide to leave home, it should be to stay somewhere safer.
Talk to a trusted adult or service first about your options.

When can I leave home?

If you have permission from your parents or guardians, you can leave home at any age.

What happens if you leave depends on your age and situation. The information below applies to people in Victoria. To check out the law about leaving home in your state, see the Lawstuff website.

What happens if I leave home and I'm under 17?

If you’re under 17, you’re allowed to leave home without permission if you’re leaving because of abuse or violence. But if you’ve run away your parents or family can contact the police to report that you’re missing.

The police need to find you and make sure you are safe. If they find you:

  • They’ll ask where you’re staying and why you ran away. Tell them if you feel unsafe at home.
  • If they can see you’ve found a safe place to live (like with relatives who are looking after you or a youth refuge) they might let you stay there.
  • It’s legal for people under 18 to leave home if they have:
    • somewhere safe to stay
    • money to support themselves
    • are not involved with anything illegal, like alcohol, drugs, stealing or prostitution.
  • The police can tell your parents you’re safe and don’t want to go home. If the police know there is violence or abuse at home, they’re not likely to force you back there.
  • If the police decide that you don’t have a safe place to stay, they can contact Child Protection [FAQs on how Child Protection can help protect children and young people].
  • Child Protection will decide what needs to happen to make you safe (see Protecting children and young people).

Remember, if the police get involved, it doesn’t mean you’ve committed a crime! The police, courts and Child Protection are there to protect you from abuse, not punish you because you tried to get away from it.

Where can I stay?

Go somewhere safe. Contact Child Protection for help to find somewhere safe.

Options might include:

  • Staying with a relative, grandparent or friend. This can give you a break from being at home so you can sort things out.
  • Child Protection may place you with another family member, friend or foster carers. If none of these options are available, you may go to a Children’s House with other young people

What if I have to leave home?

Stay in touch with a trusted adult if you leave home. Police are less likely to worry if someone knows you’re safe. You don’t have to tell anyone where you are, but you must stay with a responsible adult who can look after you.

Reconnect Services are for young people who have left home. They can help you:

  • contact your family if it’s safe
  • find a safe place to stay
  • build better relationships with your family
  • stay connected with school or education


Every state and territory government has a department that protects children. In Victoria, the Child Protection program is part of the Department of Human Services.

What does Child Protection do?

Child Protection makes sure children and teenagers are safe. They give advice and protect children and young people who are not safe at home. Family violence between your parents or the people that care for you can be an unsafe situation.

Who can contact Child Protection?

Anyone can ring Child Protection if they think a child or young person needs protection.

You can contact them if you’re worried about things that are happening in your family. They are good to ring if you think that people in your family can’t keep you safe. If you call for information, you don’t have to give your name. You can also call a service like Kids Helpline to help you to talk to a child protection worker.

What will Child Protection do if someone calls them?

If you or someone else contacts a child protection worker they must make sure you’re safe. Some things they can do are:

  • Listen and ask questions to work out what might help your family and whether they need to get involved
  • Give advice to the person who contacted them
  • Arrange for other services to support you and your family, if they think this will help to keep you safe
  • Find out what’s happening in your family to see if you or other family members are safe. They can meet you in a safe place and ask what’s been happening. Tell them what will help you feel safe enough to talk to them. They will also talk to your parents or other family members.
  • If they think you haven’t been safe enough, they will try to help your family to stay together in a safe way. They will figure out if your parents or carers can protect you from violence and abuse. They will suggest things your parents and carers can do to care for you.
  • If there is family violence, Child Protection can help the non-abusive parent to keep you safe. For example, if your dad is abusive, Child Protection can help mum get a court order to protect you both. They can also organise for your dad to have counselling to help change his behaviour.

What can Child Protection do to make me safer?

If Child Protection believes that your home is not a safe place for you, it’s their job to do something to protect you. For example, Child Protection might:

  • organise for the abusive person to stay away from you or other family members
  • organise for the abusive person to have counselling or support so they can change their behaviour and care for you safely
  • get the police involved if a criminal offence has been committed
  • organise for you to stay somewhere else for a while (for example, with other family members, relatives or friends, or with another family). This would only be as a last resort if there is no other way for you to be safe (see next question)
  • apply to the Children’s Court for an order, if it’s needed to keep you safe.

Will Child Protection take me away from my family?

No, not necessarily. Removing a child from their home is a last resort if the child or young person is at unacceptable risk of significant harm and there’s no other way for the child to become safe.

In most cases, Child Protection will work with your family on the problems that are causing the violence or abuse. They will link family members into support or counselling services to provide them with support and can organise support or counselling for you.

What if I’m nervous about speaking to Child Protection?

It’s natural to feel nervous about speaking about personal things to people you don’t know. You might worry that they won’t believe you or that you won’t have any control over what happens next.

Child Protection workers are used to talking to kids and young people and they know that it’s hard to talk about abuse or violence in your family. They will explain that their role is to work out a way for you to be safe in your family and they will try to help you feel comfortable talking to them. They are used to hearing about really difficult situations. If you want to, you can tell them that you feel nervous, explain what your worries are, and tell them what you would like to happen in your family to make things better.


Most abuse and violence is against the law. If a person in your family is abusing you or other family members, the police and the law can protect you.

If someone in my family is violent or abusive, is it against the law?

No one in your family should hurt or abuse you or other family members.

Many forms of family violence [link to ‘what is family violence?] are against the law. For example, if one parent has hit another, the police can charge them with assault. Making threats or stalking (following, watching or constantly contacting someone) are criminal offences. Forcing someone to do sexual things is also a criminal offence.

Some forms of family violence are not recognised as criminal but they are still wrong because they make family members feel hurt, controlled or unsafe. Often these forms of family violence can be included on a family violence order (see below), which is a court order that can help stop family violence.

Many forms of child abuse are also against the law. Parents, family members and carers have to look after children and should not neglect them or abuse them physically, emotionally or sexually, or expose them to family violence.

Even if you’re not sure if abuse or family violence is against the law, you can still get help. You can contact the police to ask what they can do to stop family violence or child abuse. The job of police is to help everyone to be safe from violence and investigate if a crime has been committed. Child Protection services can also help to stop abuse so children and teenagers can be safe in their family

What might happen if I ring the police about violence or abuse?

If you are in danger or if a family member is being hurt, call the police anytime day or night on 000. Or go to a police station.

You can contact the police any time to talk to them about abuse or violence – even if the abuse happened a long time ago.

If there is violence at home and you call the police:

  • They will ask where you are and if anyone is hurt
  • They can come to your house any time, day or night, and will stay at the house until they are sure everyone is safe
  • They will try to find out what happened. They might talk to other family members or to other people who saw or heard the violence.
  • They will talk to the person who was violent or abusive. They might take the abusive person to the police station or somewhere else where they can calm down.
  • If there’s enough evidence to show that a criminal offence has been committed, they could arrest the person and charge them with a crime. If the person is charged, they might be held in police custody, or released on bail, with conditions that mean they can’t contact family members.
  • If you have witnessed this or are a victim of a crime, the police might ask you to make a statement about what happened and will help you do that.
  • They might apply for a family violence order [Q. How can a family violence order protect me or family members?] on your behalf. The order can help to stop the abusive person from being violent or stop them coming near you or contacting you or other family members.
  • They can help your family to apply for a family violence order [Q. How can a family violence order protect me or family members?] or the police can apply for you. The order could say that the abusive person has to stop the violence, or stop contacting family members, or that they have to stay away from the family home.
  • They can help you or your family members to get in touch with counselling services
  • If the police are worried about your safety or believe that members of your family can’t protect you from violence or abuse, they may also contact Child Protection. Child protection can help you or your siblings become safer in your family.

What happens if a someone in your family is charged with a criminal offence for violence?

If the police have enough evidence to show a crime has been committed, they can charge the violent person with an offence. For example, if the police have evidence that one parent has punched or hit another, the police can charge them with assault.

If they are arrested for committing a crime, they may be kept in police custody for a while or released on bail, on condition that they do not contact or come near family members.

You or other family members can still be protected even if the violent person is not charged with a crime. A family violence order can help.

How can a family violence order protect me or my family?

Family violence orders can help to protect you from a violent or abusive person in the family.

Family violence orders are made at a court. The magistrate will decide what rules the order should include to protect family members. For example, the order might say that the abusive person:

  • is not allowed to be violent, abusive or threatening to family members
  • is not allowed to come near family members (for example, they have to stay away from the family home, or stay away from where family members work or go to school for a certain period of time)
  • is not allowed to contact family members (for example, they are not allowed to email them, or phone them, or contact them on Facebook).

The abusive person must obey the rules on the family violence order. If they disobey the rules, for example, if they come near your house when the order tells them not to, they can be charged with a crime.

Who can apply for a family violence order?

The police can apply for a family violence order for the person who is being abused. Or the person who is being abused can apply for one.

For example, if your mum is being hurt by your dad, she could apply for a family violence order.

Find out more from one of these services.

What can the law do to protect me from child abuse?

It’s not okay for a parent, family member, carer or another adult to hurt or abuse you.

If you are afraid of a parent, carer or another adult, contact the police. It’s their job to help keep everyone safe from abuse or violence.

Child protection is there to make sure you can stay safely in your family, and can help to protect children from being hurt.

Can I call the police to report abuse that happened a long time ago?

Yes, you can report abuse to the police any time, even if it happened years ago. Take a trusted adult with you to help you when you make a report.

If you want the police to charge the person with a crime, they will ask you to make a ‘statement’ describing what happened. The police will investigate and decide if there is enough evidence to charge the person.

Call a youth legal service for more information.

Do young people have rights under the law?

Yes, the law is there to protect everybody. Young people have rights just like everybody else.

Are there legal services or lawyers specifically to help young people?

Yes, most states have youth legal services just for young people.

YouthLaw is for Victorians. Find out what’s available in your state on Lawstuff.