What are the different types of abuse?


Abuse is a beast that takes many forms.

Sadly, our society is rife with human beings displaying abusive behaviour toward others. Abusive behaviour can affect every aspect of an individual’s life – relationships, well-being, finances, self-esteem, physical and mental health can all come under siege when abuse of any kind occurs.

The complex nature of our relationships and interactions with each other gives rise to perceived differences in power. This often leads to abusive behaviour manifesting in a variety of ways and can be difficult to recognise, especially for those who are suffering.

The common thread, however, is the destructive nature and long-lasting effects for survivors.

As a survivor myself, I understand the journey that is required for healing. At times, it is filled with darkness, desperation and helplessness.

Whilst we strive to better understand the underlying causes and conditions of abusive relationships, it’s critical we provide as much education, support and legal guidance as possible for abuse survivors.

Rather than creating an exhaustive list of abuse, I will detail the most common categories of abuse and examine what constitutes these types of abuse, how to recognise when someone is at risk, what legal avenues are available and resources available in the community for survivors.

Physical abuse

  • Physical abuse can include, but is not limited to:
  • Striking, kicking, punching, slapping and biting
  • Using an object or weapon to hit, or threatening to physically harm
  • Spitting
  • Reckless driving
  • Destroying or damaging possessions
  • Imprisonment or physical restraint
  • Withholding medicine and medical attention
  • Animal cruelty
  • Stalking and intimidation

How to recognise physical abuse

Physical abuse can occur over prolonged periods, or in random cycles of intensity. The effects on the person suffering the abuse can differ significantly between individuals.

Physical symptoms include bruising (particularly in defensive areas on the forearms, hands and legs) scratches, burns, cuts and swelling. In many cases, people will attempt to make the evidence of abuse inconspicuous by using makeup, or clothing that appears out of the ordinary, including large sunglasses, scarves, hooded jumpers and long sleeves.

Can I receive compensation for physical abuse?

The NSW State government provides a Victims Support Scheme for people who have suffered physical abuse. This is intended to help with short-term medical costs which may have arisen, as well as to compensate for loss of regular work and to acknowledge the trauma as a result.

Resources in the community for physical abuse survivors

If you are seeking more information about available resources, the following links may be useful:

Australian Institute of Family Studies

Blue Knot


Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when someone in a position of power forces another person to be involved in an act of a sexual nature.

This can include, but is not limited to:

  • Forced sexual intercourse or sexual contact of any kind
  • Demanding that someone participate in a sexual activity
  • Filming or recording any sexual activity without consent
  • The refusal to use safe sex practices
  • Voyeurism
  • Inappropriate sexual comments
  • Using drugs or alcohol to encourage sexual activity
  • Using threats to encourage sexual activity
  • Unwanted touching or kissing

How to recognise sexual abuse

Sexual abuse symptoms can be difficult to identify, as there may not necessarily be any physical evidence. Psychological effects of sexual abuse can typically be more apparent, particularly in children. These behaviours don’t usually occur in isolation and tend to form a pattern of behaviour. Warning signs may include:

  • Withdrawal from hobbies and favourite activities
  • Sudden and extreme changes in appetite or diet
  • Rapid and unusual mood swings
  • Significant decline in self-esteem
  • Discussing or seeking sexual imagery or content, making unusual, inappropriate sexual comments
  • Self-harm
  • Substance abuse
  • Recoils or shies away from affection or touching under normal circumstances

Can I receive compensation for sexual abuse?

Kelso Lawyers specialises in achieving justice and compensation for survivors of institutional child abuse, to help people find healing and move on with their lives. You can download our comprehensive Guide to Compensation for further information and contact us for a confidential, respectful conversation about your situation.

Resources in the community for sexual abuse survivors

RAINN – For sexual abuse survivors and their loved ones

A guide to the Royal Commission into sexual abuse


Emotional abuse

Although there is rarely any physical evidence to accompany psychological abuse, it can cause significant trauma and distress.

One of the biggest dangers involving emotional abuse is that, unlike physical and sexual abuse, it can be more difficult to identify and detect, for both the individual and their family and friends. Even if identified, emotional abuse is often dismissed as being insignificant, which only serves to compound the issue and heighten feelings of isolation, fear and guilt from the person suffering.

Emotional abuse can include, but is not limited to:

  • Deliberate shaming, either in public or private
  • Bullying
  • Rejecting or ignoring someone’s presence
  • Excessive blame and ridicule
  • Falsifying accusations
  • Using SMS, social media, email or other electronic communication to harass, demean, bully or embarrass
  • Tracking or accessing a person’s mobile device or email accounts

How to recognise emotional abuse

When someone is experiencing emotional abuse, they tend to be particularly sensitive when the abuser is present. You may notice them avoiding eye contact, being reluctant to speak up, or hesitant to socialise. The psychological damage of emotional abuse can also cause people to distort and magnify their own guilt or shame in seemingly innocuous situations.

Can I receive compensation for emotional abuse?

In some cases, it is possible to receive compensation for the distress suffered from emotional abuse. You can contact Victims Services for more information.

Resources in the community for emotional abuse survivors

Reach Out


Department of Human Services

Economic and financial abuse

Economic abuse usually occurs in domestic relationships between partners. This form of abuse involves preventing access to finances or using money, work and employment status to control or manipulate.
Economic abuse can include, but is not limited to:

  • Controlling funds.
  • Restricting access to shared accounts.
  • Lying about financial positions.
  • Making significant purchases without discussion or consultation.
  • Using your name to apply for credit cards or other financial products against your will.
  • Sabotaging efforts to work.
  • Restricting access to financial advice.
  • Reckless gambling or betting.

How to recognise economic abuse

People suffering from economic abuse will often seem unable to adequately care for their own wellbeing or for their children. Other symptoms may include seeking basic financial advice, offering to work illegally or for cash and making unusual requests to borrow money from friends or family.

Can I receive compensation for economic abuse?

In many states in Australia, economic abuse is classified as a form of domestic violence, although this is not the case in NSW.

Contact Victims Services NSW for more information about financial support for survivors of abuse.

Resources in the community for economic abuse survivors

Addressing Financial Abuse

Penda SmartPhone App – Financial tips, legal information and referrals for women who have experienced domestic and family violence.

Get the justice you deserve with Kelso Lawyers. We want to hear your story. Call (02) 4907 4200 or complete the online form before you accept payment from the National Redress Scheme. 

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