Chapter 2
Understanding family violence

Dynamics and terminology: “predominant aggressors” and “primary victims”

2.11The FVDRC records the importance of a “primary victim/predominant aggressor analysis” in any consideration of IPV.29 The “predominant aggressor” in an IPV relationship is the person “who is the most significant or principal aggressor… and who has a pattern of using violence to exercise coercive control”, and the “primary victim” is the person “who (in the abuse history of the relationship) is experiencing ongoing coercive and controlling behaviours from their intimate partner”.30 These roles must be appreciated because it is not uncommon for IPV relationships to include some instances of violence by the primary victim. Some women, the FVDRC found, “retaliate and resist coercive control by using violence themselves”, sometimes in an attempt to “try and establish a semblance of parity in the relationship”, other times in “violent self-defence, violent retaliation and violent resistance. Primary victims may also use violence when they sense another attack from the predominant aggressor is about to occur”.31
2.12While a predominant aggressor “may not be the first party to initiate violence on any particular occasion”, however, he or she will use violence more – and differently – across the relationship as a whole. This dynamic is important in assessing culpability for relationship violence because it takes account of the whole of the relationship, not just discrete events.32 It might also contribute to victims’ safety. The Committee explains:33

Whilst identifying the predominant aggressor is not an easy task, if it is not done then abusive (ex-) partners can successfully manipulate the system, primary victims will not be protected, and they may not contact support services the next time violence occurs. For example, a victim dealing with a highly dangerous and potentially lethal (ex-) partner who contacts the police for help and is informed that both she and her (ex-) partner will be arrested because they have both used physical force is not only provided with no assistance on that particular occasion but is discouraged from reaching out for help again.

2.13The Committee goes on to say:

It is equally important to consider this type of analysis in relation to children. Children exposed to family violence will experience disruption of the normal pathways for development of emotional regulation and may react with a range of behavioural problems. These children may be perceived as being aggressive, naughty or even bad when in reality they are also primary victims of the abuse occurring within the home. They are acting out the effects of their (often multiple) traumatic experiences.

29Family Violence Death Review Committee, above n 2, at 74.
30At 15.
31At 74.
32See paragraph 2.53 below.
33Family Violence Death Review Committee, above n 2, at 75.