The link between family violence and violent extremism

The link between family violence and violent extremism

Family violence has many destructive outcomes, and we know this both firsthand, and statistically. However, new research is suggesting yet another disturbing trend: a link between family violence and violent extremism.


What exactly is violent extremism?

While there is a lot of argument about what is and isn’t violent extremism, it generally refers to an:

  1. ideological belief – be it political, socio-cultural, philosophical or otherwise
  2. that is expressed through an act of or threat of violence
  3. towards members of an identified group or community

Hence, violent extremism is an umbrella term that encompasses a broad spectrum of behaviour. It can range from certain types of hate speech, all the way to acts of terrorism. And while we think it is mainly religiously or racially motivated, it can come from any group.

In practice, efforts to prevent or counter violent extremism tend to focus on the violent expression of an ideology, not necessarily the ideology itself. But these waters can get muddied when we try to understand what actually motivates people to be violent about their beliefs. On one hand, there is nothing illegal about having unsavoury, even hateful, views. On the other hand, if we generally accept that our ideas influence our behaviour, does that mean hateful ideas necessarily lead to violent behaviour? The jury is still out on that one, and each case is different.


What does family violence have to do with violent extremism?

In her new book, ‘Home Grown’, author Joan Smith, takes a deep dive into recent cases of terrorism and finds a disturbing trend: that many of the perpetrators of violent extremist acts also had significant experiences with family and domestic violence. Everyone Smith researched had:

From a distance it’s a hard association to fully comprehend. Family violence and violent extremism seem like entirely separate types of violence. But on closer inspection, Smith’s theory about how they tie together is much more intuitive than you might expect.

Smith concludes that these perpetrators had perhaps become well-versed in certain types of violent behaviours in their private domains (i.e. the family unit), before taking them into the public domain (i.e. the community). These violent behaviours identified by Smith represent much of the overlap between family violence and violent extremism: e.g. the practice of dehumanising victims, beliefs in one’s own superiority and abusing power dynamics within relationships to gain control.


Are you saying I now need to worry that someone in my family could become a violent extremist?


Smith’s work merely provides an entirely new perspective on the devastating effects of family violence. The risk of violent extremism is still very low, and the confluence of factors that push someone down that path are complex and not the same for everyone.

However, family violence is very real and prevalent occurrence in communities in Australia and the world. Smith’s work just highlights that we are still coming to grips with the many adverse effects of it.


Here at Loukas Law, we are the premier family lawyers Perth clients can trust to take family violence very seriously. Taking action at the earliest stage, with the right team of support behind you, is your first step towards protecting you and your family from unnecessary harm. Please call us now on (08) 6381 0208 or fill out this form to schedule your first 30-min free telephone appointment.


*This piece was written in collaboration with SynqUp. SynqUp is a consultancy that works to build community resilience to violent extremism, and other destructive influences. If you would like to learn more about preventing violent extremism, please visit:

Posted in: Family Violence