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Understanding FDSV


What is FDSV?

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A wide range of definitions are currently used for concepts relating to family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV). There is no single definition of FDSV in Australia and the term FDSV encompasses a wide range of behaviours and harms that can occur in both family and non-family settings.

In the AIHW’s FDSV reporting:

  • Family and domestic violence (FDV), sometimes referred to only as family violence, is a term used for violence that occurs within family or intimate relationships.
  • Sexual violence encompasses a wide range of behaviours that are sexual in nature. Sexual violence can be perpetrated by anyone, but can also occur in an FDV context.

There has been a growing interest among advocates, policymakers and practitioners to establish consistent definitions for FDSV. On this topic page we look at terms and definitions currently in use and the reasons why they differ, and we explain how these terms are used in AIHW reporting.

Definitions used in the AIHW’s FDSV reporting

In the AIHW’s reporting, both broad and specific definitions of FDSV are used, to ensure the reporting is inclusive and can draw on all relevant data sources:

  • Broad definitions help define the scope of reporting and are useful for identifying FDSV where data are emerging or limited. Broad definitions are also useful to inform public messaging, as they include a wide range of experiences.
  • Specific definitions are used when we look at violence in particular contexts or draw from particular data sources. Specific definitions complement a broad approach and allow for more targeted reporting, which can deepen our understanding of FDSV.

Broad definitions of FDSV

In the AIHW’s FDSV reporting:

  • violence refers to behaviours (or patterns of behaviour) that cause harm
  • violence can occur in the form of assault, threat, abuse, neglect or harassment and is often used by a person, or people, to intimidate, harm or control others.

This definition of violence recognises that people may define their experiences of violence differently to one another. It also highlights that ‘violence’ and harm can be sexual, physical or non-physical; comprise individual events, or patterns of behaviour; and occur in both family and non-family contexts.

Box 1 contains a list of definitions used across the AIHW’s FDSV reporting, which expand on this definition of ‘violence’.

The broad definitions move away from seeing violence in hierarchical terms and recognise that violence can include more than physical and/or sexual violence. Adopting the broad definitions in Box 1 also allows for some flexibility as we build the evidence base and recognises that our understanding of violence may continue to expand.

Specific definitions of FDSV

In some instances, broad definitions of FDSV may not be applicable or appropriate. A more specific definition may be used when:

  • citing from a particular data source (for example, in national surveys such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey (PSS) where violence is measured using a specific survey instrument)
  • data are collected in a specific service setting (for example, in police data, where violence is understood in relation to specific legislation or practices).

Specific definitions supplement a broader understanding of FDSV, help deepen our understanding, and allow consistent national reporting on a topic over time. Box 2 highlights some key definitions currently used in the AIHW’s reporting.

The definitions in Box 2 are examples only and highlight how definitions are specified differently when they serve different purposes. They do not provide a comprehensive list of how terms are used throughout the AIHW’s FDSV reporting. For more detail, please see Glossary.

Information in this report is drawn from a number of sources – population-level survey data, administrative data sources and people with lived experience. Where definitions are known, they will be included alongside any data that are reported. The way different types of data are used for reporting is discussed further in How are national data used to answer questions about FDSV?

Why are definitions important?

Having clear national definitions of FDSV helps governments, service providers, practitioners and workplaces establish a common understanding of violence, so that they can respond appropriately and consistently. Clear definitions can also help raise awareness in the community of what constitutes FDSV and help individuals identify and respond to violence when it occurs.

Why are clear definitions important?

'The power of clear definitions has facilitated the increased awareness of the different types of abuse, for example, coercive control. It is likely that clearer use of terms, such as ‘family violence’ can facilitate greater awareness for both survivors and individuals involved with policy and practice.'


WEAVERs Expert by Experience

'Clear definitions of family, domestic & sexual violence (FDSV) are needed to ensure consistency in the responses to violence. Unclear or inconsistent definitions can result in some legal and support services providing better and more helpful responses than others.'


WEAVERs Expert by Experience

Clear and consistent definitions allow us to collect vital information and strengthen the evidence base. This allows national data collection and reporting and supports making comparisons over time and across population groups.

Why do definitions vary?

The definitions relating to FDSV differ across legal, policy, research and service delivery settings because they serve different purposes. FDSV covers a multitude of behaviours and harms in multiple settings and some population groups experiences violence in different ways to others. Definitions can vary depending on:

  • who experiences the violence or harm and their relationship to the person using violence
  • the context in which the violence or harm occurs
  • the nature of the system creating the definition, for example, the justice system or specialist FDSV services.

In general, definitions of FDSV can be broad or specific and there are instances where it is appropriate to make use of both.

Defining the scope

Using the broad definitions outlined in Box 1, the following are considered in scope for the AIHW’s FDSV reporting:

  • all forms of violence that occur in a FDV context, regardless of the type of harm or behaviour
  • all forms of sexual violence and harm, regardless of the relationship between victim and perpetrator (Figure 1).

Figure 1: What is in scope for the AIHW’s FDSV reporting?

A flow chart shows what is in scope for the AIHW's FDSV reporting. There are six boxes linked by arrows. The boxes contain questions that can be answered yes or no. The chart shows that all violence or harm of a sexual nature is in scope, and all violence or harm perpetrated by a family member or an intimate partner is in scope.

The AIHW’s FDSV reporting covers violence and harm that occurs in a range of settings – such as the home, institutions, workplaces, in public and online. Violence or harm is considered in scope if it is either of a sexual nature, or perpetrated by family members or intimate partners.

How does the AIHW’s scope compare with the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022–2032?

The scope of the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022–2032 (the National Plan) is gender-based violence, which refers to violence that is used against someone because of their gender. Gender-based violence, sometimes referred to as ‘violence against women’ is rooted in gender-based power inequalities, rigid gender norms and gender-based discrimination. The National Plan also includes broad definitions of intimate partner violence, family violence, coercive control and sexual violence, which are broader than violence against women (DSS 2022).

While there is substantial overlap between gender-based violence and FDSV, some aspects of gender-based violence are not included in the AIHW’s scope. The AIHW’s scope of reporting includes aspects of gender-based violence, where they are sexual in nature, or where they are perpetrated by family members or intimate partners (see Figure 1 above). The AIHW’s reporting also includes data about FDSV among all people. Where data are available, the AIHW FDSV reporting highlights key findings for women and children specifically and these findings can be used to support policy and decision-making under the National Plan.

How do we write about people?

As we build our understanding of FDSV, the way we write about the people most affected by violence will evolve. There are currently many different terms for people who experience, witness or use violence. No one term captures the myriad experiences of FDSV.

What terms do you use to identify yourself and what do these words mean to you?

'I use terms like ‘DV Survivor Advocate’, sometimes ‘Victim-Survivor Advocate’. These phrases broadly summarise my experience. The most important ‘part’ is ‘Survivor Advocate’. These two words send the message that I survived and now advocate for change. I hope this sends a message to other victims, wherever they are in their journey, that they can survive too. It also sends a message to the perpetrator that he did not succeed in completely destroying me like he intended to.'


WEAVERs Expert by Experience

'The terminology used to describe me and women like me, should be up to us. We need to be asked what we identify as – it’s incredibly important, especially coming from abusive relationships where we had little to no say on anything at all, even the simplest thing. So, yes you need to ask us! For me, yes I was a "victim", I progressed to survivor and now I’m a DV Advocate using my 28 years of lived experience.'


WEAVERs Expert by Experience

In our reporting, how we write about people in the context of FDSV will vary depending on where the information is drawn from. However, some broad terms, such as ‘victim-survivor’ and ‘perpetrator’ are adopted to simplify reporting where appropriate (Box 3).

There are also many different ways that sex and gender can be reported. This is important to keep in mind when reporting on FDSV, as sex and gender can play a role in how FDSV is experienced. Terms like ‘male’ and ‘female’ may refer to sex or gender depending on where they are drawn from and how they are recorded. In general, the terms used in the AIHW’s reporting will be consistent with the original data sources. However, there are circumstances where a different approach has been adopted for clarity (Box 4).

Guidelines for reporting on violence against women

Where possible, the AIHW aims to align reporting with the Our Watch guidelines for reporting violence against women. The guidelines were developed to provide information and tips to support media organisations across Australia in reporting on violence against women.

Additional information can be found at Media Making Change – Our Watch.

Guidelines for reporting on child sexual abuse

The AIHW’s FDSV reporting also aims to align reporting with the National Office for Child Safety’s guidelines for reporting on child sexual abuse. The guidelines were developed to encourage responsible reporting on child sexual abuse and support victims and survivors engaging with the media. The key aim for the guidelines is to promote reporting that raises community awareness of child sexual abuse, reduces stigma, and empowers victims and survivors when they share their personal experiences with the media.

Additional information, including guidance for victims and survivors engaging with the media can be found at Reporting on child sexual abuse – National Office for Child Safety.

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