New national statistical report sheds light on family violence

UNDER EMBARGO—until 1.00am Wednesday 28 February 2018

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released its first comprehensive report on family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia.

The report brings together, for the first time, information from more than 20 different major data sources to build a picture of what is known about family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia. It also highlights data gaps and offers suggestions to help fill these gaps.

The report, Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia, 2018, covers family violence (physical violence, sexual violence and emotional abuse between family members, as well as current or former partners), domestic violence (a subcategory of family violence, involving current or former partners), and sexual violence (a range of nonconsensual sexual behaviours, perpetrated by partners, former partners, acquaintances or strangers).

‘Women are more likely to experience violence from a known person and in their home, while men are more likely to experience violence from strangers and in a public place,’ said AIHW spokesperson Louise York.

1 in 6 women (aged 15 or above) —equating to 1.6 million women—have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner, while for men it is 1 in 16—or half a million men. Three in 4 (75%) victims of domestic violence reported the perpetrator as male, while 1 in 4 (25%) reported the perpetrator as female.

Overall, 1 in 5 women (1.7 million) and 1 in 20 men (428,800) have experienced sexual violence. Most (96%) female victims of sexual violence reported the perpetrator as male, while male victims reported a more even spilt (49% female and 44% male perpetrators).

On average, 1 woman a week and 1 man a month is killed by a current or former partner.

While overall the data show that women are at greater risk, certain groups are particularly vulnerable, such as Indigenous women, young women and pregnant women.

Children who are exposed to violence experience long-lasting effects

‘Children can be victims of or witnesses to family violence—and this early exposure can heighten their chances of experiencing further violence later in life,’ Ms York said. 

Children who were physically or sexually abused before they were 15 were around 3 times as likely to experience domestic violence after the age of 15 as those children who had not experienced or witnessed violence earlier in life.

Women who, as children, witnessed domestic violence towards either their mother or father were more than twice as likely to be the victim of domestic violence themselves, compared with women who had not witnessed this violence.

Men who witnessed violence towards their mother by a partner were almost 3 times as likely to be the victim of domestic violence compared with men who had not, while men who witnessed violence towards their father were almost 4 times as likely to experience domestic violence compared with those who had not.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience higher rates of family violence

The report shows that Indigenous women were 32 times and Indigenous men were 23 times as likely to be hospitalised due to family violence as non-Indigenous women and men respectively, while Indigenous children were around 7 times as likely as non-Indigenous children to be the victims of substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect.

Two in 5 Indigenous homicide victims (41%) were killed by a current or former partner, compared with 1 in 5 non-Indigenous homicide victims (22%).

A significant toll on victims and society

The report also shows that family, domestic and sexual violence can have a profound effect on people’s ability to work, health and financial situation.

‘People who experience domestic violence are likely to need time off work as a result, and women affected by domestic violence experience significantly poorer health and mental health than other women,’ Ms York said.

For women aged 25–44, domestic violence causes more illness, disability and deaths than any other risk factor, such as smoking, alcohol use, being overweight, or being physically inactive.

Domestic violence is a leading cause of hospitalised assault, particularly among women. In 2014–15, 2,800 women and 560 men were hospitalised after being assaulted by a spouse or partner.

‘Family and domestic violence is also a leading cause of homelessness. In 2016–17, 72,000 women, 34,000 children and 9,000 men sought homelessness services due to family and domestic violence,’ Ms York said.

The financial impacts are also substantial, with violence against women and their children estimated to cost at least $22 billion in direct (healthcare, counselling, child and welfare support) and indirect (lost wages, productivity and potential earnings) costs in 2015–16.

The importance of evidence, data gaps and looking forward

AIHW CEO Barry Sandison said the report was a significant piece of work for the AIHW—and one with a real human impact. But there’s more to be done.

‘We know that family, domestic and sexual violence is a major problem in Australia, but without a comprehensive source of evidence and analysis, tackling such a complex issue will continue to be difficult,’ he said.

He noted that while the report was certainly a step in the right direction, its development had highlighted several areas where future work is needed. For example, inconsistent definitions of violence in data collections pose a challenge, as does the limited information available on specific at-risk groups (such as people with disability), childhood experiences, the characteristics of perpetrators and the service responses for both victims and perpetrators.

‘It’s important to note that while looking only at the numbers can at times appear to depersonalise the pain and suffering that sits behind the statistics, the seriousness of these issues cannot be overstated,’ Mr Sandison said.

‘This work is an excellent example of organisations working together to build the evidence on an important issue. It was achieved through financial support and collaboration from several Australian Government and state government departments.’

If the information presented raises any issues for you, these services can help:

1800RESPECT (1800 737 732, www.1800respect.org.au)

Lifeline (13 11 14, www.lifeline.org.au)

Kids Helpline (1800 551 800, www.kidshelpline.com.au)

Men's Referral Service (1300 766 491, www.ntv.org.au)

Further information: Elizabeth Ingram, AIHW: Tel. 02 6249 5048, mob. 0431 871 337
Elise Guy, AIHW: Tel. 02 6244 1156, mob. 0468 525 418