New reports spotlight hospitalisations due to family, domestic and sexual violence and service responses in the time of COVID-19

Content warning: This media release contains information some readers may find distressing as it refers to data about family, domestic and sexual violence, and suicide.

Of the more than 29,000 Australians hospitalised at least once for family and domestic violence between 2010–11 and 2017–18, 1 in 5 (21%) had at least one additional hospital stay due to assault, a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has found.

The AIHW today released:

  • Examination of hospital stays due to family and domestic violence 2010–11 to 2018–19,
  • a short report focusing on data from January to June 2020, Family, domestic and sexual violence service responses in the time of COVID-19
  • and a new series of interactive visualisations, Family, domestic & sexual violence data in Australia.

‘Family, domestic and sexual violence is a major health and welfare issue in Australia, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds, but predominately women and children. It can take many forms, including physical and sexual violence, and emotional abuse, including attempts to control another person’s behavior,’ said AIHW spokesperson Louise York.

‘Today’s releases bring together new analysis and existing information from a range of sources to help us better understand family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia.’

Examination of hospital stays due to family and domestic violence 2010–11 to 2018–19

Analysis of linked data involving all jurisdictions (except WA and the NT) found over 29,000 people were hospitalised for family and domestic violence (FDV) between 2010–11 and 2017–18. Of these, more than 2 in 3 (68%) were female and more than 1 in 4 (28%) were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The most common age group at first FDV hospital stay was 25–34 (25%).

‘The hospital stays included in this report relate to more severe experiences of family and domestic violence, most likely physical or sexual in nature, and requiring admitted hospital treatment and care. They do not include presentations to emergency departments’ Ms York said.

Head injuries accounted for just over half (51%) of FDV hospital stays, followed by injuries of the abdomen (7.5%), thorax (7.5%) and wrist and hand (6.6%). More than half of the FDV patients presented with multiple injuries.

Females were more likely to have a hospital stay due to violence from a partner (76% of female stays) than males (30% of male stays), while males were more likely to have a hospital stay due to violence from ‘other family member’ (55% of male stays) than females (18% of female stays).

Around 1 in 8 (3,600 or 12%) people with a FDV hospital stay had at least one additional hospital stay for FDV, with almost 2 in 3 (62%) of these occurring within one year. However, the likelihood of experiencing multiple FDV stays varied by population group.

Indigenous people were more likely than non-Indigenous people to have multiple FDV hospital stays (20% and 9%, respectively). Additionally, females were more likely than males to have multiple FDV hospital stay (14% and 9%, respectively).

Compared to people with similar characteristics who had a non-FDV hospital stay in the same time period, people who were hospitalised for FDV had a higher death rate, and different causes of death. They were 10 times as likely to die due to assault; 3 times as likely to die due to accidental poisoning or liver disease, and twice as likely to die due to suicide, as the comparison group.

Additionally, compared to the comparison group, other assault (non-FDV) hospital stays were more common among people hospitalised for FDV, as were emergency department presentations, on average (10 presentations per person compared with 5 in the comparison group).

Family, domestic and sexual violence service responses in the time of COVID-19

Since early 2020, there has been growing concern about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on family, domestic and sexual violence.

‘The impacts of COVID-19, and measures put in place to limit transmission, can be wide-ranging. Victims and perpetrators spending more time together, or increased financial stress, can be associated with increased severity or frequency of violence,’ Ms York said.

According to a survey from the Australian Institute of Criminology produced as part of ANROWS’s research program, in the 12 months to February 2021, 1 in 3 (32%) women experienced emotionally abusive, harassing and controlling behaviours, 1 in 10 (9.6%) experienced physical violence, and 1 in 12 (7.6%) experienced sexual violence from their partner.

Two in 5 (42%) who had experienced physical violence before the pandemic reported the violence from their partner had increased in frequency or severity during the pandemic.

Additionally, many women experienced violence from their partner for the first time during the pandemic. Of women who had been in a relationship longer than 12 months, 3.4% experienced physical violence, 3.2% experienced sexual violence, and 18% experienced emotionally abusive, harassing and controlling behaviours, for the first time.

Drawing on data from a range of national sources, this AIHW report shows how service responses to FDSV changed during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on data from January to June 2020. While the pandemic is ongoing, observing the changes made in these initial months can provide insight into how services respond to crises.

Family, domestic and sexual violence data in Australia

Family, domestic and sexual violence data in Australia brings together data from multiple sources in an interactive format. It summarises changes in FDV measures over time, and includes information about factors that can influence and contribute to FDV, who is at risk, and the experiences and consequences of family, domestic and sexual violence.

‘To understand issues in more detail, it is useful and important to draw upon a range of data sources. This interactive release will be updated and expanded as new data become available. It is part of a suite of AIHW products which collectively aim to provide a comprehensive picture of family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia,’ Ms York said.

Media enquiries: [email protected]

The AIHW encourages journalists to use the Our Watch guidelines when reporting on statistics about family, domestic and sexual violence.

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

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