Key findings

  • In 2016, about 1 in 8 women (12% or 129,000) and 1 in 9 men (11% or 120,000) aged 18–24 experienced physical and/or sexual violence at least once in the previous 12 months.
  • In 2019, police-recorded sexual assault was 2.7 times as likely to be perpetrated against young people aged 15–19 than against those aged 20–24—rates of sexual assault continued to fall with increasing age.
  • Around 1 in 2 assaults and 1 in 4 sexual assaults were considered to be related to family and domestic violence.

Young people can experience crime and violence as victims, witnesses or offenders. This can occur in their home or the wider community. For young people, exposure to crime and violence can have potentially damaging impacts that lead to a range of negative health, educational, social, emotional and behavioural, and housing outcomes across their lifespan (ANROWS 2018; WHO 2016a, 2016b, 2016c; Finkelhor et al. 2007a, 2007b; Mitchell et al. 2015; UNICEF 2007).

The negative impacts for victims can range from short-term physical impacts such as broken bones, through to serious and long-lasting emotional and psychological impacts (ANROWS 2018; Finkelhor et al. 2009; WHO 2016a, 2016c). For example, young people exposed to crime, especially violent crime or crime involving weapons, may have increased risk of:

  • depression, anxiety and psychological disorders
  • suicidal behaviour
  • risk-taking behaviours, including substance abuse and risky sexual behaviour
  • chronic diseases (for example, diabetes) 
  • future victimisation and offending
  • homelessness
  • decreased academic achievement (AIHW 2018; Bland & Shallcross 2015; Campo 2015; Holt et al. 2008; Jaffe et al. 2012; Kaspiew et al. 2017; Knight 2015; Mitchell et al. 2015; Schiff et al. 2014; WHO 2016a, 2016c; WHO 2020).

Young people who offend are more likely to have diminished educational attainment and social participation, and interpersonal difficulties, and are at higher risk of future offending (Aizer & Doyle 2015; Gann et al. 2015; Hagell & Jeyarajah-Dent 2006).

Violence perpetrated by a family member or current or previous intimate partner is considered family and domestic violence. As children transition into adolescence and young adulthood, relationships outside the immediate family become more important, and the opportunity for intimate partner violence increases. 

As there is no comprehensive national data source on children involved in crime, this section focuses mainly on selected administrative data sources, particularly police-recorded crime and hospitalisations for young people who have experienced assault (Box 1). These data source can provide some insights, but they do not capture all crime and are likely to underestimate the true extent of violence against young people.

In some instances, young people aged 15–17 who experience abuse or neglect have contact with state and territory child protection services, and there may be some overlap in recorded crime and child protection data. (see Young people in out-of-home care).

Box 1: Data sources

Data on crimes committed against or by people in Australia are drawn from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2019 Recorded Crime—Victims and 2018–19 Recorded Crime—Offenders collections. These data are based on those crimes reported to police in each state and territory and published according to the National Crime Recording Standard categories. ABS Recorded Crime data include offences classified to selected divisions and/or subdivisions of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC). As not all incidents of crime are reported to police, recorded crimes data are likely to underestimate the true rate of crime involving young people.

Recorded Crime—Victims data do not reflect unique people. If a person is the victim of multiple incidents recorded by police throughout the reference period, each unique incident is counted. Where incidents include multiple offences that fall under different ANZSOC offence categories, each different offence category is counted once per incident.

Conversely, Recorded Crime—Offenders data reflect a count of unique alleged offenders, irrespective of how many offences they may have committed within the same incident, or how many times police dealt with them during the reference period. Where an offender allegedly committed more than 1 offence, the principal offence during the reference period, defined as per the ABS National Offence Index, is recorded. It should be noted that alleged offences recorded in offenders’ statistics may be later withdrawn or not be substantiated.

Selected offences are defined as being related to family and domestic violence where the relationship of offender to victim, as stored on police recording systems, falls within a specified family or domestic relationship, or where a family domestic violence flag has been recorded, following a police investigation.

Data on young people who were hospitalised in Australia for an injury related to assault are from the AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database. Hospitalised assault cases include episodes of admitted patient care that ended during the financial year (1 July 2018 to 30 June 2019) and that have an external cause of physical assault (X85–Y04) or sexual assault (Y05 Sexual assault by bodily force). Hospital morbidity data reflect unique hospitalisations, not unique people. These data represent a subset of young people receiving admitted patient care; others may access different services (for example, emergency department care and/or care from general practitioners). As well, some may not need or be able to seek medical help.

The ABS 2016 Personal Safety Survey (PSS) provides national data on the prevalence of violence experienced by women and men aged 18 and over. It collects information about the nature and extent of violence experienced since age 15. Violence refers to any incident involving the occurrence, attempt or threat of either physical or sexual assault. Where a person has experienced more than 1 type of violence, their experiences are counted separately for each type. The 2016 PSS collected in-depth information from around 15,600 women and 5,700 men aged 18 and over.

Data in this section on homicide are sourced from the Australian Institute of Criminology National Homicide Monitoring Program (1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018).

How many young people experience violence?

The 2016 PSS estimates that about 1 in 8 women (12% or 129,000) and 1 in 9 men (11% or 120,000) aged 18–24 experienced physical and/or sexual violence at least once in the 12 months before the survey. These proportions are higher than for any other age groups (ABS 2017).

  • A higher proportion of women aged 18–24 (5.9%, or 65,000) experienced sexual violence in the 12 months before the survey than men (2.3% or 26,000).
  • Conversely, a higher proportion of males (9.2%, or 103,000) experienced physical violence than females (7.4% or 81,000) (ABS 2017). However, the sexual violence estimates for men have a high relative standard error and should be used with caution.

How many young people are recorded as victims of crime?

According to the ABS 2019 Recorded Crime—Victims, there were around 13,900 sexual assault, kidnapping/abduction, robbery and blackmail/extortion offences against young people aged 15–24 (ABS 2020a). Sexual assault accounted for the majority of these (69% or around 9,600 cases). There were also around 28,800 other assault offences (which included grievous bodily harm, torture and use of a weapon perpetrated against young people aged 15–24) in the 6 jurisdictions for which data were available—New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory (ABS 2020a).

During 2019, police recorded 59 homicides (murders, manslaughters) and attempted murders for young people aged 15–24. Almost half (47%, or 28) were classified as murder—there were more than 4 times as many male victims as female victims (ABS 2020d).

As sexual assault and other assaults account for the majority of recorded crimes against young people aged 15–24, they will be the main focus here.

Box 2: Defining and measuring assault

Sexual assault refers to any physical contact, or intent of contact, of a sexual nature directed toward another person where that person does not give consent, gives consent as a result of intimidation or deception, or consent is unable to be given because of youth, temporary/permanent (mental) incapacity or familial relationship (ABS 2020a). Sexual assault can be aggravated sexual assault or non‑aggravated sexual assault (ABS 2011).

Other assault is the direct infliction or threat of force, injury or violence where there is an apprehension that the threat could be enacted (ABS 2020a). Other assault comprises serious assault resulting in injury, serious assault not resulting in injury and common assault (ABS 2011).

How many young people experience assault?

Sexual assault

According to ABS Recorded Crime—Victims, around 9,600 sexual assaults were recorded in 2019 as being perpetrated against young people aged 15–24 at the time of recording (ABS 2020a). This equates to a rate of 294 sexual assaults per 100,000 young people (Figure 1).

In 2019, recorded rates of sexual assault were:

  • 2.7 times as high for young people aged 15–19 than for those aged 20–24 (445 and 165 sexual assaults per 100,000, respectively). There were 103 sexual assaults per 100,000 people aged 25–34, with rates continuing to fall with increasing age
  • 9 times as high for females as males aged 15–24 (542 sexual assaults per 100,000 females, compared with 60 sexual assaults per 100,000 males) (Figure 1) (ABS 2020a).

Figure 1: Victims of sexual assault, by age and sex, 2019

Chart: AIHW.
Sources: ABS 2019, 2020a.

Other assault

Data from the ABS Recorded Crime—Victims, 2019 are also available to report on other forms of assault for 6 states and territories (excluding Victoria and Queensland). In 2019, there were around 28,800 assault offences recorded against young people aged 15–24 for which data were available (see Box 1)—a rate of 1,674 assaults per 100,000 young people (ABS 2020a). The rate was higher for females (1,889 per 100,000) than for males (1,465 per 100,000) (ABS 2020a).

Who perpetrates assault against young people?

Sexual assault

According to the ABS Recorded Crime—Victims data, for states and territories where the relationship between victim and offender was recorded (excluding Western Australia), in 2019, more sexual assaults against young people involved an offender who was known to the victim (71% or 6,100) than a stranger (18% or 1,600). Around 1 in 10 (11% or 914) involved an offender who was not specified (Figure 2) (ABS 2020d).

Figure 2: Victims of sexual assault aged 15–24, by relationship, 2019

Note: ‘Other family member’ includes parents, siblings and other family members not elsewhere classified or further defined. ‘Partner’ comprises boyfriend/girlfriend, and ‘ex-partner’ comprises ex-boyfriend/girlfriends. ‘Non-family’ includes non-family relationships not classified elsewhere. Data exclude Western Australia, as data on relationship to offender are not available. Due to rounding, proportions in this figure may not add to 100%.
Chart: AIHW.
Source: ABS 2020d.

In Australia in 2019, around 1 in 4 (26% or 2,500) sexual assaults against young people were classified as family and domestic violence incidents due to the offender being a partner or other family member, and/or a police investigation concluded the incident was family and domestic violence. This represents a rate of 77 sexual assaults per 100,000 young people aged 15–24 (ABS 2020a). In 2019, family and domestic violence sexual assaults were:

  • 2.7 times as likely to be perpetrated against those aged 15–19 than against those aged 20–24 (117 sexual assaults per 100,000 young people for those aged 15–19 compared with 44 per 100,000 for those aged 20–24)
  • more than 11 times as likely to be perpetrated against females than males (145 family and domestic violence sexual assaults per 100,000 females, compared with 13 per 100,000 males) (Figure 3) (ABS 2020a).

Figure 3: Victims of family and domestic violence sexual assault, by age and sex, 2019

Note: Includes Western Australia data only where family and domestic violence was determined based on police investigation.  
Chart: AIHW.
Sources: ABS 2019, 2020a.

Other assault

In 2019, for states and territories where assault data are reported and the relationship between victim and offender was recorded (excluding Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia) in the ABS Recorded Crime—Victims data, more assaults of young people aged 15–24 involved an offender who was known to the victim (68% or 15,200) than a stranger (26% or 5,900) (Figure 4) (ABS 2020d).

Figure 4: Victims of other assault aged 15–24, by relationship, 2019

Note: ‘Other family member’ includes parents, siblings, and other family members not elsewhere classified or further defined. ‘Partner’ includes boyfriend/girlfriend and ‘ex-partner’ includes ex-boyfriend/girlfriends. ‘Non-family’ includes non-family relationships not classified elsewhere. Data exclude Western Australia, as data on relationship to offender are not available; also exclude Victoria and Queensland, as data for other assault are not published. Due to rounding, proportions in this figure may not add to 100%.
Chart: AIHW.
Source: ABS 2020d.

For states and territories where assault data are reported (excluding Victoria and Queensland), almost 1 in 2 (49% or 14,100) other assaults against young people were classified as family and domestic violence incidents, due to the offender’s being a partner or other family member, and/or a police investigation concluding that the incident was family and domestic violence. This represents a rate of 817 family and domestic violence assaults per 100,000 young people aged 15–24.

In 2019, family and domestic violence assaults against young people aged 15–24 years were:

  • more than 3 times as likely to be perpetrated against females (1,266 assaults per 100,000 females) than males (390 per 100,000 males) (ABS 2020a)
  • higher among those aged 20–24 (886 assaults per 100,000 young people) than among those aged 15–19 (738 per 100,000) (Figure 5) (ABS 2020a).

Figure 5: Victims of family and domestic violence assault, by age group, 2019

Note: Excludes Victoria and Queensland as data for other assault are not published. Includes Western Australia only where family and domestic violence was determined based on police investigation. 
Chart: AIHW.
Sources: ABS 2019, 2020a.

Has the rate of police-recorded assault changed over time?

Sexual assault

After remaining relatively stable between 2010 and 2015, the rate of police‑recorded sexual assault of young people aged 15–24 increased from 234 per 100,000 young people in 2015 to a peak of 299 per 100,000 in 2018 (ABS 2020a). It is unclear whether this change reflects an increased incidence of sexual assault, an increased propensity to report sexual assault to police, increased reporting of historical crimes or a combination of these factors. Further analysis of all 2019 police-recorded sexual assaults found that 73% were reported to police within one year (ABS 2021b).

Rates of police-recorded sexual assault for females were consistently higher than those for males for both age groups (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Sexual assault offence rates, 2010–2019

Chart: AIHW.
Sources: ABS 2020a, ABS 2019.

Other assault

Time-series data for other assault are available for most states and territories (excluding for Victoria and Queensland) from 2016. The rate has fallen from 1,798 assaults per 100,000 young people aged 15–24 in 2016 to 1,674 assaults per 100,000 in 2019 (ABS 2016, 2020a). During this time, rates were consistently higher for females than males.

How many hospitalised cases due to assault?

In 2018–19, there were 4,900 hospitalised assault cases of young people aged 15–24 due to assault—a rate of 153 cases per 100,000 young people. Physical assault was the most common form of assault and accounted for 91% of hospitalised cases. Maltreatment accounted for 7.9% and sexual assault for 1.4% of hospitalised cases for young people. (Note these numbers include only people formally admitted for a hospital stay; they do not include those who presented to an Emergency Department only).

Rates of hospitalised assault cases varied for different demographic groups:

  • In 2018–19, young people living in Very remote areas were 14 times as likely to be hospitalised for assault than those in Major cities (1,654 per 100,000 young people compared with 116 per 100,000).
  • In 2016–17, young people living in the lowest socioeconomic areas were more than 3 times as likely to be hospitalised due to assault as those living in the highest socioeconomic areas (262 and 82 hospitalised cases per 100,000 young people, respectively).

The rate of hospitalised assault cases for young people aged 15–24 declined steadily from 273 per 100,000 young people in 2008–09 to 149 per 100,000 in 2014–15, before increasing to 159 per 100,000 in 2016–17 (AIHW 2021).

In 2018–19, the most common assault types requiring hospitalisation of the total hospitalised assault cases were assault by:

  • bodily force (65%)
  • a sharp object (12%)
  • a blunt object (11%).

The proportion of assaults by sharp objects was higher for males (14%) than for females (7.5%), while the proportion of assaults by blunt object was higher for females (12%) than males (10%).

In 2018–19, 25% (1,200) of assault hospitalisations for young people aged 15–24 were related to family and domestic violence. Of these:

  • 64% (790) were perpetrated by a spouse or domestic partner
  • 36% (449) were perpetrated by a parent or other family member.

Around 6 in 10 (61%, or 3,000) assault hospitalisations involved a perpetrator who was unknown or unspecified.

For information on unintentional injury hospitalised cases, see Unintentional injuries.

How many young people are the victims of homicide?

In 2017–18, for states and territories where data were available (excludes the Australian Capital Territory), the Australian Institute of Criminology’s (AIC’s) National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) reported 25 deaths due to homicide among young people aged 15–24. This represents a rate of 0.8 homicides per 100,000 young people. For young people aged 15–24, the rate of homicide was:

  • almost 4 times as high for males as females (1.2 per 100,000 males aged 15–24) compared with 0.3 per 100,000 females
  • lower among those aged 15–17 (0.4 per 100,000) than those aged 18–24 (1.0 per 100,000) (Bricknell 2020).

Young people as perpetrators of crime

Data from the ABS Recorded Crime—Offenders are available to report on young people as perpetrators of crime. In 2018–19, police proceeded against around 124,000 young people aged 15–24 for 1 or more criminal offence. This represents a rate of 3,800 offenders per 100,000 young people.

Of these offenders, three-quarters (75% or 93,200) were male. The offender rate was higher among those 15–19 (4,000 per 100,000) than among those aged 20–24 (3,600 per 100,000) (ABS 2020b). The offender rate was lower than both youth age groups for those aged 25–29 (3,000 per 100,000) and continued to progressively decrease with increasing age.

The most common principal offences committed by young people aged 15–24 include both violent and non-violent crimes. Illicit drug offences were the most common principal offence (805 offenders per 100,000 young people), followed by acts intended to cause injury (650 offenders per 100,000) and public order offences (610 per 100,000) (Figure 7) (ABS 2020b).

Figure 7: Ten most common offences among young people aged 15–24, 2018–19

Chart: AIHW.
Sources: ABS 2020e. ABS 2019.

In 2019–20, the number of youth offenders aged 10–17 was around 47,000, a rate of 1,914 offenders per 100,000, the lowest rate since the time series began in 2008–09 (3,187 per 100,000) (ABS 2021a).

In 2017–18, the AIC NHMP identified 40 youth homicide offenders aged 15–24 in Australia (excluding the Australian Capital Territory)—a rate of 1.3 homicide offenders per 100,000 young people. This offender rate is lower than for people aged 25–34 (2.0 per 100,000) and 35–44 (1.7 per 100,000), but higher than all other age groups. The majority (80%) of youth homicide offenders were male (Bricknell 2020).

Data from the ABS Recorded Crime—Offenders, 2018–19 are also available to report on young people as offenders of offences related to family and domestic violence. These data are available for all states and territories except South Australia.

In 2018–19, there were 14,500 offenders of offences related to family and domestic violence aged 15–24 in Australia (excluding data for South Australia, as they were unavailable). Of these offenders, the majority (77%, or 11,200) were male. Correspondingly, males aged 15–24 had higher domestic violence offender rates than females—722 and 224 per 100,000, respectively. The most common principal offence related to family and domestic violence was ‘Acts intended to cause injury’ (61%) (ABS 2020c).

In 2018–19, young people aged 15–24 accounted for 30 offenders of offences related to family and domestic homicide and related offences.

Following police charges, young people may become a defendant in 1 or more criminal court case. There are separate justice systems for young people aged 10–17 and those aged 18 and over, with those aged under 18 usually dealt with under the youth justice system. Young people under youth justice supervision in Australia because of their involvement (or alleged involvement) in crime are included in annual Youth justice in Australia reports.

Where do I find more information?

For information on topics related to family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia’s young people, see:

For information on young people and crime, see:

 


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