Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Family, domestic and sexual violence, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 25 September 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Family, domestic and sexual violence. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/domestic-violence/family-domestic-and-sexual-violence
Family, domestic and sexual violence. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 07 July 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/domestic-violence/family-domestic-and-sexual-violence
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Family, domestic and sexual violence [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2022 Sep. 25]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/domestic-violence/family-domestic-and-sexual-violence
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Family, domestic and sexual violence, viewed 25 September 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/domestic-violence/family-domestic-and-sexual-violence
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Family, domestic and sexual violence is a major health and welfare issue in Australia, occurring across all socioeconomic and demographic groups, but predominantly affecting women and children. These types of violence can have a serious impact on individuals, families and communities, and can inflict physical injury, psychological trauma and emotional suffering. These effects can be long-lasting and can affect future generations.
For information, support and counselling contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit the 1800RESPECT website .
Family violence is violence between family members, such as between parents and children, siblings, and intimate partners.
Domestic violence is a type of family violence that occurs between current or former intimate partners (sometimes referred to as intimate partner violence).
Both family violence and domestic violence include behaviours such as:
Sexual violence includes sexual assault, sexual threat, sexual harassment, child sexual assault, street-based sexual harassment and image-based abuse sexual harassment (NASASV 2021). However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey (PSS) uses a narrower definition of sexual violence, including only sexual assault and sexual threat, with sexual harassment and abuse against children reported separately. Sexual violence in its broadest form can occur in the context of family or domestic violence, or be perpetrated by other people known to the victim or by strangers (ABS 2017a).
Other forms of violence that can occur within the context of family and domestic violence include: stalking, technology-facilitated abuse and elder abuse, with the latter occurring where there is an expectation of trust and/or where there is a power imbalance between the party responsible and the older person (Kaspiew et al. 2019).
The most recent ABS PSS in 2016 provides an estimate of the number of Australians who have been victims of family, domestic and sexual violence. While every experience of family, domestic or sexual violence is very personal and different, it is most common for this type of violence to be perpetrated against women, by men. There is currently no national data on the proportion of Australians who have perpetrated family, domestic and sexual violence.
Source: ABS 2017b
Results from the 2016 PSS show that an estimated 3.6 million Australian adults (20% of the population) reported experiencing physical and/or sexual family and domestic violence since the age of 15. It is estimated that of all Australian adults:
Partner violence remained relatively stable between 2005 and 2016.
In the 2016 PSS, it was more common for Australians to report having ever experienced emotional abuse by a previous partner (15%) than a current partner (5.7%) since the age of 15. Conversely, emotional abuse in the last 12 months, was more common amongst current partners (3.0%) than previous partners (1.6%). Between 2012 and 2016 there was an increase in the proportion of women (from 2.5% to 3.2%) and men (from 1.5% to 2.9%) who experienced emotional abuse by a current partner.
An estimated 2.2 million Australians (12% of the population) reported experiences of sexual violence (threat and/or assault) since the age of 15. It is estimated that of all Australian adults:
Women were more likely to be victims than men across all types of perpetrator relationships. Prevalence of sexual violence against women was highest for women in the 18–24 year age group (5.9%), with prevalence decreasing as age increased. The proportion of women who experienced sexual violence increased between 2012 and 2016 (from 1.2% to 1.8%).
Based on the 2016 PSS, over 1 in 2 (53% or 5 million) women and 1 in 4 (25% or 2.2 million) men had experienced sexual harassment (indecent phone calls, text messages, emails or social media posts; indecent exposure; inappropriate comments; and unwanted sexual touching) in their lifetime (ABS 2017b).
Violence exists on a spectrum of behaviours. The same social and cultural attitudes underpinning family, domestic and sexual violence are at the root of other behaviours such as stalking. Technology can facilitate abuse and has become an important consideration in these types of violence.
Stalking is classified as unwanted behaviours (such as following or unwanted contact) that occur more than once and cause fear or distress and is considered a crime in every state and territory of Australia (ABS 2017b). Based on the 2016 PSS, 1 in 6 (17% or 1.6 million) women and slightly over 1 in 16 (6.5% or 587,000) men had experienced stalking since the age of 15.
A 2020 report by Australia’s eSafety Commissioner on adult’s negative online experiences found that:
For more detail, see:
Since early 2020, there has been concern about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on family, domestic and sexual violence. The impacts of a pandemic can be wide-ranging and situational stressors, such as victims and perpetrators spending more time together, or increased financial or economic hardship, can be associated with increased severity or frequency of violence (Payne et al. 2020). Pandemics can also affect the ‘responses’ to violence – the actions taken after an incident of violence has occurred.
The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) explored intimate partner violence experienced by women in Australia in the first 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic from February 2020. Select key findings from the online survey of more than 10,000 women are summarised in Table 1.
Overall prevalence of intimate partner violence (a)
Experienced intimate partner violence for the first time (a)
Reported that intimate partner violence had increased in frequency or severity (a, b)
a) Of women who had been in a relationship longer than 12 months.
b) Of women who had a history of violence from their current or most recent partner.
Source: Boxall and Morgan 2021.
Many women did not seek help during the COVID-19 pandemic
Over 1 in 4 women (26%) who had experienced physical or sexual violence in the 12 months before the survey said they had been unable to seek assistance on at least one occasion due to safety concerns (Boxall and Morgan 2021).
See also AIHW’s Family, domestic and sexual violence service responses in the time of COVID-19.
For more information on how the pandemic has affected Australians in the context of longer-term trends, See ‘Chapter 2 Changes in the health of Australians during the COVID-19 period’ in Australia’s health 2022: data insights
Social attitudes and norms shape the context in which violence occurs. The National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) in 2017 indicated that most Australians reject attitudes supportive of violence against women and have a good understanding of violence against women.
While results were generally encouraging, some findings were concerning and highlight areas for improvement. Select estimates from the NCAS are summarised below.
For more detail see:
Family, domestic and sexual violence occurs across all ages and demographics. However, some groups are more vulnerable than others because they are at greater risk or because the impacts and outcomes of violence can be more serious or long-lasting.
Children are more vulnerable to family, domestic and sexual violence.
The 2016 PSS asked participants (aged 18 and over) about their experiences of violence before the age of 15, also referred to as abuse:
a) Respondents reporting more than one type of violence and/or more than one perpetrator group (family or non-family) will be counted once in each discrete group. Respondents reporting more than one perpetrator type in the same perpetrator group (e.g. parent and step parent) will be counted once in that group.
b) Family includes parent, step-parent, sibling, step-sibling and other relative or in-law.
Source: ABS 2017b
In Australia, state and territory governments are responsible for providing child protection services to anyone aged under 18 who has been, or is at risk of being, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed, or whose parents are unable to provide adequate care and protection. In 2020–21:
The rate of children who were the subject of substantiations remained fairly stable in the 5 years to 30 June 2021, however the rate of children who were the subject of notifications has increased from 43 per 1,000 in 2016–17 to 52 per 1,000 in 2020–21.
Data on child protection services during the first 7 months after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic (March to September 2020) can be found in Child protection in the time of COVID-19.
More women than men experience family, domestic and sexual violence. Table 2 shows the proportion of people aged 18 and over who experienced violence from a previous or current partner since the age of 15.
Physical and/or sexual violence from a previous partner
Physical and/or sexual violence from a current partner
Emotional abuse from a previous/current partner
Source: ABS 2017b.
Women’s exposure to violence differs across age groups and by perpetrator type. When experiences of partner violence are expanded to those perpetrated by all intimate partners – including current or previous boyfriends, girlfriends or dates – young women are particularly at risk.
The 2016 PSS reported that young women were more likely to experience intimate partner violence and/or sexual violence than older women in the 12 months before the survey with an estimated:
In interpreting these results, it is important to note that younger women were less likely to have ever had a cohabiting partner compared with women aged 35 and over. Similarly, men aged 18–34 were more at risk of intimate partner violence in the 12 months before the survey than those aged 35 and over – 2.0% of men aged 18–34 experienced intimate partner violence compared with 0.8% aged 35 and over (ABS 2017b).
Other social and cultural factors can also increase the risk of experiencing family, domestic and sexual violence. In some cases, these factors may overlap or combine to create an even greater risk. Additional factors that can increase the risk of violence include remoteness and socioeconomic area of residence, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and cultural influences. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are particularly at risk and have much higher rates of hospitalisation because of family violence. Data on the experiences of Indigenous women can be found in Indigenous community safety.
For more information on the prevalence of family, domestic and sexual violence across select population groups, see:
Responses to family, domestic and sexual violence are provided informally in the community and formally through justice systems, and treatment and support services.
The 2016 PSS found that there were differences in propensity to seek help, advice or support following partner violence depending on partner status and victim sex:
Similarly, estimates indicate that more females (50% or 316,900) than males (28% or 20,900) sought help, advice or support after the most recent incident of sexual assault by a male perpetrator. The 2016 PSS also found that for 87% (553,900) of most recent incident of sexual assaults against women by men, the police were not contacted.
See also: Help sought after sexual assault and Sexual assault reported to police in Family, domestic and sexual violence data in Australia web report.
When an incident of violence is reported to police by a victim, witness or other person, it can be recorded as a crime. The ABS collects data on selected family, domestic and sexual violence crimes recorded by police. In 2020:
Since 2011, the number of sexual assault victims recorded by police has increased each year (ABS 2021). 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. Of all 2020 police-recorded sexual assaults, 68% were reported to police within one year (ABS 2021).
People accessing specialist homelessness services (SHS) may need support due to family and domestic violence. Data cannot currently distinguish between victims and perpetrators of violence.
In 2020–21, SHS agencies assisted around 116,200 clients (42% of all SHS clients) who had experienced domestic and family violence. Of these 116,200 clients:
See also Homelessness and homelessness services and Specialist homelessness services clients who have experienced family and domestic violence in AIHW’s Family, domestic and sexual violence data in Australia.
Hospitals provide health services for individuals who have experienced assault, including those whose hospitalised assault case (hospitalisation) is a result of family or domestic violence. These data do not include presentations to emergency departments and will relate to more severe (and mostly physical) experiences of family and domestic violence. Only those assault hospitalisations where the perpetrator is coded as being a family member (including spouse or domestic partner) can be identified, consequently these data may underestimate family and domestic assault hospitalisations.
In 2019-20, more than 3 in 10 (35% or 7,600) assault hospitalisations were due to family and domestic violence.
Of all family and domestic assault hospitalisations in 2019–20:
See also Injury in Australia, Hospital care, Examination of hospital stays due to family and domestic violence 2010-11 to 2018-19 and Hospitalisations for family and domestic violence in Family, domestic and sexual violence data in Australia.
1800RESPECT is Australia’s national telephone and online counselling and support service for people affected by family, domestic and sexual violence, their family and friends and frontline workers. In 2020-21, 1800RESPECT responded to 286,546 telephone and online contacts (These numbers include every contact to the service including disconnections, pranks and wrong numbers).
See also 1800RESPECT contacts in Family, domestic and sexual violence data in Australia.
Burden of disease refers to the quantified impact of living with and dying prematurely from a disease or injury.
The Australian Burden of Disease Study 2018 estimated the impact of various diseases, injuries and risk factors on total burden of disease for the Australian population. For women aged 15 to 44 years, intimate partner violence was ranked as the fourth leading risk factor for total disease burden, and child abuse & neglect was the leading risk factor. Child abuse & neglect was ranked third for men in the same age group (AIHW 2021a).
In 2018, intimate partner violence contributed to:
Total burden attributable to intimate partner violence:
Note: Burden estimated in females only.
Source: AIHW 2021a, AIHW 2021b.
In 2018, child abuse and neglect contributed to:
Total burden attributable to child abuse and neglect:
See also: Burden of disease and Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia.
Findings from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health demonstrated that women who had experienced childhood sexual abuse were more likely to have poor general health and to experience depression and bodily pain, compared with those who had not experienced sexual abuse during childhood (Coles et al. 2018). Women who had experienced childhood sexual or emotional or physical abuse had higher long-term primary, allied, and specialist health care costs in adulthood, compared with women who had not had these experiences during childhood (Loxton et al. 2018).
Between July 2019 and 30 June 2020, the AIC’s National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) recorded 86 domestic homicide victims from 81 domestic homicide incidents (see Glossary for definitions). Data from the NHMP are from police and coronial records (Serpell et al. 2022).
Of all domestic homicide victims, 69% (59) were female. Of all female victims of domestic homicide, 61% (36) were killed by an intimate partner. For male victims of domestic homicide, 37% (10) were killed by an intimate partner.
In 2019–20, the rate of domestic homicides was 0.32 per 100,000 – the second lowest annual rate (2017–18 and 2018–19 both 0.30 per 100,000) since the collection began in 1989–90 (Serpell et al. 2022).
A recent report, Examination of hospital stays due to family and domestic violence 2010–11 to 2018–19, found that people who had had a family and domestic violence hospitalisation were 10 times as likely to die due to assault, 3 times as likely to die due to accidental poisoning or liver disease, and 2 times as likely to die due to suicide, as a comparison group (AIHW 2021b).
Further data on domestic homicides can be obtained from ABS Recorded Crime - Victims. See also Causes of death.
For more information on health impacts of family, domestic and sexual violence, see:
Visit Family, domestic and sexual violence for more on this topic.
For information, support and counselling contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit the 1800RESPECT website.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2017a) Personal safety, Australia methodology, 2016, ABS website, accessed 20 April 2022.
ABS (2017b) Personal safety, Australia, 2016, ABS website, accessed 20 April 2022.
ABS (2021) Recorded Crime - Victims. ABS website, accessed 20 April 2022.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) (2021a) Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2018, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 20 April 2022.
AIHW (2021b) Examination of hospital stays due to family and domestic violence 2010–11 to 2018–19, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 20 April 2022.
AIHW (2022) Child protection in Australia 2020–21, AIHW, Australian Government.
Boxall and Morgan (2021) Intimate partner violence during the COVID-19 pandemic: A survey of women in Australia, Australian Institute of Criminology, Australian Government, accessed 20 April 2022.
Coles J, Lee A, Taft A, Mazza D and Loxton D (2018) ‘Childhood sexual abuse and its association with adult physical and mental health: results from a national cohort of young Australian women', Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 30(11):1929–1944, doi.org/10.1177/0886260514555270
Kaspiew R, Carson R, Dow B, Qu L, Hand K, Roopani D, Gahan L and O'Keeffe D (2019) Elder Abuse National Research—Strengthening the Evidence Base: research definition background paper, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Australian Government, accessed 20 April 2022.
Loxton D, Townsend N, Dolja-Gore X, Forder P and Coles J (2018) ‘Adverse childhood experiences and health-care costs in adult life’, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 4:1–15, doi:org/10.1080/10538712.2018.1523814.
Payne J, Morgan A and Piquero A (2020) ‘COVID-19 and social distancing measures in Queensland Australia are associated with short-term decreases in recorded violent crime’, Journal of Experimental Criminology, 18: 89–113, doi.org/10.1007/s11292-020-09441-y
NASASV (National Association of Services Against Sexual Violence) (2021) Standards of Practice Manual for Services Against Sexual Violence 3rd Edition, NASASV, accessed 20 April 2022.
Office of the eSafety Commissioner (2020) Adults’ negative online experiences, Office of the eSafety Commissioner, Australian Government, accessed 20 April 2022.
Serpell B, Sullivan T and Doherty L (2022) Homicide in Australia 2019-20, Australian Institute of Criminology, Australian Government, accessed 20 April 2022.
Webster K, Diemer K, Honey N, Mannix S, Mickle J, Morgan J et al. (2018) Australians’ attitudes to violence against women and gender equality: Findings from the 2017 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS), ANROWS (Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety), accessed 20 April 2022.
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