Emotional abuse by a partner
Emotional abuse includes a broad range of behaviours or actions that are aimed at preventing or controlling the victim’s behaviour, causing them emotional harm or fear. Understanding the nature and prevalence of emotional abuse by a partner can help inform the development and evaluation of policies, programs and services. Data on the prevalence of emotional abuse in Australia is available from the ABS Personal Safety Survey (PSS) which collects information on the experiences of violence for women and men in Australia.
The visualisation below shows the estimated number and proportion of Australians aged 18 and over who have experienced emotional abuse by a current or previous partner at least once since the age of 15 (lifetime prevalence), and at least once in the 12 months prior to the survey (12 month prevalence), by sex. Almost 1 in 4 females (23% or 2.2 million) and 1 in 6 males (16% or 1.4 million) had experienced partner emotional abuse since the age of 15.
People who have experienced emotional abuse by a partner, by sex, 2016
Examining the prevalence of emotional abuse over time can help identify shifts in behaviour, and evaluate the impact of relevant policies and programs.
The visualisation below shows the proportion of people aged 18 and over who experienced emotional abuse by a current partner in the 12 months prior to the survey, by sex and at 3 time points. It shows that emotional abuse by a current partner increased between 2012 and 2016 for women and men. This may reflect a real-world change and/or a change in the propensity to report, for example due to increased awareness and/or recognition of emotional abuse behaviours.
Proportion of people who have experienced emotional abuse by a current partner in the last 12 months, by sex, 2005, 2012 and 2016
Examining the prevalence of emotional abuse across different population groups can help to identify those groups that are at higher risk. This information can be used to inform the development of more targeted programs and services for victims and perpetrators of emotional abuse.
The visualisation below shows the estimated number and proportion of people aged 18 and over who have experienced emotional abuse by a partner at least once in the last 12 months for various population groups. It shows that, in 2016:
- a lower proportion of people aged 18–24 and those aged 65 years or older had experienced emotional abuse by a current and/or previous partner in the last 12 months when compared to other age groups.
- people with disability were more likely to experience emotional abuse by a current and/or previous partner in the last 12 months than those without disability.
12 month prevalence of emotional abuse by a partner, by population group and sex, 2016
- Emotional abuse occurs when a person is subjected to certain behaviours or actions that are aimed at preventing or controlling their behaviour, causing them emotional harm or fear. These behaviours are characterised in nature by their intent to manipulate, control, isolate or intimidate the person they are aimed at. They are generally repeated behaviours and include psychological, social, economic and verbal abuse. Behaviours included under Emotional abuse has expanded over time to allow for addition of some new content or concepts (for example additional technologically focused behaviours were added), resulting in the list of included behaviours varying between surveys. For this reason, care should be taken when interpreting the results over time. An increase may be reflective of a real-world change or a change in the survey questionnaire.
- Proportions are based on all adults and are not limited to those who have/had a current or previous partner.
Separate current partner and previous partner counts are not able to be added together to produce a current and/or previous partner total. Where a person has experienced both emotional abuse by a current partner and by a previous violence, they are counted separately for each type of violence they experienced but are counted only once in the aggregated total.
- The PSS defines partner as a person the respondent lives with, or lived with at some point in a married or de facto relationship. A current partner is a person who, at the time of the survey, was living with the respondent in a marriage or de-facto relationship, and a previous partner as a person who lived with the respondent at some point in a marriage or de facto relationship, but who was no longer living with the respondent at the time of the survey.
- The PSS collects information from women and men aged 18 years and over.
- Survey data, obtained from a sample of the population, is subject to sampling error. Where estimates are subject to a level of sampling error too high for general use, they are not included in visualisations, but are included in data tables, with caveats.
- The observed value of a rate may vary due to chance even where there is no variation in the underlying value of the rate. The margin of error is the largest possible difference (due to sampling error) that could exist between the estimate and what would have been produced had all persons been included in the survey. Confidence intervals—constructed by taking the estimate plus or minus the MoE— can be used to provide an approximate indication of the true differences between rates. If the confidence intervals do not overlap, the difference can be said to be statistically significant. However, statistically significant differences are not necessarily the same as differences considered to be of practical importance. Small differences that have practical importance may be found to be not statistically significant as they are below the threshold the significance test can reliably detect.
Changes over time may indicate a change in the underlying rate of violence, a change in the propensity to report this violence, or both.
- For more information see Methods, Glossary and Data sources.
Next expected: 2022