ABS Personal Safety Survey, Australia (PSS), 2016

First year: 2005

Latest year: 2016

Frequency: Every 4 years

Years in this publication: 2016

Sample size: 5,653 males and 15,589 females

Geography: National


The PSS meets the need for updated information on the nature and extent of violence experienced by men and women in Australia and other related information regarding people's safety at home and in the community.

Scope and coverage

The PSS collected information from women and men aged 18 and over about the nature and extent of violence experienced since the age of 15. It also collected detailed information about men's and women's experience of current and previous partner violence and emotional abuse, experiences of stalking since the age of 15, sexual and physical abuse before the age of 15, witnessing of violence between a parent and their partner before the age of 15, lifetime experience of sexual harassment, and general feelings of safety.

The scope of the 2016 PSS was persons aged 18 and over in private dwellings across Australia (excluding very remote areas). Interviews were conducted with one randomly selected person aged 18 or over who was a usual resident of the selected household.

For the 2016 PSS, proxy interviews, if required for translation or due to the respondent being incapable of responding for themselves because of a significant medical reason, were used to complete the compulsory part of the survey. For these interviews, the sensitive voluntary component of the survey was not mentioned and questions on these topics were not asked. The use of proxy interviews for the compulsory part of the survey provided information on the possible under representation in the survey of particular types of respondents, such as those from a non-English speaking background or with a profound or severe communication disability.

FDSV definitions

A key objective of the 2016 PSS was to collect information about the prevalence of men's and women's experience of violence in the last 12 months since the age of 15. This includes their experience of physical assault, sexual assault, physical threat and sexual threat by male and female perpetrators (for six key perpetrator types: current partner, previous partner, boyfriend/girlfriend or date, ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend, other known person, and stranger). This provides information on the prevalence of the different types of violence by different perpetrator types. The survey also collects information about experiences of physical and sexual abuse that occurred before the age 15 and were perpetrated by an adult.

Physical violence

The occurrence, attempt or threat of physical assault experienced by a person since the age of 15. Physical violence includes physical threat as well as physical assault.

Physical assault is defined as any incident that involved the use of physical force with the intent to harm or frighten a person. Examples of physical force include being:

  • pushed, grabbed or shoved (includes being pushed off a balcony, down stairs or across the room)
  • slapped (includes a hit with an open hand)
  • kicked, bitten or hit with a fist
  • hit with something else that could hurt you (includes being hit with a bat, hammer, belt, pot, ruler, etc.)
  • beaten (includes punching, hitting or slapping in a repetitive manner)
  • choked (includes being choked by hands, a rope, a scarf, a tie or any other item)
  • stabbed (with a knife)
  • shot (with a gun)
  • any other type of physical assault (burns, scalds, being dragged by the hair or being deliberately hit by a vehicle).

Physical threat is defined as any verbal and/or physical intent or suggestion of intent to inflict physical harm, which was made face-to-face and which the person believed was able to be and likely to be carried out. Examples of physical threats include:

  • threaten or attempt to hit with a fist or anything else that could hurt (includes threats or attempts to slap, punch, spank or hit in any way with a fist or weapon such as a bat, hammer or pot)
  • threaten or attempt to stab with a knife, threaten or attempt to shoot with a gun, threaten or attempt to physically hurt in any other way.

If a person experienced sexual threat and physical threat in the same incident, this was counted once only as a sexual threat.

Sexual violence

An act is considered a sexual assault if it is of a sexual nature and carried out against a person’s will through physical force, intimidation or coercion. This includes:

  • rape
  • attempted rape
  • aggravated sexual assault (assault with a weapon)
  • indecent assault
  • penetration by objects
  •  forced sexual activity
  • attempts to force a person into sexual activity.

Sexual threat involves threats or acts of a sexual nature that were made face-to-face. Sexual threat occurs when a person believes another person is able and likely to carry out an act of a sexual nature. Incidents where a person experienced both sexual assault and sexual threat were counted only once as sexual assault.

Sexual violence does not include unwanted touching, which is defined as sexual harassment. Sexual violence does not include incidents of sexual assaults that occurred before the age of 15. These incidents are defined as sexual abuse.

Emotional abuse

The term emotional abuse is used to refer to certain behaviours or actions that are aimed at preventing or controlling a person’s behaviour with the intent to cause 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.

The PSS asked women and men if they had experienced emotional abuse from a current or former cohabiting partner. A person may be considered to have experienced emotional abuse if they reported one or more of the following threatening behaviours:

  • partner had controlled (or tried to control) contact with family, friends, or community
  • partner had controlled (or tried to control) use of telephone, internet, family car, household money
  • partner had deprived them of food, shelter, employment opportunities, study opportunities
  • partner threatened to take/harm children or other family members.

The full list of emotionally abusive behaviours included in the survey can be found in the Glossary of the Personal Safety, Australia publication.

Most recent incident of violence

Detailed information was collected about the most recent incident of violence that occurred in the last ten years for the following types of violence. Most recent incidents of violence were counted separately for:

  • physical assault from a male
  • physical assault from a female
  • physical threat from a male
  • physical threat from a female
  • sexual assault from a male
  • sexual assault from a female
  • sexual threat from a male
  • sexual threat from a female.

Men and women who experienced multiple types of violence in the last 10 years completed the survey module for each type of violence they experienced. If the incident occurred more than ten years ago, information was not collected due to potential difficulties in recall.

Where the perpetrator of the most recent incident was a partner or family member, this can provide more detailed information about the characteristics of family and domestic violence incidents. As information is collected only in relation to the most recent incident, it is not necessarily representative of all incidents of family and domestic violence.

For more information, please visit the Personal Safety Survey, Australia, cat. no. 4906.0.