Violence against women and children is a complex problem that requires significant attitudinal and behavioural change.
What we know about violence against women and children
Men’s violence against women and children has particular gendered dynamics as it seeks to exert patriarchal forms of power and control that privilege men’s role in decision making, in private and public life, access to resources, and exploiting women’s unpaid labour associated with traditional gender roles. Violence against women and children often occurs together in homes and family settings, and is driven by the same factors. Children may witness domestic and family violence between other family members, or be subjected to violence targeted at them by other family members that can have a range of impacts on their health, wellbeing, and social and emotional development.
The target of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010-2022 (National Plan 2010-2022) was a significant and sustained reduction in violence. While there has been some progress made towards this target under the National Plan 2010-2022, the prevalence of family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV) in Australia is still unacceptably high. Changes to the reported prevalence and incidence of violence can reflect genuine changes to rates of violence and/or reflect that people are more likely to feel supported to identify and report experiences.
According to the 2016 Personal Safety Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, since the age of 15:
- 1 in 2 women has experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime.
- 1 in 3 women has experienced violence by a partner, other known person or a stranger since the age of 15.
- 1 in 4 Australian women has experienced intimate partner violence since the age of 15.
- 1 in 4 Australian women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner since the age of 15.
- 1 in 5 Australian women had experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.
- 1 in 6 women and 1 in 9 men experienced physical and/or sexual abuse before the age of 15.
Women are most likely to experience physical and sexual violence in their home, at the hands of a male current or ex-partner (ABS PSS 2016). Of women who had children in their care when they experienced violence from an ex partner, 68 per cent reported that the children had seen or heard the violence (ABS PSS 2016).
Additionally, 23 per cent of women in Australia have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime including childhood sexual abuse and/or sexual assault since the age of 15 (ABS PSS 2016). However, the true prevalence of sexual violence is likely to be higher as we know that many incidents of sexual violence go unreported. According to the 2022 ABS Sexual assault – Perpetrators release, 97 per cent of sexual assault offenders are male.
Intimate partner homicide rates have been consistently decreasing for women and men since 1989-90 (AIC NHMP). However, the rate of intimate partner homicide in Australia remains unacceptably high.
The National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) is Australia’s only national data collection on homicide incidents, victims and offenders. The NHMP collects data on all deaths classed as homicides (murder and manslaughter) by police, including domestic homicide and intimate partner homicide. Data pertaining to both homicide victims and offenders are published, and are updated on an annual basis. The Australian Institute of Criminology publish the NHMP statistical report here: Homicide | Australian Institute of Criminology (aic.gov.au).
According to the 2022 report, in 2019-20, there were 45 intimate partner homicides; 36 of these were female victims (80 per cent). This averages to approximately one woman being killed by an intimate partner every 10 days (AIC NHMP, 2022).
Rates of violence are higher for certain groups
According to the 2019 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report (AIHW, 2019), in 2016-17 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women aged 15 and over were 34 times as likely to be hospitalised for family violence as non- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. This figure is higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women living in remote areas.
Women with disability experience higher rates of intimate partner violence, sexual violence and emotional abuse than women without disability (Disability and Violence – In Focus: Crime and Justice Statistics, ABS 2021). Women and children with disability also experience violence outside of a family setting or intimate partner relationship, for example in residential care and institutional settings such as group homes.
Women and children from culturally, ethnically, religiously and linguistically diverse backgrounds can face specific challenges and barriers to seeking help and reporting violence. For some women on temporary visas, insecure visa status can increase their risk of experiencing to violence and poverty.
Cost of violence
Along with the tragic impact that violence has on the individual lives of women and their children, it also has community and economy-wide impacts. The total annual cost of violence against women and their children in Australia was estimated to be $26 billion in 2015–16, with victim-survivors bearing approximately 50 per cent of that cost. (The Cost of Violence against Women and their Children in Australia, KPMG, 2016). Note this figure includes the original estimate ($22 billion) and an additional $4 billion to account for the underrepresentation of violence against vulnerable women (KPMG, 2016).
National surveys and research
Two national surveys were funded under the National Plan 2010-2022 that measure the prevalence of violence against women in Australia as well as community attitudes and behaviours towards violence against women. Funding for these surveys will continue into the next National Plan. Key statistics arising from these surveys are publicly available:
- The Personal Safety Survey presents information on people’s experiences of violence to help understand the nature and extent of violence in Australia. Visit the Personal Safety Survey webpage for more information.
- The National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey looks at attitudes held about violence against women so that we can try to understand the factors leading to violence in Australia. Visit the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey webpage for more information and the Australia Data Archive for information on how to access the data.
Additionally, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) publishes useful infographics providing key facts and figures and research on violence against women.
Other key sources of FDSV evidence include:
- The products from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) aim to bring together a variety of data sources, providing a comprehensive report on a particular topic or issue. They also provide examples of different available formats for presenting data that may be further tailored according to user needs.
- In addition to the Personal Safety Survey (2016), primary data collection, the ABS produces a number of contextual data collections. These include regular releases, such as the Crime Victimisation Survey, Recorded Crime Victims and Reported Crime Offenders collections, and periodic releases on key issues relating to FDSV, such as Disability and Violence – In Focus: Crime and Justice Statistics.
- The ABS has also released three articles in a series exploring the nature and prevalence of sexual assault, sexual abuse and sexual harassment in Australia.
- Sexual Violence – Victimisation (2021) focuses on the experiences of sexual assault and sexual abuse victims.
- Sexual Harassment (2021) focuses on the prevalence and characteristics of sexual harassment. It draws on data collected in the most recent Personal Safety Survey (PSS) conducted in 2016. Prevalence data from the 2016 PSS are also compared with results from the 2012 PSS to examine changes over time.
- Sexual assault – Perpetrators (2022) examines the characteristics of sexual assault perpetrators and criminal justice outcomes.
- The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) is Australia’s national research and knowledge centre on crime and justice. In addition to the National Homicide Monitoring Program, which provides key national data on intimate partner and domestic homicides, the AIC regularly releases reports on a number of family, domestic and sexual violence-related criminal and justice issues, including patterns of reoffending among perpetrators of domestic and intimate partner violence, the prevalence of different forms of victimisation and risk factors associated with domestic and intimate partner violence offending and victimisation.
Visit our Research page for links to key research and publications relating to violence against women.
Note this page summarises developments in the FDSV evidence base under the National Plan 2010-2022. For updated information, please visit each data and research organisation’s website.