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Key evidence on violence against women


Prevalence and impact of violence against women

Prevalence

Violence against women occurs across all ages, socio-economic groups, geographic locations, abilities and cultural backgrounds.

  • On average, one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia.1 
  • Australian women are more likely to experience physical and sexual violence from someone they know (36% of women), such as a current or former partner, rather than from a stranger (12% of women). For the majority of women experiencing physical assault by a male perpetrator the most recent incident was in their own homes (62%).2
  • Current estimates are that one in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15 years, while one in five has experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 years (from any perpetrator).3
  • One in four Australian women has experienced an incident of physical or sexual violence perpetrated by a male intimate partner since the age of 15.4 
  • One in two adult Australian women has experienced sexual harassment during their lifetime, most often from a male.5  Almost nine out of ten women has been harassed on the street.6
  • One in four women has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past 5 years.7

Impacts

Evidence shows that gender inequality impacts all aspects of our lives in powerful ways, from economic and political structures and institutions such as government, law, religion, media, and family, to community norms and organisational practices, and personal and intimate relationships.

  • For Australian women aged 15-44 years, intimate partner violence is identified as the leading contributor to death, disability and illness, outstripping other known risk factors like alcohol harm, illicit substances use, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking. Impacts may include poor mental health, problems during pregnancy and birth, drug and alcohol use, suicide, injuries and homicide.8 
  • The social costs to women living with violence include unemployment, poverty, insecure housing and homelessness. For example, one in three people accessing specialist homelessness services do so because of domestic violence, and most of these people are women and children.9
  • More than three-quarters of Australian women who experienced violence from a former cohabiting partner said their children saw or heard the violence.10  The impacts on children who are exposed to violence against their mothers or caregivers can be profound, including impacts on attitudes to relationships and violence, impaired social and learning development, and education and employment problems.
  • Domestic violence, and other forms of violence against women, cost the Australian economy an estimated $21.7 billion a year, including the cost to hospitals, police and paramedic time, criminal court processes and time off work.11

Differences in women’s experiences of violence

Women experience violence in different and complex ways, with some groups in society being disproportionately affected and/or facing more barriers to accessing help. 

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience both far higher rates and more severe forms of violence compared to other women.12  For example, NSW data from 2001–2010 indicate that the rate of domestic assault reported to police is more than six times higher for Indigenous women than non-Indigenous women.13  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women can face unique barriers in accessing support from agencies and police, due to discrimination, racism, and distrust of agencies linked to the effects of trauma from dispossession, child removal and other practices. 
  • There is evidence that women with disabilities experience violence at significantly higher rates, more frequently and over longer periods, in more ways and by more perpetrators than other women and girls.14 
  • Immigrant and refugee women can face specific and additional barriers to addressing and seeking help for violence due particularly to immigration policies, language barriers, and discrimination.15  There is no conclusive evidence on the prevalence rates of violence against women or family violence in immigrant and refugee communities and whether these differ in any way from the overall rates across Victoria.16
  • Over half of women in prison have histories of victimisation, including childhood sexual abuse or family violence. Women who are criminalised also frequently experience discrimination and bias at the hands of police, government funded services and community support services.17
  • Available studies suggest that LBT women are equally or more likely to experience intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual assault than their heterosexual peers. Strudies have shown particularly high rates for Trans women, for example, 49% of Trans women experienced harassment or abuse and 18% experienced threats of physical violence, physical attack or assault without a weapon in the previous 12 month period18. Many LGBTI and gender diverse people also report high rates of violence from parents and other family members. Homophobia and transphobia within society may contribute to a reluctance to access services or report violence. There have also been links identified between homophobia and patriarchal attitudes. More comprehensive research is required on how violence against LGBTI people intersects with violence against women and its gendered drivers.18
  • Young women (18 - 24 years) experience significantly higher rates of physical and sexual violence by an intimate partner, and by other people, than women in older age groups.19

What causes violence against women?

In Australia, we have a national framework that details the latest national and international evidence on why violence against women occurs. This framework, Change the Story, shows us the following:

  • Violence against women is strongly linked to gender inequality, and is also influenced by a number of other factors. 
  • Violence is a complex social phenomenon that rarely has a single cause. However, there are certain forms of gender inequality that consistently predict – or ‘drive’ - higher levels of violence against women. These include beliefs and behaviours reflecting disrespect for women, low support for gender equality and adherence to rigid and stereotyped gender roles, relations and identities. These are named ‘gendered drivers’.
  • There are also other significant factors that can reinforce violence against women – when occurring within the context of the gendered drivers, these factors can increase the severity or frequency of violence. These are named ‘reinforcing factors’.

The two diagrams below outline the key factors in violence against women.

Gendered drivers and reinforcing factors for violence against women.
Gendered drivers and reinforcing factors for violence against women.
Socio-ecological model of violence against women
Socio-ecological model of violence against women

Preventing violence against women

Violence against women is preventable. It is not an inevitable social problem.

Prevention of violence against women is about addressing the underlying determinants of the problem so that it cannot happen in the first place - this is the same approach that is used for other public health issues such as smoking and road accidents.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (PDF) has studied countries around the world and found that the more equality there is between women and men, the lower the rates of violence against women tend to be.

The latest national and international evidence shows us what key actions are required to prevent violence against women.

The diagram below provides a summary of these key actions, as detailed in our national framework, Change the Story.

Key actions to prevent violence against women
Key actions to prevent violence against women

Preventing violence against women requires action and help from all the community. It requires an evidence-based approach in order to be effective, as outlined below.

Understanding the distinct nature of primary prevention:

  • Primary prevention focuses on changing attitudes, beliefs and structures across all of society that support or enable violence. This is  different from addressing early signs or signals that violence may be starting or is likely to happen (called early intervention or secondary prevention). It is also different from responding to violence once it has happened or stopping it from repeating (called response, or tertiary prevention). 

Reaching everyone

  • Everyone needs to play a part, so prevention work must engage and reach everyone – all ages, abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, genders, sexualities, locations, and cultures. Actions should be tailored to different audiences to ensure they are relevant and accessible to them.
  • All prevention activities must take an intersectional approach from the beginning. Different groups in society have different needs. Power and privilege can also mean that the needs of less powerful groups in society can be overlooked or ignored.
  • Specific and intensive effort should also be provided to communities affected by multiple forms of disadvantage and discrimination, to ensure equitable outcomes.

Multiple, reinforcing actions across the many different environments in society

  • When we carry out prevention in all areas of people’s lives where they live, work, study and socialise, we are more likely to reach them. Also, when multiple projects and actions are delivered across these different environments, they work to reinforce each other, and people are more likely to engage with the content.

Following best practice techniques, and building the evidence-base

  • Developing and delivering actions based on the history of practice that tells us what methods and initiatives work most effectively. Ongoing evaluation is also a vital part of all prevention work and will help us to continue to build our knowledge of what works best.

(List adapted from Change the Story, Our Watch, 2015)


What about violence against men?

There are distinct gendered patterns in the perpetration and impact of violence which need to be taken into account. For example:

  • Most violence in Australia – against female and male victims – is perpetrated by men. Around 95% of all victims of violence in Australia report that the violence was perpetrated by a male.20
  • Men are more likely to experience violence by other men in public places, whereas women are more likely to experience violence from men they know, often in the home.21
  • The overwhelming majority of domestic violence and sexual assault is perpetrated by men against women, and this violence is likely to have more severe impacts on female victims. 22
  • Women are more likely than men to be injured, require medical attention or hospitalisation, or experience mental health impacts as a result of intimate partner violence, are more likely to experience sexualised violence, and to report fearing for their lives. 23

Regardless of the sex of the victim or perpetrator, all violence is wrong and harmful.


1 Cussen, T. & Bryant, W. (2015). Domestic/family homicide in Australia. Research in Practice No. 38, Australian Institute of Criminology, Australian Government.

2 Cox, P. (2016). Violence against women: Additional analysis of the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Personal Safety Survey, 2012 (ANROWS Horizons: 01.01/2016 Rev. ed.). Sydney: ANROWS.

3 Cox, P. (2016). Violence against women: Additional analysis of the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Personal Safety Survey, 2012. ANROWS, Sydney.

4 Ibid.

5 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012) Personal Safety, Australia, 2012. Catalogue no. 4906.0. ABS, Canberra. Available from: www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/0ACA35E86CB5AADFCA257D2600141354

6 Johnson M & Bennett E (2015), Everyday sexism: Australian Women’s Experiences of Street Harassment, The Australia Institute, Canberra. 

7 Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) (2012) Working without fear : results of the 2012 sexual harassment national telephone survey. Australian Human Rights Commission, Sydney. Available from: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/sexualharassment/survey/SHSR_2012%20Web%20Version%20Final.pdf

8 Webster K (2016) A preventable burden: measuring and addressing the prevalence and health impacts of intimate partner violence in Australian women. ANROWS, Sydney. (Compass, 07/2016). Available from:  http://anrows.org.au/publications/compass/preventable-burden-measuring-and-addressing-the-prevalence-and-health-impacts

9 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2012), Specialist Homelessness Services Data Collection, cat. No. HOU 265, AIHW Canberra.

10 Cox, P. (2016). See note 2.

11 PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia (2015) A high price to pay : the economic case for preventing violence against women. Our Watch; Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), Melbourne. Available from: http://www.thelookout.org.au/sites/default/files/The-economic-case-for-preventing-violence-against-women-2015.pdf

12 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2006), Family Violence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publications/index.cfm/title/10372.

13 K Gretch and M Burgess, ‘Trends and patterns in domestic violence assaults: 2001 to 2010’, BOCSAR Issue Paper, 61, 2011, p. 4

14 Woodlock Delanie, Healey Lucy, Howe Keran, McGuire Magdalena, Geddes Vig and Granek Sharon (2014) Voices Against Violence Paper One: Summary Report and Recommendations. Women with Disabilities Victoria, Office of the Public Advocate and Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, 2014. http://wdv.org.au/documents/Voices%20Against%20Violence%20Paper%20One%20Executive%20Summary.pdf

15 Vaughan C et al 2015, ‘Promoting Community-led Responses to Violence Against Immigrant and Refugee Women in Metropolitan and Regional Australia: The ASPIRE Project’ (Landscapes: State of Knowledge No 12, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, October 2015)

16 State of Victoria (2016), Royal Commission into Family Violence: Summary and recommendations, Parl Paper No 132 (2014–16). 

17 Stathopoulos M et al, (2012) ‘Addressing Women’s Victimisation Histories in Custodial Settings’ (ACSSA Issues No.13, Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault, 2012) https://aifs.gov.au/publications/addressing-womens-victimisation-histories-custodial-settings 

18 Pitts M et al., (2006) Private lives: A report on the health and wellbeing of GLBTI Australians, Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, Victoria; Leonard, W. et al (2008). Coming forward: The underreporting of heterosexist violence and same sex partner abuse in Victoria. Bundoora, Victoria: Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society. Leonard, W. et al (2012) Private lives 2: The second national survey on the health and wellbeing of GLBT Australians, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Victoria; Crehan P & McCleary-Sills J (2015) Brief on violence against sexual and gender minority women, World Bank group & International Centre for Research on Women, USA; Leonard W, Lyons A & Bariola E, (2015) A Closer Look at Private Lives 2 Addressing the mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Australians, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, Victoria

19 Cox, P. (2016). See note 2.

20 Diemer, K. (2015). ABS Personal Safety Survey: Additional analysis on relationship and sex of perpetrator. Documents and working papers, Research on violence against women and children, University of Melbourne.

21 Cox, P. (2016). See note 2.

22 Swan, S. C., Gambone, L. J., Caldwell, J. E., Sullivan, T. P., & Snow, D. L. (2008). A Review of Research on Women’s Use of Violence With Male Intimate Partners. Violence and Victims, 23(3), 301–314.

23 Ibid.

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