Understanding violence against women

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Violence against women is recognised as a serious and widespread problem in Australia, with enormous individual and community impacts, as well as economic and social costs.

The positive news is that this significant social problem is preventable.

But to prevent violence against women we first need to understand it.

The gendered nature of violence

All violence is wrong, regardless of the sex of the victim or perpetrator.

However, there are clear gendered patterns in the statistics on violence in Australia that need to be recognised and understood.

  • The overwhelming majority of acts of domestic violence and sexual assault are perpetrated by men against women, and this violence is likely to have more severe impacts on female than male victims. [1]
  • Women most commonly experience violence perpetrated by men they know – either in their own homes, or in other familiar places like workplaces, schools or universities. [2]
  • Women are at least three times more likely than men to experience violence by an intimate partner. [3]
  • Overall, most violent acts are perpetrated by men. [4] Where men are the victims of violence it is generally violence perpetrated by other men (who they don’t know), and generally in public places.

Recognising the gendered nature of violence doesn’t negate the experiences of male victims. But the evidence does point to the need for an approach that looks specifically at addressing the rate and severe impacts of men’s violence against women.

Working to prevent violence against women by promoting gender equality and respectful and non-violent relationships benefits the whole community, including men and boys.

A serious and widespread problem

Violence against women is prevalent in Australia.

  • On average, one woman a week is killed by a male partner or former partner. [5]
  • One in three women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15. [6]
  • Intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44 than any other preventable risk factor. [7]

Some women experience different rates of violence. For example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women with disability typically experience violence more frequently, and with more severe impacts than other women. [8] Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is perpetrated by men of all cultural backgrounds – Indigenous and non-Indigenous. [9]

Violence against women has serious and significant impacts

Violence against women takes a profound and long-term toll on women, directly impacts their children, and has broader long-term impacts on families and communities and on society as a whole.

Domestic or family violence against women is the single largest driver of homelessness for women, [11] a common factor in child protection notifications, [12] and results in a police call-out on average once every two minutes across the country. [13]

Violence against women also has an enormous financial cost. It’s estimated that in 2015 violence against women cost the Australian economy $21.7 billion in lost productivity and health costs. [14]

Moreover, the United Nations recognises violence against women as a serious human rights violation. [15] It limits women’s rights and fundamental freedoms and is an issue that must be addressed within the public domain. In recognition of their legal and moral obligations, Australian governments are pursuing a range of legislative and other measures to prevent violence against women. This work must be supported to continue by working across the whole population, using different strategies, to stop violence before it begins.

Impact on children and young people

Violence, abuse and harassment experienced by young women is also common, with research showing:

  • Young women (18 to 24 years) experience significantly higher rates of physical and sexual violence than women in older age groups. [16]
  • One in three women aged 18 to 24 has experienced sexual harassment. [17]

Children and young people are also frequently exposed to violence against women:

  • More than two-thirds (68%) of mothers who had children in their care when they experienced violence from their previous partner said their children had seen or heard the violence. [18]
  • Exposure to violence against their mothers or other caregivers can cause profound harm to children, with potential impacts on their attitudes to relationships, behaviour, cognitive and emotional functioning, and social development. [19]

What do I need to consider when talking with young people about violence against women?

  • Assume that the young person or young people you are speaking with may have been affected by violence against women, either directly or indirectly.
    • When working with young people it is important to be careful, sensitive and respectful when sharing information about the topic.
    • Be prepared to respond to someone sharing an experience of abuse or violence. For tips on how to respond, please see 1800RESPECT .
    • Be aware of whether there are legal obligations that require you to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect to authorities. When engaging in conversations with young people, make them aware of your obligations for their safety. Please visit the Australian Institute of Family Studies website for more information.
    • Have the contact details for relevant support services on hand. Please see The Line’s Help and support page for information on services.
    • Consider contacting your local sexual assault and family/domestic violence service to establish a relationship and referral pathway/protocol in case you need to support a young person to access their service. Specialist services may also be able to support you when delivering content related to violence against women.
  • Acknowledge that anyone can be a victim/survivor of violence and affirm that violence against anyone is unacceptable. Also state that specific attention and effort is required to address violence against women – given what the statistics show about how common and serious this issue is. For guidance on how to respond to related tricky questions, please see this resource from Women’s Health West .
  • Acknowledge that violence against women is perpetrated in all sorts of families, in urban and rural communities, in all ethnic groups, rich, poor and middle-class families. This point is particularly important to state for young people who may feel that they and their families are targeted as being ‘at risk’ of perpetrating and experiencing violence. For guidance on how to respond to related tricky questions, please see this resource from Women’s Health West .
  • Acknowledge that there are different types of abuse and violence, and that non-physical abuse is as serious and harmful as physical and sexual abuse.
Young woman standing in hallway looking directly at camera.

To learn about what drives violence against women, read What drives violence against women?

References

[1] 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, Melbourne: University of Melbourne.

[2] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2018. Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia 2018 . Cat. no. FDV 2. Canberra: AIHW.

[3-4, 6, 16-18] Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017. Personal Safety, Australia, 2016, ABS cat. no. 4906.0 . Canberra: ABS

[5] Australian Domestic and Family Violence Review Network 2018. Data report 2018, Sydney: Domestic Violence Death Review Team.

[7] VicHealth 2004. The health costs of violence: Measuring the burden of disease caused by intimate partner violence , Melbourne: Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.

[8] Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (SCRGSP) 2016. Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2016 . Canberra: Productivity Commission.

[9] Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria 2015. Submission to Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence , Melbourne: FVPLS.

[10] Biddle, N. 2013. Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Marriage Partnerships , CAEPR Indigenous Population Project 2011 Census Papers, 15. Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Canberra: Australian National University.

[11] AIHW 2017. Specialist homelessness services annual report 2016-17 . Cat. no. WEB 217. Canberra: AIHW.

[12] AIHW 2018. Child Protection Australia 2016-2017 . Cat. no. Child Welfare Series 63. Canberra: AIHW.

[13] Bulmer, C. “Australian police deal with domestic violence every two minutes” . Melbourne: ABC News. Accessed on 25 August 2020.

[14] PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia (PwC) 2015. A high price to pay: The economic case for preventing violence against women . Melbourne: PwC.

[15] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1992, CEDAW General Recommendations Nos. 19 and 20, adopted at the Eleventh Session, 1992 (contained in Document A/47/38), 1992, A/47/38).

[19] Frederick, J. and Goddard, C. 2007. “Exploring the relationship between poverty, childhood adversity and child abuse from the perspective of adulthood”, Child Abuse Review, 16, pp. 323–341.

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