What you need to know about domestic violence in Australia: It is a crisis

Domestic violence in Australia is a crisis

Family, domestic and sexual violence is a crisis in Australia that is not abating.

A landmark study conducted by the government’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) confirms DV remains a major health and welfare issue that predominantly affects women and children.

One Australian woman dies every week at the hands of a current or former partner, while one in six Australian women have experienced either physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner whom they lived with since the age of 15.

AIHW complied data from 20 different sources to examine the prevalence, cost and impact of domestic and sexual violence in Australia: the resulting picture is damning.

The study found that family violence is a leading cause of homelessness, that the problem has grown in the past five years and that millions of children have been physically or sexually abused.

“The seriousness of these issues cannot be overstated,” AIHW CEO Barry Sandison said. “Looking only at the numbers can at times appear to depersonalise the pain and suffering that sits behind the statistics.”

How big is the problem?

Gigantic. Keep in mind Sandison’s point about numbers depersonalising the horror while digesting these figures. They provide a diabolical snapshot of the prevalence and dire consequences of domestic violence and every single ‘number’ represents a human being who is being – or has been – violated in the most horrendous way.

  • 72,000 women, 34,000 children and 9,000 men sought homelessness services in 2016-17 due to family or domestic violence.
  • Intimate partner violence causes more illness, disability and deaths than any other risk factor for women aged 25-44.
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have been sexually assaulted and/or threatened since age 15.
  • 1 woman a week and 1 man a month were killed by a current or former partner in the two years from 2012-13 to 2013-14.
  • 2,800 women and 560 men were hospitalised in 2014-15 after being assaulted by a spouse or partner.
  • 1 in 6  women and 1 in 9 men were physically and/or sexually abused before the age of 15.

Who is most at risk?

Women.  Men are more likely to experience violence from strangers and in a public place, but women are most likely to know the perpetrator (often their current or a previous partner) and the violence usually takes place in their home.

One in 6 Australian women and 1 in 16 men have been subjected, since the age of 15, to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous cohabiting partner.

Family, domestic and sexual violence happens repeatedly—more than half (54%) of the women who had experienced current partner violence, experienced more than one violent incident (ABS 2017b). However, between 2005 and 2016, rates of partner violence against women have remained relatively stable (ABS 2006, 2017b).

In 2014–15, on average, almost 8 women and 2 men were hospitalised each day after being assaulted by their spouse or partner (AIHW 2017b). From 2012–13 to 2013–14, about 1 woman a week and 1 man a month were killed as a result of violence from a current or previous partner

But….some groups of women are at a greater risk again.

Indigenous women, young women, pregnant women, women separating from their partners, women with disability and women experiencing financial hardship are at the greatest risk of experiencing domestic violence.

Women and men who experienced abuse or witnessed domestic violence as children are also at an increased risk.

Nearly 2.1 million women and men witnessed violence towards their mother by a partner, and nearly 820,000 witnessed violence towards their father, before the age of 15. People who, as children, witnessed partner violence against their parents were 2–4 times as likely to experience partner violence themselves (as adults) as people who had not.

Family violence is far worse for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

Family violence occurs at higher rates for Indigenous Australians than for non-Indigenous Australians. Indigenous women are killed more often in family violence, with twice the homicide rate, and are 32 times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be hospitalised.

What is the toll family, domestic and sexual violence exacts?

Unquantifiable. There is no doubt about that. How do you put a dollar figure on the death or hospitalisation of an otherwise healthy woman? Who may well be a daughter, a sister, a mother, a niece, a grandmother, a granddaughter? How can you begin to calculate the cost of a child losing their mother? Or a mother losing their child? You can’t.  But we can recognise the emotional and psychological damage is catastrophic.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In terms of physical health, intimate partner violence poses a very serious risk. In 2011, it contributed to more burden of disease (the impact of illness, disability and premature death) than any other risk factor for women aged 25–44.

In terms of the financial cost of violence against women and their children in Australia KPMG have estimated it is “at least” $22 billion a year, in healthcare, welfare support and lost wages.

It is likely, however, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, pregnant women, women with disability, and women experiencing homelessness were underrepresented in this calculation. KPMG estimate that accurately accounting for these women would add another $4 billion.

What can be done?

The AIHW says there are several data gaps that need to be filled to present a comprehensive picture of the extent and impact of DV in Australia, that can better inform future policy.

“We know that family, domestic and sexual violence is a major problem in Australia, but without a comprehensive source of evidence and analysis, tackling such a complex issue will continue to be difficult,” AIHW CEO Barry Sandison said.

In the meantime any of the following options will only help women and children experiencing domestic violence:

  • Donate to a women’s shelter in your area: time, treasure & talent are always in demand.
  • Ask your employer to introduce a DV policy or if you are an employer introduce a DV policy.
  • Write to your local member and ask them to prioritise domestic violence policy.
  • If you see or hear something sexist – whether it’s an ad or something a friend has said – say so. Get comfortable with speaking out against things that are sexist or degrading.
  • If you hear someone blaming a victim of sexual assault by asking: “What was she wearing?” or “Was she drunk?” tell them that those kinds of questions contribute to a society that excuses violence against women.
  • If you think someone is being controlling towards their partner, like stopping them from seeing friends or family, calling them at work excessively, withholding money, tell them you’ve noticed and ask what you can do to help.
  • If a friend, family member or colleague tells you she’s experienced violence the most important thing you can do is listen to her, believe her and make sure she knows you’re there to support her.
  • If you experience sexual harassment at work, like suggestive jokes, explicit emails, staring, intrusive questions about your personal life, or unwanted requests for sex, report it to your manager.
  • If you experience sexual harassment in the street like catcalling, offensive comments or unwanted advances, call out the harassment and share your story at Everyday Sexism to help people understand how harmful sexual harassment is.
  • Talk to the people in your life about your commitment to preventing violence against women and their children.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au

In an emergency, call 000.


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