Family Violence: The Facts

Family violence has always been surrounded by myths and misunderstandings. These myths and misunderstanding help perpetuate family violence. After all; it’s hard to fight a crime that is misunderstood, under-reported, surrounded by stigma and often considered a private, not criminal matter.

Today the myths and misunderstanding are giving way to action. Reducing all violence is a priority. The Hume community believes that all forms of violence against women and families are unacceptable and that it is everyone’s responsibility to reject and prevent violence.

These facts and figures are gathered from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, VicHealth and a KPMG study.

That’s a big question and the answer may surprise you because many actions are defined as family violence beyond physical and sexual violence including: stalking, repeated derogatory taunts, intentionally damaging property, intentionally causing death or injury to an animal, unreasonably denying a family member the financial autonomy that he or she would otherwise have had; unreasonably withholding financial support, preventing a family member making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture; or unlawfully depriving the family member, or any member of the family member’s family, or his or her liberty. Sadly we know that this happens in the Hume region and beyond every day. Our aim is to stop it.

Official definition vary and laws in each state and territory have their own definitions. This is the  definition from the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women

’The term violence against women means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.’

Whilst there are many forms of violent behaviour perpetrated against women, domestic violence and sexual assault are the most pervasive forms of violence experienced by women in Australia, and require an immediate and focused response.

One in three Australian women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15, and almost one in five have experienced sexual violence, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.2

In 2005, over 350,000 women experienced physical violence and over 125,000 women experienced sexual violence.3

Sexual violence by male intimate partners remains one of the least recognised, under-reported, and consequently, least prosecuted crimes29. Intimate partner homicides account for about one in five homicides nationally38.

Women can be victims of violence at any stage of life – as a baby or child, as a young person, in a dating relationship, in long-term relationships, during marriage or a de facto relationship, during separation, while being dependent on others for their care, or in old age47 48. Women are mostly assaulted at their home, often repeatedly, by a man they know and with whom they are/were engaged in an intimate relationship37.

No. For instance, indigenous women and girls are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence related assaults than other Australian women and girls.4

“Gendered crime” describes an act that has an unequal impact on one gender; in this case, women.

A small proportion of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are men but the overwhelming majority of people who experience this kind of violence are women. They are more likely to experience violence in a home, at the hands of men they know. 5

Men are more likely to be the victims of violence from strangers and in public, so different strategies are required to address these different types of violence.6 Older women experience violence and abuse at a rate that is 2.5 times more than older men40.

More women are reporting violence to police than 10 years ago45. Reports of sexual assault have increased by an average of four per cent each year since 1995 but it is estimated that fewer than one in five sexual assaults are reported to police — a reporting rate lower than for other major crime categories32. With respect to rape offences that proceed to prosecution, fewer than one in five are likely to result in conviction when the accused pleads guilty or is found guilty at trial33. Estimates suggest that only one in 10 victims who choose to report a sexual assault to the police will succeed in achieving some kind of punishment34 for the alleged offender. Women more often talk to family or friends about the violence they are experiencing than go to the police or a support agency44.

A study commissioned by the Commonwealth Government in 2009 showed that domestic violence and sexual assault perpetrated against women cost the nation $13.6 billion each year. By 2021, the figure is likely to rise to $15.6 billion if extra steps are not taken.7

Of course this is a purely economic perspective. The emotional and personal costs of violence against women cannot be measured.  Violence not only affects the victim themselves, but the children who are exposed to it, their extended families, their friends and ultimately the broader community.

Too many young people in the Hume region will today witness acts of physical domestic violence. Almost one in four children in Australia have witnessed violence against their mothers or stepmothers41.

Experiencing abuse leads to very poor outcomes. For example, the majority of women in Australian jails have experienced physical, sexual or psychological abuse as children or adults. (46)

Primary prevention addresses the determinants of violence against women and seeks to prevent violence before it occurs. The policy and practice framework devised by Vic Health – Preventing Violence Before it Occurs: link to A framework and background paper to guide the primary prevention of violence against women in Victoria – recommends that the primary prevention of violence against women be guided by three intersecting components that concentrate on the key determinants.  They are:

-       Promoting equal and respectful relationships  between men and women

-       Promoting non-violent social norms and reducing  the effects of prior exposure to violence

-       Improving access to resources and systems of  support

This framework is based on an ecological model for understanding violence, it recognises factors influencing violent behaviour lie at multiple levels including individual/relationship, community/organisational and societal. Primary prevention efforts are most likely to be effective when a coordinated range of mutually reinforcing strategies is targeted across these levels of influence.

Violence against women is prevalent and serious, but it is also preventable. A number of factors are known to contribute to violence against women and/or vulnerability to such violence. Research shows that the most significant determinants of violence against women are:

-       Unequal power relations between men and women

-       Adherence to gender stereotypes

-       Broader cultures of violence

gendered inequalites image

The above diagram demonstrates the positive correlation between gender inequity and violence against women. The horizontal axis represents the gender inequity within a country, and the vertical axis quantifies the perpetration of violence against women. The right hand group of columns exhibits countries with low gender inequity show a lower perpetration of violence against women. The left hand set of columns depicts countries in which there is a high level of gender inequality and subsequently a higher incidence of violence against women. The perpetration of violence against women more common and accepted in cultures where there is a high degree of gender inequity and inequality.

Domestic violence is generally understood as gendered violence, and ‘is an abuse of power within a relationship or after a separation when one partner in an intimate relationship attempts by physical or psychological means to dominate and control the other (Vic Health, 2003, Public Health, Mental Health & Violence against Women).

Gendered Nature of Violence

According to the 2006 Personal Safety Survey

  • Men are most at risk in public spaces and licensed premises from men they don’t know
  • Women are at more risk of violence in the home from men they know

According to Vic Health; (Preventing Violence against Women in Australia, Research Summary, 2011)

  • Women suffer more severe forms of violence than men (such as abuse, terrorisation and increasingly possessive and controlling behaviour over time)
  • Women are more likely to use violence in self-defence
  • Men are most likely to use it as an expression of self-perceived and/or societal-sanctioned ‘rights’ or ‘entitlements’ of male household leaders over other family members (WHO 2002).
  • Women are more likely to receive medical attention than men
  • Women are more likely to fear for their lives than men.

1 VicHealth, 2009.
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006.
3 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006.
4 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2002.
5 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006.
6 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006.
7 KPMG, 2009.