7 charts on family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia

With so much data released about family, domestic and sexual violence, it can be difficult to see how it all fits together, writes researcher Daryl Higgins

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has attempted to do this with a new website that tells the story of violence using numbers, looking at how often it happens, to whom and when.

Here are seven charts that show the prevalence of various forms of interpersonal violence across life.

1. Sexual violence risk varies (in ways you might not expect)

One in five women and one in 16 men have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.

The likelihood of experiencing sexual violence differs by age as well as gender.

This chart uses data about recorded crimes. Of course, we know many sexual crimes in childhood and adulthood are never discovered or reported. For each age group, and for both females and males, the recorded crime rate for sexual victimisation has steadily risen from 2010 to 2022. But the rate for girls and boys is substantially higher than for women and men.

2. What kinds of harm come to the attention of child protection services?

In cases reported to a statutory child protection service, a “substantiation” is the conclusion, following an investigation, that there was reasonable cause to believe that a child had been, was being, or was likely to be, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed. For both boys and girls, more than half of these cases are about harm from emotional abuse. This refers to parental behaviour, repeated over time, that conveys to a child that they are worthless, unloved or unwanted.

Witnessing family and domestic violence is not monitored separately as a type of harm in any state or territory child protection statistics. Therefore it is not one of the primary harm types recorded in the data shown in this graph. Yet, in our study, my colleagues and I found it was the most frequently experienced form of maltreatment in childhood – 39.6% of adults were exposed to domestic violence as children.

3. Lifetime exposure to violence

One in three men experienced violence from a stranger, but women were much more likely to experience violence from those they knew.

One in six women (and one in 13 men) have experienced domestic violence in the form of economic abuse by a current or previous cohabiting partner since the age of 15.

4. Time is of the essence

Not only does the risk of experiencing violence change across life, but temporal factors also play a role. Towards the end of the year, when there are festivities and more opportunities for alcohol misuse, the risks are greater.

5. Men’s (and boys’) violence towards women and girls

Perpetrators of violence are more likely to be known to the victim than be a stranger. Some forms of violence, particularly sexual violence, are more likely to be experienced by girls and women. Boys and men are more likely to use violence, again particularly for sexual violence.

One in six women (and one in 18 men) have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or previous cohabiting partner since the age of 15.

One of the types of violence is also emotional. One in four women (and one in seven men) have experienced emotional abuse by a current or previous cohabiting partner since the age of 15.

6. Sexual harassment: who does it, and who is subjected to it?

Women are much more likely to be subjected to sexualised behaviours – by men – that are unwanted or make them feel uncomfortable. Overall, rates appear to have declined since 2005, when almost one in five women experienced harassment.

7. Sexual victimisation rates have changed over time

Crime data on sexual victimisation (sexual assaults recorded by police) from 2010 to 2022 suggests things have not been improving. Although there is variability between states, the biggest difference can be seen between women and men (women are at substantially higher risk of sexual victimisation).

What’s missing?

Often, people are exposed to multiple kinds of violence. In our study, we found almost 40% of the population had experienced more than one type of child abuse or neglect – including exposure to family or domestic violence as a child.

We also found this “multi-type maltreatment” was one of the strongest predictors of experiencing mental illness and engaging in behaviours that put health at risk, like cannabis dependence in adulthood.

However, many of the sources of data the AIHW uses only look at one form of violence. So it is much harder to tell the story of how it relates to the impacts that might be observed.

We also can’t see data on children’s exposure to physical punishment in the home, despite Australia’s failure to meet its responsibility under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to protect them from this form of violence.

The data curated on this new website can be used to identify where more services might be required to address the needs of victims of different kinds of violence at different stages across life. It can also help drive a genuine strategy for prevention. The strategy should look at the risk factors for each type of interpersonal violence and those that are common across different types of violence. Such risks include parental mental illness, substance misuse, poverty and divorce.

Then, we must invest in evidence-based strategies to alleviate the risk of growing up with and being exposed in adulthood to family, domestic, and sexual violence.The Conversation

Daryl Higgins, Professor & Director, Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.