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The impacts of family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV) can be wide-ranging, affecting a person’s education, employment, financial security and emotional and social wellbeing. The economic and financial impacts of FDSV can be substantial, with both direct and indirect costs to individuals, families and broader society.

This page looks at both the immediate costs of FDSV, the longer term financial costs and the economy-wide costs. While the AIHW’s FDSV reporting focuses on national quantitative data, some contributions from people with lived experience are included on this page to deepen our understanding of the economic and financial impacts.

What do we know?

The flow-on effects of FDSV can be substantial, influencing a person’s living circumstances and economic security. Some people leave their homes and seek assistance from specialist homelessness services (see Housing) when violence occurs. Some people receive crisis payments from the government or financial assistance from specialist services. Some people make use of leave entitlements in the workplace, in order to seek assistance (see Financial support and workplace responses).

Some of the costs of FDSV can be direct. For example, people who experience intimate partner violence may incur the costs associated with separation such as moving and legal costs or healthcare costs for treatment and/or recovery from harm. However, there can also be indirect costs, which continue long after the violence has occurred. For children and adolescents experiencing FDSV, the impacts can be serious and long-lasting, affecting their health, wellbeing, education, relationships and housing outcomes, which in turn affect their employment outcomes and economic security (ANROWS 2018).

What are some of the hidden costs of leaving a violent situation?

'Fleeing violence felt like leaving a life-threatening situation to enter poverty. It cost me career choices. I had to leave my law degree because the University changed its model of teaching, and I couldn’t afford the childcare to attend and make a shifting university timetable, flexible work, and childcare work.'

Jasmine

WEAVERs Expert by Experience

'I had to find work that was flexible enough to allow me to drop my child off to childcare and pick them up before the service closed – that was far harder than it sounds! My career choices became solely based on what could bring enough money in to put food on the table and what could allow me to pick up and drop off my daughter.'

Jasmine

WEAVERs Expert by Experience

The impacts of FDSV can also be broader than those seen by the individuals and families who experience violence. The economic and financial impacts can be borne by communities, systems responding to violence and the broader economy.

What data are available to report on economic and financial costs of FDSV?

Data from surveys are available to look at some impacts of FDSV on families and individuals while cost estimates can be used to understand the magnitude of the cost of violence to the economy. For more information about the ABS Personal Safety Survey and the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, please see Data sources and technical notes.

What do the data tell us?

Separation

Data from the ABS Personal Safety Survey (PSS) are available to report on separations among women who experienced violence from their cohabiting partners. Although separation does not end exposure to intimate partner violence, understanding how many couples separate following intimate partner violence can shed light on how a person’s economic circumstances may change.

Many women move away from home when their relationship with a violent partner ends, leaving behind property or assets

The 2021–22 PSS estimated that about 2 in 3 (64% or 867,000) women moved away from home when their relationship with a violent previous partner that they lived with ended. Of those that moved away, 7 in 10 (69% or 597,000) left property or assets behind (ABS 2023a). For further characteristics of partner violence and separations, see Intimate partner violence.

For many women, separation can also mean heightened economic insecurity. Additional analysis of 2016 PSS data can help shed light on the choice many women face – between staying in a violent situation or poverty (Box 1).

The economic and financial impacts of violence – particularly those that result from separation – can also be experienced through changes to a person’s housing situation or housing security.

What are some of the hidden costs of leaving a violent situation?

'Due to violence, we moved a number of times usually spending any bit of money we had in the process. Years later and we’re about to face legal fees and potentially lose our home in the process. I feel for survivors who feel they have little choice but to return home to the perpetrator to feed their children. That is a reality for a lot of people. How much better would it be if we could offer some stability for survivors and some service options to help them heal. We might just break the cycle for the next generation.'

Jasmine

WEAVERs Expert by Experience

People fleeing violence in the home may seek assistance from specialist homelessness services (see Housing for more detail).

Long-term economic impacts for people who have experienced violence

For some people, the economic impacts of FDSV are lifelong. Children who experience violence may have impaired social, emotional, and educational functioning, which can be seen later in life by looking at main sources of income, their experiences of financial stress and reduced economic security (ANROWS 2018).

Income support

Data from the 2016 PSS are available to look at the types of income received by those who experienced abuse as children. These data show associations – rather than causal relationships – between child abuse and whether a person was receiving a government pension, benefit or allowance in 2016.

Child abuse in the PSS is measured as any physical and/or sexual abuse that occurred before the age of 15. These findings relate to all forms of child abuse, and are not limited to those experienced in an FDV context. Data are not yet available from the 2021–22 PSS to report on these characteristics.

People who experienced childhood abuse were more likely to receive government support

People who were abused as children are more likely to receive a government pension, benefit or allowance:

  • 43% of women who were abused as children were receiving a government pension, benefit or allowance, compared with 34% of women who weren’t abused as children
  • 3 in 10 (31%) men who were abused as children were receiving a government pension, benefit or allowance, compared with 22% of men (ABS 2017).

Women who experienced childhood abuse had lower income compared with those who did not experience childhood abuse. The median gross personal weekly income was $767 for women who experienced childhood abuse and $863 for women who did not experience childhood abuse.

When children are unable to live safely at home, they may be placed in out-of-home care. Young people who are, or have been, in out-of-home care (OOHC), such as foster, relative/kinship or residential care, also face greater disadvantage and a higher risk of experiencing poor outcomes in key areas important to wellbeing (AIHW 2022, see Box 2).

Financial stress

Financial stress indicators can be used to illustrate how a person experiences economic hardship. Financial stress is often associated with low income and can have severe short- and long-term consequences for individuals, families and the community. Financial stress can be a long-term, indirect, impact of violence.

In the 2016 PSS, financial stress is indicated through several measures, for example, by asking respondents if they had cash flow problems or whether they could raise a certain amount of money within a week. Data are not yet available from the 2021–22 PSS to report on these characteristics.

People who experienced childhood abuse were also more likely to experience financial stress as adults

Of women who experienced childhood abuse:

  • 22% were unable to raise $2,000 within a week, compared with 13% of women who did not experience childhood abuse
  • 31% had experienced one or more cash flow problem, compared with 15% of women who had not experienced childhood abuse (ABS 2017).

Of men who experienced childhood abuse:

  • 14% were unable to raise $2,000 within a week, compared with 10% of men who did not experience childhood abuse
  • 24% had experienced one or more cash flow problem, compared with 13% of men who had not experienced childhood abuse (ABS 2017).

Long-term economic and financial costs of sexual violence

The long-term costs associated with FDSV may vary across different types of violence. For sexual violence, data are available from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) to estimate the economic and financial impacts of sexual violence over the life course (Box 3).

Sexual violence and economic factors

  • Women across different age cohorts were 30–45% more likely to experience high financial stress if they had experienced sexual violence, compared with those had not experienced sexual violence

    Source: ANROWS analysis of Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health

Data from the ALSWH are available to look at experiences of sexual violence and factors related to education and employment. Compared with women of the same age who did not experience sexual violence in their lifetime:

  • women aged 24–30 in 2019 who had experienced sexual violence were 63% more likely to not have completed Year 12 and 7% less likely to be in full-time employment
  • women aged 40–45 in 2018 who had experienced sexual violence were 46% more likely to not have completed Year 12 (Townsend et al. 2022).

Despite differences across cohorts, sexual violence was consistently associated with high financial stress over time for all three cohorts (women were 30–45% more likely to experience high financial stress if they had experienced sexual violence). Women were considered to have experienced high financial stress if they said that they had been ‘very stressed’ or ‘extremely stressed’ about money the 12 months prior to the survey (Townsend et al. 2022).

Sexual violence and health services

Data from the ALSWH show that across all cohorts, women who had experienced sexual violence had higher average annual costs for non-referred health services than women who had not experienced sexual violence. Non-referred services include those such as consultation with a general practitioner or registered doctor. This difference in annual cost also increased over time. There was higher uptake of at least one mental health consultation for women who had experienced sexual violence compared with those who had not experienced sexual violence. However, for women who had at least one mental health consultation, the total number of consultations and government-subsidised costs for mental health services were similar between women who had and had not experienced sexual violence (Townsend et al 2022).

Child abuse is associated with higher long-term costs

Previous studies using data from the ALSWH showed that women who had experienced childhood sexual abuse were more likely to have poor general health, and to experience depression and bodily pain than those who had not experienced sexual abuse during childhood (Coles et al. 2018). Women who had experienced childhood abuse (including psychological, sexual and physical abuse) or household dysfunction during childhood (such as witnessing intimate partner violence) had higher long-term primary, allied, and specialist health-care costs, compared with women who had not had these experiences during childhood (Loxton et al. 2018).

Economy-wide impacts of FDSV

The cost of violence is borne by victim-survivors, perpetrators and the community. The direct cost of the health system, counselling and other related services, the justice system, and child and welfare support, as well as indirect costs, such as lost wages, productivity and potential earnings, are just a part of what societies pay for violence against women (Puri 2016). Globally, the cost of violence against women could amount to about 2% of gross domestic product – about the size of Canada’s economy (Puri 2016).

Violence against women and children cost $22 billion in 2015–16

The Department of Social Services commissioned KPMG to calculate the economic impact of violence against women in Australia. KPMG used a broad definition of violence against women that included physical assault, sexual assault, emotional abuse and stalking by any type of perpetrator. KPMG estimated that, in 2015–16, violence against women and children cost Australia an estimated $22 billion. It based its estimates on the ABS 2012 PSS (KPMG 2016).

KPMG noted that four groups of women were underestimated in the PSS estimates: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women with disability, pregnant women and women who are homeless. Accounting for these women may add another $4 billion (KPMG 2016).

The 2015–16 Australian cost estimates were divided into seven categories (Table 1).

Table 1: Estimated costs to the Australian economy of violence against women and children, 2015–16
CategoriesCost ($)

Pain, suffering and premature mortality of victims

The pain and suffering experienced by the victim, which can lead to long-term effects on psychological and physical health, and premature mortality for victims

10.4 billion

Consumption

Replacing damaged property, defaulting on bad debts, and the costs of moving

4.4 billion

Production

Being absent from work, and employer administrative costs (for example, employee replacement)

1.9 billion

Administrative

Police, incarceration, court system costs, counselling, and violence prevention programs

1.7 billion

Transfer payments

Loss of income tax of victims/survivors, perpetrators and employers; additional social welfare payments; victim compensation payments and other government services

1.6 billion

Health system

Public and private health system costs associated with treating the effects of violence against women

1.4 billion

Second generation

The costs of children witnessing and living with violence, including child protection services and increased juvenile and adult crime

333 million

Total

21.7 billion

Nearly half of the costs ($10.4 million) were linked to the ongoing effects of violence on women’s physical and mental health. Depression and anxiety accounted for 60% of these health costs; substance abuse related to alcohol, tobacco and drug use accounted for 25%; and suicide 12% (Figure 1; KPMG 2016). The proportion of health costs attributed to depression and anxiety are consistent with research identifying mental health conditions as the largest contributor to the burden due to physical/sexual violence by an intimate partner (Ayre et al. 2016).

Figure 1: Cost impact of violence on women’s physical and mental health, by health condition, 2015–16

Source: KPMG analysis of various data sources | Data source overview

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