Economic and financial impacts
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- Women aged 24–30 in 2019 who had experienced sexual violence were 63% more likely to not have completed Year 12 compared with those who had not experienced sexual violence.
- Sexual violence was consistently associated with high financial stress over time – women across different age cohorts were 30–45% more likely to experience high financial stress if they had experienced sexual violence, compared with those who had not experienced sexual violence.
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.'
'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.'
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?
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).
Financial implications have been reported by single mothers as a reason for returning to a previous violent partner following a temporary separation. The Summers (2022) analysis of the 2016 PSS showed that of the ‘single mothers’ who had experienced previous partner violence, more than half (55%, or an estimated 92,600) had ever temporarily separated from the violent partner. Almost one-quarter (24%) of these women said they had returned to the violent partner because they had no money or financial support and 14% said they had nowhere else to go (Summers 2022).
The analysis also highlighted the financial issues experienced by single mothers following separation from a violent partner:
- 75% of single mothers who had moved out of the home when they separated from their most recently violent previous partner left behind property or assets.
- 50% of single mothers had government benefits as their main source of income.
- 60% of single mothers had one or more cash flow problems in the previous 12 months (for example, could not pay electricity, gas or telephone bills on time, sought financial assistance from friends or family) (Summers 2022).
The proportion of single mothers who relied on government benefits and had experienced cash flow problems was higher than for all other household groups, although high proportions were also reported for lone person households (Summers 2022).
Chapman and Taylor (2022) analysed the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey HILDA data from 2006 to 2019 to determine the equivalised household income (total annual income of all household members adjusted for the number and age of people the income supports) for women, including mothers, following separation from a partner. Findings indicated that after separation, all mothers experienced significant decreases in equivalised household income – around 20% on average. There was a much higher drop for mothers who were categorised as ‘likely to have experienced partner violence’ (36%) compared with mothers who were categorised as ‘unlikely to have experienced partner violence’ (20%). However, this finding should be interpreted with caution due to the small sample size for mothers ‘likely to have experienced partner violence’ (35 women) and the method used to categorise the experience of partner violence – respondents were asked whether they had experienced physical violence, not specifically whether it involved a domestic partner (Chapman and Taylor 2022).
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.'
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).
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).
An AIHW analysis of linked Australian Government (Centrelink) and state and territory out-of-home care (OOHC, excluding Queensland) administrative data, examined income support and other payment receipt characteristics for around 45,000 young people, born between 1990 and 2001, who had at least one OOHC placement lasting 7 or more days (the ‘OOHC study population’) (AIHW 2022). The linked data asset used for the study was created as a collaborative effort between the AIHW, and all states and territories (excluding Queensland).
Findings from the analysis show that young people in the OOHC study population were 3 times as likely to receive income support payments at ages 16–30 as the Australian population of the same age – about 3 in 5 (56%) compared with about 1 in 5 (18%), respectively. The OOHC study population were also up to 13 times as likely to receive Crisis Payment than the Australian population of the same age (AIHW 2022).
The findings highlighted that the OOHC study population are in need of income support for longer or are repeatedly moving in and out of income support into their late 20’s, suggesting they are at increased risk of not being able to maintain ongoing employment. Further, despite income support payments generally declining to age 30, a considerable proportion of the OOHC study population were still receiving income support at age 30 – over 1 in 5 (22%) were receiving unemployment payments, 1 in 7 (14%) were receiving parenting payments and 1 in 7 (14%) were receiving disability support pension (AIHW 2022).
For more information, see Income support receipt for young people transitioning from out–of–home care 2022.
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).
The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) is a longitudinal survey of more than 57,000 women that began in 1996. The ALSWH explores factors that influence health throughout the lifespan among women who are broadly representative of the entire Australian population. The study began with 3 cohorts of women born in 1973–78, 1946–51 or 1921–26; in 2012, a fourth cohort was added of women born in 1989–95.
In the ALSWH, participants were randomly selected from the Medicare database, except that women from rural and remote areas were sampled at twice the rate of women in urban areas, to ensure numbers were large enough for statistical comparison. Women in the study are sent surveys by mail every 3 years.
A life course approach to determining the prevalence and impact of family and domestic violence in Australia
A study conducted in 2022 analysed data from the ALSWH in relation to sexual violence. The analysis included measures of family and domestic violence, socio-demographic factors, financial outcomes, health behaviours, mental health, physical health and social support. Data on healthcare costs and mental health consultations were sourced from MBS and PBS datasets linked to ALSWH participant data, to investigate the associations between health service use and sexual violence.
Two key aims of the study were to: identify the impact of sexual violence on socio-economic factors over time, such as education, paid employment and financial stress; measure health service use in relation to sexual violence, including costs of selected health services and satisfaction with general practitioner services.
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 violenceSource: 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).
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
Replacing damaged property, defaulting on bad debts, and the costs of moving
Being absent from work, and employer administrative costs (for example, employee replacement)
Police, incarceration, court system costs, counselling, and violence prevention programs
Loss of income tax of victims/survivors, perpetrators and employers; additional social welfare payments; victim compensation payments and other government services
Public and private health system costs associated with treating the effects of violence against women
The costs of children witnessing and living with violence, including child protection services and increased juvenile and adult crime
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
|Sexually transmitted diseases
For more information, see Data sources and technical notes.
KPMG analysis of various data sources
Data source overview
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2017) Personal Safety Australia, ABS website, accessed 27 September 2022.
ABS (2023) Partner violence, ABS website, accessed 7 December 2023.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) (2022) Income support receipt for young people transitioning from out–of–home care 2022, AIHW, Australian Government.
ANROWS (Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety) (2018) ‘Research summary: the impacts of domestic and family violence on children, 2nd ed.’, ANROWS Insights, 11/2018.
Ayre J, Lum On M, Webster K, Gourley M and Moon L (2016) ‘Examination of the burden of disease of intimate partner violence against women in 2011: Final report’, ANROWS Horizons, 06/2016, accessed 27 September 2022.
Chapman B and Taylor M (2022) Partner violence and the financial well-being of women: HILDA research results, Australian National University.
Coles J, Lee A, Taft A, Mazza D and Loxton D (2018) Childhood sexual abuse and its association with adult physical and mental health: results from a national cohort of young Australian women, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 30(11):1929–1944, doi.org/10.1177/0886260514555270.
KPMG (2016) The cost of violence against women and their children in Australia, Department of Social Services website.
Loxton D, Townsend N, Dolja-Gore X, Forder P and Coles J (2018) Adverse childhood experiences and healthcare costs in adult life, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 28:5, 511-525, doi:10.1080/10538712.2018.1523814.
Puri L (2016) The economic costs of violence against women, Remarks by UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri at the high level discussion on the ‘Economic cost of violence against women’ on 21 September 2016, UN Women, accessed 27 September 2022.
Summers A (2022) The choice: Violence or poverty, University of Technology Sydney.
Townsend N, Loxton D, Egan N, Barnes I, Byrnes E, and Forder P (2022) ‘A life course approach to determining the prevalence and impact of sexual violence in Australia: Findings from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health’ Research report, 14/2022. ANROWS.