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Family and domestic violence

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Family and domestic violence (FDV) is a major national health and welfare issue that can have lifelong impacts for victim-survivors and perpetrators. It occurs across all ages and backgrounds, but mainly affects women and children.

This page presents data related to FDV as a whole, which comprises intimate partner violence and violence by other family members. Information specific to intimate partner violence (IPV) can be found in Intimate partner violence.

What is family and domestic violence?

‘Violence’ refers to behaviours that cause, or intend to cause, fear or harm. Violence can occur in the form of threat, assault, abuse, neglect or harassment and is often used by a person or people, to intimidate, harm or control others. Not all forms of violence are physical.

The term FDV describes violence that occurs in two types of relationships – intimate partner relationships and family relationships. In some contexts, it is appropriate to look at FDV combined – this provides a better sense of the violence that occurs overall within personal relationships. However, the risk factors, types of violence experienced and impacts can differ between IPV and family violence (Box 1).

FDV can also occur in the context of coercive control, where a person uses patterns of abusive behaviour over time to exert power and dominance in everyday life, to create fear, control or manipulate others, and deny liberty and autonomy. For more information on this, see Coercive control.

How is FDV used in AIHW reporting?

In the AIHW’s reporting of Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey (PSS) data, the term family and domestic violence is used for simplicity when referring to violence between all family members and intimate partners. Referring to the 2021–22 PSS categories ‘family member’ and ‘intimate partner’ as the combined ‘family and domestic’ allows the AIHW’s reporting of violence to draw on the ABS’ definitions of relationships (Box 1), while using a term that is recognisable to the public.

Family members who are not partners are referred to as ‘other family members’. In the PSS, ‘other family members’ are parents/step-parents, children/step-children, siblings/step-siblings, and other relatives or in-laws.

A more detailed look at violence in intimate relationships can be found in Intimate partner violence.

What do we know?

Many factors can contribute to, and influence, the likelihood of a person experiencing family and domestic violence. These factors can be:

  • individual level factors (personal history such as childhood abuse; alcohol or drug use; adherence to traditional gender roles; educational level)
  • relationship level factors (interpersonal relationships with peers, intimate partners or family members such as social support networks; family conflict; or having violent peers)
  • community level factors (experiences in schools, workplaces and neighbourhoods such as workplace polices on sexual harassment or accessibility of support services)
  • societal level (structural and cultural influences such as government policies, religious or cultural beliefs, gender or other inequalities, or social and cultural norms) (Quadara and Wall 2012).

These factors, and their intersection with other forms of disadvantage and discrimination, are discussed in Factors associated with FDSV.

What data are available to report on family and domestic violence?

Data from national surveys can be used to show the prevalence of family and domestic violence in Australia.

What do the data tell us?

Data from the 2021–22 PSS are available to report on FDV since the age of 15. In the PSS, violence refers to physical and/or sexual violence.

How common is family and domestic violence?

  • 1 in 5 adults

    in 2021–22 had experienced family and domestic violence since the age of 15

    Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey
  • Over 1 in 4 women

    in 2021–22 had experienced family and domestic violence since the age of 15

    Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey

Based on the 2021–22 PSS, 1 in 5 (20%) adults have experienced FDV since the age of 15. FDV was more common among women than men:

  • over 1 in 4 (27% or 2.7 million) women have experienced FDV since the age of 15
  • over 1 in 8 (12% or 1.1 million) men have experienced FDV since the age of 15 (Figure 1) (ABS 2023).

In the PSS, some information about the FDV experienced by children is collected by asking men and women about experiences of abuse before the age of 15. These data are one part of the picture and do not fully capture the prevalence of FDV among children. Data from other sources can be brought together to look at experiences of FDV among children and young people, these are discussed further in Children and young people.

Figure 1: Proportion of people aged 18 years and over who have experienced FDV since the age of 15, by sex and relationship to perpetrator, 2021–22

Source: ABS PSS 2021-22 | Data source overview

Both women and men were more likely to have experienced FDV by an intimate partner than other family members:

  • 23% (2.3 million) of women had experienced FDV by an intimate partner compared with 8.1% (806,000) who experienced FDV by other family members
  • 7.3% (693,000) of men had experienced FDV by an intimate partner compared with 5.9% (561,000) who experienced FDV by other family members.

More detailed reporting on IPV, including data from the 2021–22 PSS about the types of violence experienced, is reported in Intimate partner violence.

How many children witness FDV?

  • 12%

    of adults in 2021–22 had witnessed partner violence against their mothers when they were children

    Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey

Exposing children to violence can be considered a form of FDV. There are many ways that children can be exposed to FDV, for example through seeing or hearing acts of violence or its effects, or by witnessing patterns of non-physical controlling behaviours. These experiences among children and young people are discussed in Children and young people.

The PSS asks respondents about whether they had witnessed violence towards their own parents when they were children. These data are collected from adults 18 years and over about the violence they witnessed before the age of 15.

According to the 2021–22 PSS, an estimated 2.6 million (13%) people aged 18 years and over witnessed partner violence towards a parent. More women than men had witnessed partner violence towards one of their parents – 16% of women compared with 11% of men (ABS 2023).

A higher proportion of people had witnessed partner violence against their mothers than their fathers – 12% (2.2 million) of people witnessed violence against their mothers, 4.3% (837,000) witnessed violence against their fathers (Figure 2) (ABS 2023).

Figure 2: Proportion of people who witnessed partner violence against their parents, women and men aged 18 years and over, 2021–22

Source: ABS PSS 2021-22 | Data source overview

Who uses FDV?

Data on the people who use FDV against others are limited, as most national reporting to date has focussed on victim-survivors and people who experience violence (Flood et al. 2023). For women, the 2021–22 PSS captured some detailed information about violence in family relationships, however these data are limited to:

  • physical and/or sexual violence by male FDV perpetrators
  • physical violence by female FDV perpetrators.

Table 1 shows the different types of FDV experienced by women by relationship to perpetrator, where the perpetrator was male.

Table 1: Proportion of women who have experienced FDV by a male perpetrator, by type of perpetrator, 2021–22
Types of male FDV perpetratorsTotal (%)

Cohabiting partner (a)

17

Boyfriend or date (b)

9.1

Father

3.3

Son

0.5

Brother

1.3

Other relative or in-law

1.8

Notes

  1. Includes previous cohabiting partners
  2. Includes previous boyfriends or dates

Source: ABS 2023.

These data show that since the age of 15:

  • 6.2% (611,000) of women have experienced violence from a male family member who was not a partner (such as fathers, brothers and other relatives) 
  • 3.3% (326,000) of women have experienced violence from a father
  • 1.3% (126,000) of women have experienced violence from a brother (ABS 2023).

Data from the 2021–22 PSS also show that 1.9% (192,000) of women have experienced physical violence by a mother since the age of 15.

More information about perpetrators is discussed in Who uses violence?.

Children and young people who use FDSV

Adolescent family violence (AFV) refers to the use of violence by children and young people against family members, including physical, emotional, financial, and sexual abuse. It includes a range of behaviours used to control, coerce and threaten family members.

Although there are no nationally-representative data on the prevalence of adolescent family violence, existing research and administrative data suggest that adolescent males are more likely to use any AFV and more severe forms and that mothers are most frequently the victims (Box 2) (Fitz-Gibbon et al. 2018, 2022a; RCFV 2016). Existing research shows that young people who use AFV are more likely to have also experienced abuse and maltreatment themselves. AFV is generally more reactive and retaliatory and less frequently controlling and manipulative than intimate partner violence (Fitz-Gibbon et al. 2022a).

What are the responses to family and domestic violence?

People respond to family and domestic violence in many ways. Many people do not disclose their experiences, or when they do, they choose to disclose them to informal sources of support such as friends and family. There are number of reasons why people may choose not to or seek help from formal services. Some of the barriers are discussed in more detail in How do people respond to FDSV?.

What are some barriers to seeking help?

'Asking for help is hard enough but the constant re-telling of your story, and not being able to give a clear timeline due to trauma and post-traumatic stress is particularly challenging.'

Kelly

WEAVERs Expert by Experience

People who do seek help from formal services may access a range of different supports. These supports span across multiple sectors and have varying levels of involvement with victim-survivors and people who use violence. The support can also vary depending on the type of FDV experienced. For example, some services may provide support specifically for those who have experienced intimate partner violence or sexual violence.

Child protection services

In Australia, states and territories are responsible for providing child protection services to anyone aged under 18 who has been, or is at risk of being, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed, or whose parents are unable to provide adequate care and protection. Data are available to report on the number of people receiving child protection services who have had a substantiated case of abuse. These data can be used to show:

  • the primary abuse types (physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse or neglect)
  • characteristics of children with substantiated abuse or neglect
  • changes over time.

Further information can be found in Child protection.

Health services

People who experience FDV may seek assistance from health services. Health services that respond to FDSV include:

  • primary care, including general practitioners (GPs) and community health services
  • mental health services
  • ambulance or emergency services
  • alcohol and other drug treatment services
  • hospitals (admitted patient care; emergency care; and outpatient care).

While each health service response has an important and different role to play, national service-level data on responses to FDV are limited. Hospital records related to episodes of admitted care (hospitalisations) are the main nationally comparable data available, although some data related to FDSV responses in other health services are available in some states and territories.

Data from the AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database are available to report on the number of people admitted to hospital for FDV-related assault injuries. These data are reported in Health services.

Police and legal responses

For an incident of FDV, victim-survivors, witnesses or other people may contact police. Incidents that are considered a criminal offence are recorded by police as crimes. Data from police are available to report on victims of FDV-related offences. These are discussed in more detail in FDV reported to police.

Legal responses to FDV can also involve civil and criminal proceedings in state and territory courts. Civil proceedings can result in domestic violence orders (DVOs) that aim to protect victim-survivors of FDV from future violence. Criminal proceedings can punish offenders for criminal conduct related FDV and sexual violence. There are also national legal responses to FDV. Australia’s federal family law courts have the power to make civil personal protection injunctions for the protection of a child or party to family law proceedings. FDV is considered as a priority in child-related proceedings and in financial proceedings. Further information about criminal and civil proceedings are discussed in more detail in Legal systems.

Specialist perpetrator interventions

Some responses to FDV are designed to work with perpetrators to hold them to account and support them to change their behaviour. The majority of perpetrator interventions fall into two categories: police and legal interventions, and behaviour change interventions.

National data on behaviour change interventions are limited. However, some data are available from the Men’s Referral Service, and a growing body of research is available to discuss what currently works to reduce and respond to violence. These are discussed in more detail in Specialist perpetrator interventions.

Specialist homelessness services

When FDV occurs within the home, it can create an unsafe and unstable environment, leading some individuals and families to leave for their safety. Specialist homelessness services (SHS) provide services to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Data from SHS are available to look at the number of clients of SHS who had experienced FDV, including data about client characteristics, service use patterns, and housing situations and outcomes. These are discussed in further detail in Housing.

Other responses

There are a range of other responses to FDV where some data or information are available:

What are the impacts of family and domestic violence?

FDV can have long-lasting impacts on an individual’s physical and mental health as well as their economic and social wellbeing. In some cases, FDV can be fatal. Data are available across a number of areas to look at the longer-term impacts and outcomes of FDV on individuals and the community.

Economic and financial impacts

There are a number of direct and indirect economic and financial impacts of FDV. For example, people who experience FDV may incur the costs associated with separation such as moving and legal costs or healthcare costs for treatment and/or recovery from harm. The costs of FDV can also be indirect, or be seen longer-term, particularly when they limit a person’s education, and employment outcomes.

Some of the impacts of FDV can also be economy-wide, and these can be seen through impacts to the health system, community services, as well as through lost wages, lower productivity. Estimating the cost of violence to the economy can provide an overview of the scale of the problem and how wide-ranging it is. These are discussed in more detail in Economic and financial impacts.

Health impacts

The health outcomes of FDV can be serious and long-lasting. Some data are available to report on:

  • the burden of disease due to IPV (refers to the quantified impact of living with and dying prematurely from a disease or injury)
  • the relationship between violence and poor mental health outcomes
  • the long-term impact of injuries related to FDV
  • sexual and reproductive health outcomes
  • FDV-related suicides.

These are discussed in more detail in Health outcomes.

Homicide

Some family and domestic violence incidents are fatal. Domestic homicide is the term used to refer to the unlawful killing of a person in an incident involving the death of a family member or other person in a domestic relationship, including people who have a current or former intimate relationship.

Data from a number of sources are available to report on the number of domestic homicides. These are reported in Domestic homicide.

Intergenerational impacts

Children who experience or are exposed to FDV can experience adverse developmental outcomes, which are associated with an increased likelihood of violence perpetration. This process is sometimes referred to as intergenerational transmission of violence (Eriksson and Mazerolle 2015; Fitz-Gibbon et al. 2022a; Meyer et al 2021; Tzoumakis et al. 2019; Webster 2016).

A related process, intergenerational trauma, occurs when people who have experienced trauma (which can include violence and abuse) pass their trauma to further generations. This can be related to a lack of opportunity to heal and a lack of support for those who have experienced trauma. In Australia, intergenerational trauma particularly affects First Nations people (see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people), especially the children, grandchildren and future generations of the Stolen Generations (AIHW 2018; DSS 2022; Healing Foundation 2022).

Has it changed over time?

Typically, data on the 12-month prevalence of FDV can be used to see whether violence has changed over time. However, comparable national 12-month prevalence data about FDV combined are not available prior to 2021–22. Data on the 12-month prevalence of IPV are available, and changes over time are reported in Intimate partner violence.

According to the 2021–22 PSS:

  • 1.9% of women aged 18 years and over experienced FDV in the 12 months prior to the survey
  • 0.7% of men aged 18 years and over experienced FDV in the 12 months prior to the survey (this estimate has a relative standard error of 25–50% and should be used with caution) (ABS 2023).

Some data are available from other sources to look at changes in FDV-related service use over time. Changes in service use over time can be for a number of reasons, such as greater awareness, increased reporting, increase in actual prevalence, or a combination of these reasons.

Some time series data are available on:

Is it the same for everyone?

While some data are available to show how the experiences of FDV can differ across population groups, comparable data on the prevalence of violence are limited.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

‘Family violence’ is the preferred term for violence within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (First Nations) communities, as it covers the extended families, kinship networks and community relationships in which violence can occur (Cripps and Davis 2012).

The factors contributing to family violence, the actions taken when violence occurs and the longer-term impacts can be different for First Nations people compared with non-Indigenous people. Further, family violence among First Nations people should be understood in the context of intergenerational trauma and the ongoing impacts of colonisation.

The latest National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS, 2018–19) showed that 2 in 3 (67% or 20,800) First Nations people aged 15 and over who had experienced physical harm in the 12 months before the survey reported the perpetrator was a family member (a former or current intimate partner or other family member) (ABS 2019).

More information about family violence, including data from police, criminal courts and hospitals can be found in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Children and young people

Children are victims of FDV in their own right, both when they experience violence directly, and when they are exposed to, or witness violence or abuse between others. It is difficult to obtain robust data on children’s experiences of FDV. Due to the sensitive nature of this subject, most large-scale population surveys focus on adults. However, estimates of adults from surveys are likely to underestimate the true extent of FDSV due to some people’s reluctance to disclose information and reliance on participant’s recollections of events, which may have changed over time.

The 2021 Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS) was a cross-sectional survey of people aged 16 and over about their experiences of child sexual abuse and child maltreatment from a parent or caregiver. It also assessed some other childhood adversities and associations with aspects of health and wellbeing later in life (Mathews et al 2023).

Findings from the ACMS, including data on physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and exposure to domestic violence are discussed in more detail at Children and young people.

Older people

In Australia, ‘older people’ are generally defined as those aged 65 and over. However, First Nations people are often included among ‘older people’ from the age of 50 (Kaspiew et al. 2015).

Elder abuse is another term often used to describe violence experienced by older Australians when there is a relationship of trust between the older person and the perpetrator. Some forms of elder abuse can be perpetrated by family members, such as partners, children or other relatives.

The 2021 AIFS National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study collected information about elder abuse experienced by older people who live in the community. These data can be used to report on the prevalence of abuse, the type of abuse experience, and the relationship to the perpetrator of abuse. Findings from this study are discussed in more detail in Older people.

Other population groups

Comparable national data are not available to compare the prevalence of FDV among different population groups. However, data from other sources, can be used to illustrate some of the unique experiences of violence for:

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