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Intimate partner violence

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Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a major health and welfare issue in Australia and around the world. It occurs in all socioeconomic, religious and cultural groups and can have wide-ranging consequences for physical and psychological health, economic security and social wellbeing (WHO 2012). IPV takes many forms and is a subset of family and domestic violence.

In 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that globally, 26–28% (641 to 753 million) of ever-partnered women (those who had been in an intimate relationship) aged 15 years and older had experienced physical and/or sexual IPV in their lifetime (WHO 2021). Rates of IPV vary by global region and by development, with the highest rates occurring in the least developed countries (37%) and the lowest rates occurring in the subregions of Europe (16–23%), Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (18–21%) and in Australia and New Zealand (23%) (WHO 2021).

This page presents the available data (at the time of writing) on IPV in Australia, including data on emotional abuse, economic abuse, and trends over time.

What is intimate partner violence?

IPV can be defined in different ways. Broadly, IPV refers to any behaviour within an intimate relationship (current or previous) that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm (DSS 2022). Intimate relationships involve varying levels of commitment, and include marriages, couples who live together, and dating relationships. Some relationships such as boy/girlfriend and dating relationships are particularly relevant to younger people who are less likely to be in formal living arrangements with their intimate partners.

In the AIHW’s reporting, definitions are mostly drawn from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey (PSS). These definitions look at specific behaviours and harms – physical violence, sexual violence, emotional abuse and economic abuse – across a range of intimate relationships (Box 1).

A more detailed discussion about how different definitions are used in the AIHW’s reporting can be found in What is FDSV?.

How does IPV relate to coercive control?

Coercive control is almost always an underlying dynamic of FDV and IPV. Coercive control is often defined as a pattern of behaviour, used by a perpetrator to establish and maintain control over another person and deprive them of autonomy. While some of the behaviours that contribute to coercive control are acts of violence themselves – and may be recognisable as physical assault, sexual assault, emotional abuse, harassment, financial abuse, stalking or technology-facilitated abuse – some behaviours are subtle and targeted, and may appear innocuous in isolation.

In IPV, it is important to consider the overall pattern of abusive behaviours used by a perpetrator, the ongoing and repetitive nature of these behaviours, and their cumulative negative effects (ANROWS 2021). However, it can be difficult to measure and report on these overall patterns of behaviour beyond specific incidents of violence and abuse. On this topic page, data are reported about specific incidents to identify patterns and build a national understanding of the prevalence of IPV. For more information about coercive control as a contextual part of FDV and IPV, see Coercive control.

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse can occur in intimate relationships when a person is subjected to certain behaviours or actions that are aimed at preventing or controlling their behaviour, or causing them emotional harm or fear (ABS 2023a). Emotional abuse may be measured in different ways depending on the data source. The main data source used to report on the prevalence of emotional abuse is the 2021–22 PSS (Box 2).

What is economic abuse?

Economic abuse, sometimes referred to as financial abuse, involves a pattern of control, exploitation or sabotage of money and finances and economic resources, which affects a person’s ability to obtain, use or maintain economic resources, threatening their economic security and potential for self-sufficiency and independence (DSS 2022).

Some behaviours that are considered economic abuse can also be counted as examples of emotional abuse. The main data source used to report on the prevalence of economic abuse by partners is the 2021–22 PSS (Box 3).

What is technology-facilitated abuse?

Technology-facilitated abuse (TFA) is a broad term encompassing any form of abuse or harm that uses mobile and digital technologies. TFA can include a wide range of behaviours such as:

  • monitoring and stalking the whereabouts and movements of the victim in real time
  • monitoring the victim’s internet use
  • remotely accessing and controlling contents on the victim’s digital device
  • repeatedly sending abusive or threatening messages to the victim or the victim’s friends and family
  • image-based abuse (non-consensual sharing of intimate images of the victim)
  • publishing private and identifying information of the victim (AIJA 2022; Powell et al. 2022; Woodlock 2015).

Data on some forms of TFA can be found in Sexual violence and Stalking and surveillance.

What do the data tell us?

Prevalence data on IPV, including emotional abuse and economic abuse are drawn from 2 national surveys: the ABS Personal Safety Survey and the AIFS National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study. For information about these data sources, please see Data sources and technical notes.

How common is IPV?

  • 1 in 4 women

    1 in 14 men

    in 2021–22 had experienced violence from an intimate partner since the age of 15

    Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey

According to the 2021–22 PSS:

  • 1 in 4 (23% or 2.3 million) women have experienced violence from an intimate partner since the age of 15
  • 1 in 14 (7.3% or 693,000) men have experienced violence from an intimate partner since the age of 15 (ABS 2023a).

Intimate partners can be current or previous partners, boyfriends, girlfriends or dates. Violence can be of a physical or sexual nature. Across types of intimate partner, a higher proportion of people (11%) had experienced violence from a partner compared with a boyfriend, girlfriend or date (5.9%) (ABS 2023a).

Partner violence

Partner violence is a subset of IPV and covers violence that occurs between people who either live together or have previously lived together (sometimes referred to as a cohabiting partner). Data about violence in these relationships can help build an understanding of the nature of IPV in a domestic context. They can also be used to understand how people’s living circumstances relate to their experiences of violence.

The 2021–22 PSS provides national estimates of partner violence. Some estimates for the experiences of men are not sufficiently statistically reliable for reporting.

According to the 2021–22 PSS, almost 1 in 5 (17% or 1.7 million) women and about 1 in 18 (5.5% or 527,000) men have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a current or previous partner since the age of 15 (ABS 2023b).

The characteristics of partner violence are somewhat different for women reporting partner violence from a current versus previous partner: 

  • 2 in 5 (40%) women who experienced violence by a previous partner and one in 4 (24%) women who experienced violence by a current partner experienced their first incident within 2 years of the relationship.
  • Most of the 1.5 million women estimated to have experienced violence by a previous partner experienced more than one incident (67%), with violence occurring: all the time for 3.8%, most of the time for 17%, some of the time for 28%, and a little of the time for 18%.
  • Among the estimated 173,000 women who experienced violence by a current partner, 2 in 5 (41%) experienced more than one incident (ABS 2023a, 2023b).
  • Among the estimated 425,000 men who experienced violence by a previous partner, most (52%) experienced more than one incident and most (71%) experienced their first incident during the first 10 years of their relationship (ABS 2023a).

Characteristics of partner violence

Many women stay in violent relationships. 

About 70% of women in 2021–22 who experienced violence by their current partner while living together had never separated (an estimated 122,000 women). About one in 2 (46%) of these women did not want to leave their current partner (ABS 2023a).  

When women temporarily separate from a violent partner, violence often begins, continues or increases.  

About 2 in 5 (43% or 584,000) women had, at least once, temporarily separated from a violent previous partner. Temporary separation includes breaking up and starting the relationship again at a later time. Of the estimated 369,000 women who moved away during a temporary separation: 

  • 1 in 13 (7.9%) experienced violence for the first time 
  • 1 in 4 (25%) continued to experience violence 
  • 1 in 7 (14%) experienced increased violence (ABS 2023a).

Women temporarily separating from violent partners are likely to stay with a friend or relative. 

Almost 2 in 3 (63%, or 369,000) women who temporarily separated from a violent previous partner moved out of home, and of those women, about 4 in 5 (78%, or 286,000) stayed at a friend or relative’s house (ABS 2023a). 

The main reason women returned to violent partners was that they ‘wanted to try and work things out’. 

Of women who temporarily separated from a violent current or previous partner, the most common reasons for returning were similar. These reasons included:

  • they wanted to try and work things out or they had resolved the problems with their partner (91% who separated from a current partner and 57% from a previous partner)
  • they still loved the partner (55% who separated from a current partner and 45% from a previous partner) 
  • their partner promised to stop assaults and/or threats (26%* who separated from a current partner and 51% who separated from a previous partner) (ABS 2023a).

Note that more than one reason could be provided and that estimates marked with an asterisk (*) should be used with caution as they have a relative standard error between 25% and 50%.

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

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).

Estimates for 2021–22 for men are not sufficiently statistically reliable for reporting. Findings from the 2016 PSS were previously reported in Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia, 2019: continuing the national story

Emotional abuse

  • 23% of women

    14% of men

    in 2021–22 had experienced emotional abuse by a partner since the age of 15

    Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey

The 2021–22 PSS also collected information about emotional abuse between partners and estimates that almost 1 in 5 (23% or 2.3 million) women and 1 in 7 (14% or 1.3 million) men have experienced emotional abuse by a current or previous partner. 

Among those who had experienced emotional abuse: 

  • threatening or degrading behaviours were the most common (85% of women who experienced abuse by their current partner, and 90% of women and 87% of men who experienced abuse by a previous partner)
  • the majority experienced more than one incident (90% of women who experienced abuse by their current partner, and 94% of women and 96% of men who experienced abuse by a previous partner)
  • at least 1 in 4 also experienced violence (24% of women who experienced abuse by their current partner, and 47% of women and 25% of men who experienced abuse by a previous partner) (ABS 2023a, 2023b).

Economic abuse

  • 16% of women and 7.8% of men in 2021–22 had experienced economic abuse from a partner since the age of 15

    Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey

Based on the 2021–22 PSS, 16% (1.6 million) of women and 7.8% (745,000) of men have experienced economic abuse from a current or previous partner since the age of 15. The most common economic abuse behaviours varied by whether the violence was by a current or previous partner:

  • Women who experienced current partner economic abuse most commonly experienced economic restriction behaviours, for example, by controlling or trying to control their knowledge of, access to, or decisions about household money (62%).
  • Women and men who experienced previous partner economic abuse most commonly experienced economic sabotage behaviours, for example, damaging, destroying or stealing any of their property (44% and 50%, respectively) (ABS 2023a, 2023b).

Data were not sufficiently statistically reliable to report on men’s experiences of violent current partners.

How do physical and sexual violence overlap with other forms of abuse?

Based on the 2021–22 PSS, 1 in 5 (21% or 4.2 million) people aged 18 years and over have experienced violence, emotional abuse or economic abuse by a partner since the age of 15.

The prevalence of violence and abuse by partners was higher for women than men:

  • 27% (2.7 million) of women aged 18 years and over have experienced violence or emotional/economic abuse by a partner.
  • 15% (1.5 million) of men have experienced violence or emotional/economic abuse by a partner (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Prevalence of partner violence, emotional abuse, and economic abuse since the age of 15, 2021–22

Source: ABS PSS 2021–22 | Data source overview

Further information about economic abuse in Australia, such as the perceptions and experience, are available from a study conducted by the Centre for Women’s Economic Safety (CWES) in 2021 (Box 4).

Based on data collected by the CWES:

  • 14% of respondents said they didn’t think any of the indicators were ever considered economic abuse
  • 31% of respondents said they couldn’t explain economic abuse very well, compared with 11% who said they couldn’t explain physical abuse very well
  • 29% of respondents said they wouldn’t know where to turn for support (Glenn and Kutin 2021).

More findings from this study can be found on the CWES website.

How does technology-facilitated abuse occur in the context of IPV?

With the integration of technology in modern living and the move to hybrid working models, the risk of TFA has heightened and become more widespread. TFA often takes the form of stalking, surveillance, tracking, threats, harassment and the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. Perpetrators may misuse devices, accounts, software or platforms to control, abuse and track victim-survivors. The National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032 has called for increased attention and support on the disproportionate impact of TFA on women and their children (DSS 2022).

TFA is not a separate form of violence from IPV, but a set of tools that can be used to control and intimidate a person, and enable violence to occur and continue.

Data from the PSS show that technology plays a role in facilitating forms of economic and emotional abuse between intimate partners, however, these data do not necessarily provide an overall estimate of TFA prevalence. In 2022, ANROWS published findings from a national study which focused on examining the extent and nature of, and responses to TFA within the Australian community. The findings from this research provide additional context about how IPV and TFA overlap (Box 5).

What are the risk factors for perpetrators of IPV?

While any individual can perpetrate IPV, there are a range of risk and protective factors that may contribute to it. These may be individual, family, community and broader social-level factors. For an overview of these factors and how they overlap, see Factors associated with FDSV.

Children who experience family and domestic violence, and/or those who are exposed to IPV directed at their parents, can also experience adverse developmental outcomes, which can then be associated with an increased likelihood of violence perpetration. This process is sometimes referred to as intergenerational transmission of violence and is discussed in more detail in the context of Family and domestic violence. More information about violence and children can be found in Children and young people and Child sexual abuse.

What are the responses to IPV?

People respond to IPV 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 a number of factors that influence whether people seek help from formal services. Some of the barriers are discussed in more detail in How do people respond to FDSV?.

People who do seek help from formal services may access a range of different supports. There are multiple entry points for victim-survivors to access formal support services, both at a point of crisis and afterwards. These supports span across multiple sectors and have varying levels of involvement with victim-survivors and perpetrators. The support can also vary depending on the type of violence experienced. Many supports are intended to respond to broader family and domestic violence, which can cover violence in a wide range of relationships.

A comprehensive and person-centred response system is essential for holding perpetrators to account and keeping people safe. The National Plan identifies multiple objectives to improve responses, and these were used to inform some of the actions under the First Action Plan 2023–2027.

Health services

People who experience IPV may seek assistance from health services. Health services that respond to IPV 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 IPV are limited. Hospital records related to episodes of admitted care (hospitalisations) are the main nationally comparable data available, although some data related to IPV 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 assault injuries, where the perpetrator has been identified as a spouse or domestic partner. These data are reported in Health services.

Police and legal responses

Following an incident of IPV, 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. These are discussed in more detail in Legal systems.

Specialist homelessness services

When IPV 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.

Specialist perpetrator interventions

Some responses to IPV 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 responses, 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.

Other responses

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

What are the impacts of IPV?

IPV can have long-lasting impacts on an individual’s physical and mental health as well as their economic and social wellbeing. In some cases, IPV 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 IPV. For example, people who experience IPV 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 IPV can also be indirect, or be seen longer-term, particular when they limit a person’s education, and employment outcomes.

Some of the impacts of IPV 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 IPV 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
  • 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.

Has it changed over time?

Data from the 2021–22 PSS are available to show changes over time for some forms of violence. For women, the 12-month prevalence rate of intimate partner violence decreased from 2.3% in 2016 to 1.5% in 2021–22 (Figure 2) (ABS 2023a).

Figure 2: Proportion of women who experienced IPV in the last 12 months, 2005 to 2021–22

^: statistically significant difference to the 2021–22 prevalence rate.

Source: ABS PSS | Data source overview

Data from the 2021–22 PSS are also available to show changes over time for partner violence. A partner is someone who the respondent lives with, or lived with, in a married or de facto relationship. For women, the prevalence of partner violence has fallen from 1.7% in 2016 to 0.9% in 2021–22 (Figure 3) (ABS 2023a).

Figure 3: Proportion of women who experienced partner violence in the last 12 months, 2005 to 2021–22

^: statistically significant difference to the 2021–22 prevalence rate.

Source: ABS PSS | Data source overview

Data from the 2021–22 PSS also show that the prevalence of emotional abuse by a partner decreased between 2016 and 2021–22 for both women and men. For women, this went from 4.8% in 2016 to 3.9% in 2021–22. For men, the 12-month prevalence rate of partner emotional abuse decreased from 4.2% in 2016 to 2.5% in 2021–22 (Figure 4) (ABS 2023a).

Figure 4: Proportion of people aged 18 years and over who experienced emotional abuse from a partner in the last 12 months, by sex, 2012 to 2021–22

^: statistically significant difference to the 2021–22 prevalence rate.

Source: ABS PSS | Data source overview

These changes over time may be due to a number of reasons. The most recent PSS was conducted between March 2021 and May 2022, during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are continuing to learn about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on FDSV, which first occurred in Australia between March to April 2020. The 2-year period following the onset of the pandemic involved many changes to people’s living circumstances. These changes, and the potential flow-on effects to a person’s likelihood of experiencing violence, are discussed in more detail in FDSV and COVID-19.

Is it the same for everyone?

Some population groups are at increased risk of intimate partner violence, or may experience this violence differently. For more information about some of these groups, see Population groups.

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