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Community attitudes

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Community attitudes relating to family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV) shape the social context in which violence takes place. For example, attitudes that are disrespectful towards women, undermine gender equality, or are supportive of violence in general can provide the social conditions in which FDSV is more likely to occur (Coumarelos et al. 2023, Webster et al. 2018). Understanding community attitudes towards FDSV is important because they play a role in the prevention of violence, as well as the likelihood of reporting, public and professional responses, and a victim-survivor’s own responses and help-seeking behaviours (Ferrer-Perez et al. 2020, Flood and Pease 2009, Gracia and Tomás 2014).

Community understanding of FDSV has a considerable influence on attitudes towards FDSV. For more information, see Community understanding of FDSV.

What are community attitudes?

Community attitudes refer to the thoughts and feelings of a group of people. Community attitudes can be positive, negative or neutral and tend to reflect the attitudes of the individuals that make up that group (Thompson et al. 2011).

Community attitudes relevant to FDSV may include attitudes towards violence against women, gender roles and relationships, and responses to violence. These attitudes can influence and reflect the social norms regarding behaviours that are considered acceptable within the community (Coumarelos et al. 2023, Webster et al. 2018).

What do we know?

Community attitudes are one of many factors that contribute to FDSV. Attitudes toward violence can be shaped by a range of individual characteristics, personal experiences, interactions with family, peer-groups and networks, culture and religion, social media and education campaigns, criminal justice policies and social movements (Flood and Pease 2009, Gracia et al. 2020).

Research in this area has predominantly focused on attitudes towards intimate partner violence against women. Many studies have found that, at the individual level, attitudes that tolerate, accept or justify intimate partner violence are associated with perpetration of this type of violence (Gracia et al. 2020). The National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032 (National Plan) recognises this relationship, stating that to prevent FDSV the underlying drivers of violence must be addressed (DSS 2022). A national framework for the primary prevention of violence against women in Australia highlights several drivers than must be shifted, including attitudes and behaviours that condone violence against women, rigid gender roles, and stereotypes of masculinity and femininity (Our Watch 2017, Our Watch 2021).

In addition to being associated with the perpetration of violence, attitudes towards violence can also have an important influence on victim-survivors. For example, attitudes in the community that condone violence or blame victim-survivors can have an impact on how a victim-survivor perceives the violence and whether a victim-survivor reports or seeks help following an incident of violence (Gracia et al. 2020).

Much of what is known about community attitudes towards FDSV in Australia comes from the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) (see Box 1). Equivalent data on attitudes towards violence against men and other victims are not available at a national level.

What do the data tell us?

Attitudes towards gender inequality

Gender inequality creates a social context in which violence against women occurs (Our Watch 2021) and has been associated with attitudes that condone violence against women (Coumarelos et al. 2023).

Results of the 2021 NCAS show that most people in Australia hold attitudes that reject gender inequality, however some attitudes remain a concern:

  • 10% agree that men generally make more capable bosses
  • 19% agree that women prefer a man to be in charge of relationships
  • 15% agree that there is no harm in sexist jokes
  • 6% agree that women should not initiate sex when a couple starts dating
  • 41% agree that many women mistakenly interpret innocent remarks as sexist (Coumarelos et al. 2023).

Attitudes towards violence against women

People who hold attitudes excusing the perpetrator and holding women responsible for FDSV are not necessarily prone to violence, or more likely to openly condone violence. These attitudes however, when expressed, can contribute to a culture that excuses perpetrators, disregards consent, minimises the impact of violence against women and mistrusts women’s reports of violence (Webster et al. 2018).

  • 23%

    of respondents in 2021 agreed that much of what is called domestic violence is a normal reaction to day-to-day stress and frustration

    Source: National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey

Results of the 2021 NCAS show that some people in Australia hold attitudes that minimise violence against women and shift blame:

  • 19% believe that sometimes a woman can make a man so angry that he hits her when he didn’t mean to
  • 23% agree that much of what is called domestic violence is a normal reaction to day-to-day stress and frustration (Coumarelos et al. 2023).

A considerable proportion also hold attitudes that mistrust women’s reports of violence:

  • 34% agree it is common for sexual assault accusations to be used as a way of getting back at men
  • 37% agree that women going through custody battles often make up or exaggerate claims of domestic violence to gain tactical advantage in their case
  • 24% agree that a lot of time, women who say they were raped had led the man on and had regrets (Coumarelos et al. 2023).

A concerning minority also hold attitudes that objectify women and disregard their consent:

  • 25% agree that when a man is very sexually aroused he may not even realise that the woman doesn't want to have sex
  • 13% agree that women should be flattered if they get wolf-whistles or catcalls when walking past a group of men in public
  • 10% agree that women often say "no" when they mean "yes" (Coumarelos et al. 2023).

Has it changed over time?

Exploring community attitudes associated with FDSV over time can help to identify societal shifts and evaluate primary prevention policies and programs. However, it is important to bear in mind that changes in community attitudes take time. National time series data on community attitudes towards violence against women are available from the NCAS.

Changes in attitudes towards gendered violence and inequality

  • Between 2009 and 2021, there was a positive shift in the community’s rejection of gendered violence and inequality

    Source: National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey

As shown in Figure 1, in Australia, between 2009 and 2021 there was a positive shift in attitudes that reject gender inequality and in attitudes that reject violence against women. 

However, attitudes that reject violence against women improved more slowly, with no significant change between 2017 and 2021. This plateau largely reflected a lack of significant improvement in attitudes towards domestic violence between 2017 and 2021 (Coumarelos et al. 2023).

These attitudes are measured by the Attitudes towards Gender Inequality Scale (AGIS) and the Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Scale (AVAWS) of the NCAS (see Box 1). On these scales a higher score is seen as desirable because it reflects higher rejection of problematic attitudes. Scores on the AGIS and AVAWS over time are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Mean score on the Attitudes towards Gender Inequality Scale and the Attitudes towards Violence against Women Scale, 2009, 2013, 2017 and 2021

This figure shows a general positive shift in mean scores on the Attitudes towards Gender Inequality Scale and the Attitudes towards Violence against Women Scale between 2009 and 2021. 

Improved community attitudes towards violence against women as measured by scores on the AGIS, AVAWS, and the Sexual Violence Scale of the NCAS, are identified as targets in the Outcomes Framework 2023-2032. For related data, see the Data dashboard.

Is it the same for everyone?

Looking at community attitudes across different population groups can help to identify which groups are more likely to hold attitudes associated with increased tolerance of FDSV. This information can point to areas where programs targeting FSDV may be beneficial.

Findings from the NCAS 2021 survey showed that the impact of demographic factors on attitudes was modest, but that in Australia:

  • women were significantly more likely than men to demonstrate stronger rejection of gender inequality and stronger rejection of violence against women. Non-binary respondents were significantly more likely to demonstrate stronger rejection of gender inequality and sexual violence compared to men and women, and stronger rejection of domestic violence compared to men. For details on how data related to sex and/or gender are presented in this report, see Methods.
  • younger respondents (25–34 years) demonstrated significantly higher rejection of violence against women compared to all other ages on average, while older respondents (75 years or over) demonstrated significantly lower rejection of gender inequality and violence against women.
  • respondents living in the lowest socioeconomic areas were significantly less likely to reject gender inequality and violence against women, compared to respondents living in the highest socioeconomic status areas.
  • respondents with university qualifications were significantly more likely than those with lower levels of education to demonstrate stronger rejection of gender inequality, rejection of violence against women, and prosocial bystander responses (for example, when a bystander intervenes in response to witnessing disrespect or abuse) (Coumarelos et al. 2023).

Victim-blaming attitudes differ across population groups

In a review of 40 survey-based studies across 19 European countries, Gracia and Lila (2015) identified that attitudes supportive of gender stereotypes were more common in men, older people, those with lower levels of education, and people living in rural areas. Similarly, with regard to violence against women, victim-blaming attitudes were also more common among men, older people, those with lower levels of education, and minority groups.

Attitudes towards other types of abuse

Attitudes towards types of violence or abuse that exist within specific population groups can influence social norms regarding the treatment of those groups. In this section, attitudes towards elder abuse and child abuse (Box 3) are discussed.

Most people do not accept elder abuse

  • Around half

    of respondents in 2021 agreed that most people ignore or turn a blind eye to elder abuse

    Source: AIFS National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study

The 2021 Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) Elder Abuse Prevalence Study is a national study that measures prevalence of and attitudes towards elder abuse. It consists of two nationally representative surveys. The Survey of the General Community (SGC) sampled 3400 general community members aged 18-64 years. The Survey of Older People (SOP) sampled 7000 people aged 65 years and older in Australia.

For the most part, the AIFS Elder Abuse Prevalence study showed that general community members and older people do not hold accepting or condoning views about elder abuse. A minority of each group agreed that abuse of older people is a private matter that should be handled in the family (SGC 9.3%; SOP 15%), is understandable if the person committing the abuse is under a lot of stress in their lives (SGC 7.2%; SOP 20%), or is understandable if the older person is difficult to deal with (SGC 6.9%; SOP 25%) (Qu et al. 2021).

There were mixed views about community willingness to recognise elder abuse as a form of abuse with around half of SGC respondents agreeing that most people ignore or turn a blind eye to elder abuse (SGC 52%; SOP 41%) (Qu et al. 2021).

For more information, see Older people.

Older people are more accepting of elder abuse than younger people.

On the whole, older people were more accepting of elder abuse than younger people. However in the SGC, the youngest people (aged 24 years or less) held more accepting views toward elder abuse than those aged 25–64 years. In the SOP sample, there was a clear age-related pattern whereby people aged 65 years and older had higher levels of accepting or condoning attitudes towards elder abuse as their age increased. This pattern may be due to differences in other socio-demographic characteristics which were associated with acceptance of elder abuse such as gender, country of birth, marital status, identification with religion, education, income and social isolation (Qu et al. 2021).

Figure 2: Mean score of acceptance of elder abuse, by age

^: statistically significant difference to the mean score for people aged <25 years.
~: statistically significant difference to the mean score for people aged 65-69 years.

Source: AIFS National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study | Data source overview

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