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Understanding FDSV


How are national data used to answer questions about FDSV?

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National data can be used in many ways to strengthen our understanding of family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV) in Australia. High quality national data are an essential basis of the FDSV evidence base. National data are often used to inform decision making to improve outcomes for people who are, or may be, affected by violence.

There are many different sources of FDSV data, and the way these data are used and reported will depend on the questions they are trying to answer. This topic page discusses the different types of FDSV data available, and how they are used in the AIHW’s FDSV reporting.

How are data on FDSV collected?

Accurate and timely data are essential to understanding the extent, nature and impact of FDSV. FDSV data are collected from a range of sources to gain a comprehensive understanding of the issues at the population level. However, these sources often vary in their quality and coverage and the methods used for data collection and reporting. This variability poses a challenge to developing a consistent FDSV evidence base.

Quantitative data

Quantitative data comprises the vast majority of the AIHW’s FDSV data reporting. Quantitative data refers to information that can be counted. Quantitative data can be collected from surveys or administrative sources:

  • Surveys involve collecting information from a selected sample of people using a set of questions. In the context of FDSV, surveys may be used to gain insights into the forms of violence experienced, community attitudes towards violence and the prevalence of FDSV incidents in the overall population. Some national surveys relevant to FDSV include the ABS Personal Safety Survey (PSS) and the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS).
  • Administrative data are collected as a by-product of management and operational processes, often by service providers and government agencies. For example, cases of FDSV may be identified and recorded by police, courts, social support and FDSV service providers, child protection and health services. For use in analyses, administrative data are extracted from an organisation’s administrative records in a way that maintains client confidentiality (ABS 2013b). Some national administrative data collections relevant to FDSV include the ABS Recorded Crime – Victims and Offenders collections, AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database and AIHW Child Protection National Minimum Data Set.

Both survey data and administrative data can be cross-sectional or longitudinal:

  • A cross-sectional data source represents a particular population at a specific point in time. The data can be used to describe the prevalence of a characteristic in a group of people and, while it cannot identify causality, it can indicate where relationships might exist between certain variables (AIHW 2017). For example, these types of data could be used to indicate the prevalence of FDSV by sex or gender and age group. Most survey data relating to FDSV are cross-sectional.
  • A longitudinal data source collects data on the same people repeatedly over time (AIHW 2017). These types of data can help us understand how and why people’s circumstances change, identify common pathways through service systems and show how experiences over time can lead to different outcomes. Longitudinal data can also be used to see the effects of policy changes (DSS 2022). Longitudinal FDSV data may be collected through administrative data (for example, AIHW Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC)) or surveys (for example, Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health and The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children).

There are many ways to measure violence using quantitative data, and measures will vary according to the purpose and scope of the data source (Box 1).

Limitations of measuring violence in quantitative data

Information on violence recorded using the methods outlined in Box 1 often relates to discrete episodes of violence. This means that violence is only recorded when it meets the threshold for violence in a single incident. As a result, some of the more subtle and ongoing behaviours and harms in abusive relationships, which are often used in the context of coercive control, may not be captured.

For more information about these challenges in the context of coercive control, see Coercive control.

Data linkage

While single data sources can provide insights on their own, quantitative data sources can also be brought together through data linkage to answer questions about FDSV. Data linkage, sometimes referred to as data integration, can be used to explore the pathways through service systems of a particular person who has experienced FDSV, their longer-term outcomes and patterns of FDSV over time.

For more information about data linkage, see Family, domestic and sexual violence: National data landscape 2022.

Qualitative data

In addition to quantitative data, qualitative data on FDSV are collected and reported to enhance our understanding of key issues. Qualitative data are often used to describe qualities, perspectives or characteristics, and are collected using questionnaires, interviews, or observation. Qualitative data are sometimes collected where quantitative data are not available and can be used to highlight a range of experiences. Qualitative data are not intended to replace the insights that are gained using high quality quantitative data from surveys or administrative sources. The 2 types of data are complementary.

Lived experience expertise

While the AIHW’s FDSV reporting focuses on national quantitative data, some contributions from people with lived experience are used to deepen our understanding of certain topics and complement the quantitative data. This lived experience expertise is obtained through the University of Melbourne’s WEAVERs (Women and their children who have Experienced Abuse and ViolEnce: Researchers and advisors) project (Box 2).

The contributions from the WEAVERs were developed for the AIHW with support from the University of Melbourne. The content was drafted in response to a series of prompts or questions, which were developed by the AIHW in collaboration with the WEAVERs themselves.

The WEAVERs’ contributions are used alongside the AIHW’s data reporting, to enrich the public understanding of how violence and its consequences can look and feel for some people in a real-world context. It is important to note that the material provided by the WEAVERs reflects the views and experiences of a select group of individuals and are not intended to be representative of all people who have experienced violence. The names published have been changed except in instances where an individual has expressed a preference for their actual name to be used.

The WEAVERs’ contributions are valuable because they provide a platform for voices that are not often heard in national reporting.

What does sharing your story mean to you?

'As time passed, I began to realise I wanted to share my story, to raise awareness and help other women who might find themselves in an abusive relationship. I joined an advocacy group and undertook their training, which was really helpful for me to write my story and get it out there and reflect on what my son and I had been through.'


WEAVERs Expert by Experience

Understanding the challenges

The national data landscape for FDSV is diverse. Data sources come from a range of areas and vary in quality and consistency. In 2013, the ABS developed a framework to support the understanding and use of FDSV data (ABS 2009; ABS 2013a). This framework uses six elements as central organising principles for information relating to FDSV and shows the key relationships that exist between the elements (Figure 1).

This framework provides the foundations for improving FDSV data collection and reporting across the Commonwealth, state and territory governments and non-government sectors.

Figure 1: Overview of the framework

The diagram shows the six elements of a framework joined by arrows. The elements are context, risk, incident/experience, responses, impacts and outcomes, and programs, research and evaluation.

Source: adapted from ABS 2013.

  • Context: the environmental and psychosocial factors that influence community and individual attitudes, and otherwise provide context for the occurrence and experience of FDSV.
  • Risk: the actual and perceived risk factors that can increase or decrease the likelihood of experiencing or using FDSV.
  • Incident/Experience: the characteristics of FDSV incidents and the experiences of victim-survivors and people who use violence (perpetrators).
  • Reponses: the actions that are taken after violence. Responses may be formal or informal, and may be taken by victim-survivors, people who use violence, family and friends of the victim-survivor, witnesses, service providers, workplaces, institutions and the civil or criminal justice system.
  • Impacts and outcomes: the wide-ranging consequences of FDSV for victim-survivors, people who use violence, families, workplaces, institutions, the community and the economy.
  • Programs, research and evaluation: the development of FDSV education and prevention programs is informed by data relating to incident/experience, responses, and impacts and outcomes. Research and evaluation of interventions help to build an evidence base to inform further research, policies and programming.

The ABS framework provides a blueprint for conceptualising how national data can be used to answer key questions. The framework also provides an adaptable structure for organising reporting of FDSV.

Further details about how national data sources can be mapped against the framework can be found in the AIHW report Family, domestic and sexual violence: National data landscape 2022.

Note that the AIHW’s FDSV reporting focusses on using national data. Currently, there is a range of data collected by state and territory governments for analysis and reporting within that jurisdiction. While these data sources are not included in the AIHW’s reporting, they form a key part of the evidence base and could be used to strengthen the understanding of FDSV.

Monitoring changes

Data collected about FDSV can be used to monitor changes over time. Multiple types of indicators can be used to measure progress against a defined objective. These are outcome indicators, output indicators and input indicators.

In August 2023, the government released the Outcomes Framework 2023–2032, under the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2023–2032 (the National Plan). The Outcomes Framework links actions and activities being undertaken by the Australian, state and territory governments with the aim to end gender-based violence in one generation.

The 6 long-term outcomes drawn from the National Plan are:

  1. Systems and institutions effectively support and protect people impacted by violence.
  2. Services and prevention programs are effective, culturally responsive, intersectional and accessible.
  3. Community attitudes and beliefs embrace gender equality and condemn all forms of gendered violence without exception.
  4. People who choose to use violence are accountable for their actions and stop their violent, coercive and abusive behaviours.
  5. Children and young people are safe in all settings and are effectively supported by systems and services.
  6. Women are safe and respected in all settings and experience economic, political, cultural and social equality.

Work is currently underway to develop the Performance Measurement Plan linking outcomes and sub-outcomes to indicators, measures and data sources. The performance measurement plan will also identify data gaps that will inform the evaluation methodology and data development plan.

For more information, see the Department of Social Services website.

How is the AIHW’s FDSV reporting structured?

Data in the AIHW’s FDSV reporting are organised into the structure shown in Table 1. This structure helps facilitate a person-centred understanding of FDSV and allows for the different data sources to be brought together to enhance our understanding.

The structure of the AIHW’s reporting focuses primarily on victim-survivors of FDSV. Information about perpetrators is included where available.

Table 1: The AIHW’s FDSV reporting structure
SectionExample questions
Understanding family, domestic and sexual violence
  • What are the community attitudes to FDSV?
  • What do people know about FDSV?
  • How do community attitudes towards gender equality relate to FDSV?
Types of violence
  • Who experiences FDSV?
  • What types of FDSV are most common?
  • What are some of the common characteristics of incidents of FDSV?
Responses to family, domestic and sexual violence
  • How many FDSV incidents are recorded by police?
  • How many people come into contact with specialist homelessness services because of FDSV?
  • How many people are hospitalised for FDSV assault injuries? 
Outcomes of family, domestic and sexual violence
  • What are the long-term health consequences of FDSV?
  • How many people are killed through FDSV?
  • What are the financial costs of FDSV for the individual and broader society?
Population groups
  • How is FDSV different for older people?
  • How many children and young people experience FDSV?
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