Family, domestic and sexual violence is a major health and welfare issue in Australia occurring across all socioeconomic and demographic groups, but predominantly affecting women and children. The impacts of family, domestic and sexual violence can be serious and long-lasting, affecting an individual’s health, wellbeing, education, relationships and housing outcomes. This page provides an overview of the health impacts of family, domestic and sexual violence, including hospitalisations for assaults, and deaths. See Australia’s welfare snapshot Family, domestic and sexual violence for information on other support services.

What is family, domestic and sexual violence?

Family violence is violence between family members, such as between parents and children, siblings, and intimate partners.

Domestic violence is a type of family violence, and refers specifically to violence which occurs between current or former intimate partners (sometimes referred to as intimate partner violence).

Both family violence and domestic violence include behaviours such as:

  • physical violence (hitting, choking, use of weapons)
  • emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse (intimidating, humiliating)
  • coercive control (controlling access to finances, monitoring movements, isolating from friends and family).

Sexual violence covers sexual behaviours carried out against a person’s will. This can occur in the context of family or domestic violence, or be perpetrated by other people known to the victim or by strangers (ABS 2017).

Other forms of violence and harassment that can occur within the context of family and domestic violence include: stalking, technology-facilitated abuse and image-based abuse. Elder abuse can also occur in the context of family violence, and occurs where there is an expectation of trust and/or where there is a power imbalance between the party responsible and the older person (Kaspiew et al. 2019).

How common is family, domestic and sexual violence?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey 2016, an estimated 1 in 6 (17%, or 1.6 million) women and 1 in 16 (6.1%, or 0.5 million) men had experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or previous cohabiting partner since the age of 15 (ABS 2017). Women were more likely to experience violence from a known person and in their home, while men were more likely to experience violence from a stranger and in a public place (ABS 2017). In times of major crisis, such as natural disasters and epidemics, the risk of family and domestic violence can increase (Peterman et al. 2020; van Gelder et al. 2020). Following the outbreak of COVID-19, Australian governments agreed to strengthen family and domestic violence support services to meet expected increases in need (COAG Women’s Safety Council 2020; National Cabinet 2020).

Impact

Burden of disease

The Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015 estimated the amount of disease burden that could have been avoided if no female aged 15 and over in Australia in 2015 were exposed to intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence includes physical violence, sexual violence and emotional abuse from a current or former cohabiting partner, boyfriend, girlfriend or date. The impact of this risk factor was estimated in women only, as evidence in the literature to identify the causally linked diseases and the amount of increased risk (relative risk) was available only for women (Ayre et al. 2016; GBD 2016 Risk Factor Collaborators 2017).

Six diseases were causally linked to exposure to partner violence: depressive disorders; anxiety disorders; alcohol use disorders; early pregnancy loss; homicide & violence (injuries due to violence); and suicide & self-inflicted injuries.

In 2015, for females aged 15 and over, partner violence contributed to:

  • 223 deaths (0.3% of all deaths) in Australia (including deaths linked to suicide, homicide & violence, alcohol use disorders and depressive disorders)
  • 1.6% of the burden of disease and injury (AIHW 2019).

Mental health conditions were the largest contributor to the burden, with depressive disorders making up the greatest proportion (43%) followed by anxiety disorders (30%). Partner violence was ranked as the third leading risk factor contributing to total disease burden for women aged 25–44, behind child abuse & neglect during childhood, and illicit drug use (AIHW 2019).

If no female aged 15 and over had experienced partner violence in 2015 there would have been (among females aged 15 and over):

  • 41% less homicide & violence (where females were the victim)
  • 18% less early pregnancy loss
  • 19% less suicide & self-inflicted injuries
  • 19% less depressive disorders
  • 12% less anxiety disorders
  • 4% less alcohol disorders (AIHW 2019).

Three diseases were causally linked to child abuse & neglect: depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, suicide & self-inflicted injuries.

For the Australian population in 2015, child abuse & neglect contributed to:

  • 788 deaths (0.5% of all deaths)
  • 2.2% of the total burden of disease and injury (AIHW 2019).

See Burden of disease.

Hospitalisations

Hospitals provide health services for those who have experienced assault. Data on hospitalised assault cases (hospitalisations) presented here involve adults aged 15 and over who were admitted to hospitals with injuries due to physical assault, sexual assault or maltreatment. As not all family violence assault hospitalisations are identified as such, the data below may underestimate rates of assault. 

3 in 10

Assault hospitalisations for people aged 15 and over were due to family and domestic violence.

In 2017–18, almost 31% (6,500) of the 21,300 assault hospitalisations for adults aged 15 and over were a result of family and domestic violence. Of these 6,500 hospitalisations:

  • 73% (4,800) were female and 27% (1,700) were male
  • 65% (4,300) had the perpetrator reported as a spouse or domestic partner
  • 35% (2,300) had the perpetrator reported as a parent or other family member.

The remaining assault hospitalisations had another perpetrator reported, or the relationship between perpetrator and victim was not specified (Figure 1). Almost two-fifths (38%, or 8,100) of assault hospitalisations did not specify the relationship between perpetrator and victim.
 

For males hospitalised for assault, the largest proportion of assaults were perpetrated by an unspecified person. For females, the largest proportion of assaults was perpetrated by a spouse or domestic partner. 

In 2017–18, more than 2 in 3 hospitalisations of females due to assault by a spouse or domestic partner involved bodily force (67%, or 2,500), around 15% involved a blunt object and 7.1% a sharp object.

Hospitalisations of males for assault by a spouse or domestic partner were more likely to involve assault with an object (64%, or 384 hospitalisations) than with bodily force (28%, or 166 hospitalisations).

Over half (61%) of the hospitalisations for assault by a spouse or domestic partner included an injury to the head and/or neck in 2017–18. Injury to the head and/or neck was the main reason for:

  • 63% (2,300) of hospitalisations for females aged 15 and over, including 229 for brain injury
  • 46% (274) of hospitalisations for males aged 15 and over, including 28 for brain injury.

In 2017–18, pregnant females made up 7.9% (292) of female assault hospitalisations by a spouse or domestic partner. Trunk injuries (33%) were more common among pregnant females than among those who were not pregnant (12%).

See Hospital care.

Long-term health impacts

Findings from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health demonstrated that women who had experienced childhood sexual abuse were more likely to have poor general health, and to experience depression and bodily pain, compared with those who had not experienced sexual abuse during childhood (Coles et al. 2018). Women who had experienced childhood sexual or emotional or physical abuse had higher long-term primary, allied, and specialist health care costs in adulthood, compared with women who had not had these experiences during childhood (Loxton et al. 2018).

Deaths

Between 2016–17 and 2017–18, the Australian Institute of Criminology’s (AIC) National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) recorded 183 domestic homicide victims from 173 domestic homicide incidents (see Glossary for definitions). Data from the NHMP are from police and coronial records. Of the 183 domestic homicide victims, there were:

  • 101 victims of intimate partner homicide
  • 30 victims of filicide
  • 23 victims of parricide
  • 8 victims of siblicide
  • 21 victims of other family homicide (Bricknell 2020a; Bricknell 2020b).

Of all domestic homicide victims, 55% (100) were female. Of all female victims of domestic homicide, 73% (73) were killed by an intimate partner. For male victims of domestic homicide, 34% (28) were killed by an intimate partner (Figure 2). Victims of filicide—where a custodial, non-custodial or step-parent kills a child—accounted for 16% (30) of domestic homicide victims. Victims of filicide can include both children and adults. In 72% (124) of all domestic homicide incidents, the perpetrator was male (Bricknell 2020a; Bricknell 2020b).

In 2017–18, the rate of domestic homicides were 0.3 per 100,000—the lowest rate of domestic homicide since the collection began in 1989–90 (Bricknell 2020a; Bricknell 2020b). 

Data from ABS Recorded Crime—Victims are also available to report on family and domestic violence homicides where incidents have been recorded by police. Homicide and related offences include: murder, attempted murder and manslaughter. 

In 2018, there were 142 family and domestic violence homicide and related offences, of which 93 (66%) were murder and 41 (29%) were attempted murder. Of the 142 victims of family and domestic violence homicide, 53% were female and 24% were aged 0–19 (ABS 2019).  

See Causes of death.
 

Figure 2 shows the proportion of domestic homicide victims by type of homicide and sex of the victim for 2014–15 to 2015–16. For both males and females, intimate partner homicide was the most common form of domestic homicide—64% of female domestic homicide victims, and 28% of male domestic homicide victims.

Population groups

Family, domestic and sexual violence occurs across all ages and demographics. However some groups are more vulnerable than others, because they are at greater risk or because the impacts and outcomes of violence can be more serious or long-lasting.

Women

In 2017–18, assault by a spouse or domestic partner accounted for 48% of assault hospitalisations for females aged 15 and over. The rate of assault hospitalisations for injury by a spouse or domestic partner was higher for females than males across every age group, except for those aged 85 and over.

Children and young people

The impacts of family, domestic and sexual violence on children can be severe, affecting their health, wellbeing, education, relationships and housing outcomes (ANROWS 2018). In 2017–18, there were 628 hospitalisations of children aged 0–14 for injuries due to abuse (including assault, maltreatment and neglect). Of the 495 hospitalisations where a perpetrator was specified, 65% (321) related to family violence with 47% (231) of perpetrators recorded as a parent.

In 2017–18, there were 5,000 hospitalisations of young people aged 15–24 due to assault. Of these cases, 24% (1,200) were perpetrated by a family member. Assault perpetrated by a spouse or domestic partner accounted for 63% (753) of family and domestic violence-related assault hospitalisations.

See Health of children and Health of young people.

People living in lower socioeconomic areas

In 2017–18, people aged 15 and over living in the lowest socioeconomic areas were more than 6 times as likely to be hospitalised for assault by a spouse or domestic partner (47 per 100,000) than those living in the highest socioeconomic areas (7.1 per 100,000). More than 2 in 5 (45%, or 1,900) hospitalisations for assault perpetrated by a spouse or domestic partner involved people living in the lowest socioeconomic areas.

See Health across socioeconomic groups.

People living in remote areas

In 2017–18, the hospitalisation rate for assault by a spouse or domestic partner was 562 per 100,000 people for people aged 15 and over living in Very remote areas and 200 per 100,000 for people living in Remote areas. People living in Major cities, Inner regional, and Outer regional areas had lower rates (12, 13 and 36 per 100,000 respectively). These findings are affected by the higher proportions of Indigenous Australians living in Very Remote areas.

See Rural and remote health.

Indigenous Australians

In 2017–18, there were more than 6,800 assault hospitalisations involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Of the hospitalisations where the perpetrator was specified, 77% (3,400) related to family violence—the perpetrator was identified as a spouse or domestic partner in 48% (2,100) of hospitalisations, and another family member in 29% (1,300) of hospitalisations.

In 2017–18, Indigenous females aged 15 and over were 34 times as likely to be hospitalised for family violence-related assault as other females (685 per 100,000 versus 19.9 per 100,000). Indigenous males were 32 times as likely to be hospitalised for family violence as other males (247 per 100,000 versus 7.8 per 100,000).

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on health impacts of family, domestic and sexual violence, see:

Visit Domestic violence for more on this topic.

If you are experiencing family or domestic violence or know someone who is, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit the 1800RESPECT website.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017. Personal safety, Australia, 2016. ABS cat. no. 4906.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019. Recorded crime—victims, Australia, 2018. ABS cat. no. 4510.0. Canberra: ABS. 

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia, 2015. Australian Burden of Disease series no. 19. Cat. no. BOD 22. Canberra: AIHW.

ANROWS (Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety) 2018. Research summary: the impacts of domestic and family violence on children. Sydney: ANROWS.

Ayre J, Lum On M, Webster K & Moon L 2016. Examination of the burden of disease of intimate partner violence against women: final report, 2011. Sydney: Australian National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety.

Bricknell S 2020a. Homicide in Australia 2016–17. Statistical Report no. 22. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

Bricknell S 2020b. Homicide in Australia 2017–18. Statistical Report no. 23. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

Coles J, Lee A, Taft A, Mazza D & 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):1929–44.

COAG (Council of Australian Governments) Women’s Safety Council 2020. Meeting of the COAG Women’s Safety Council Communique 30 March and 2 April 2020. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Viewed 27 May 2020.

GBD 2016 Risk Factors Collaborators 2017. Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 84 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet 390:1345–422.

Kaspiew R, Carson R, Dow B, Qu L, Hand K, Roopani D, Gahan L & O'Keeffe D 2019. Elder Abuse National Research—Strengthening the Evidence Base: research definition background paper. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Loxton D, Townsend N, Dolja-Gore X, Forder P & Coles J 2018. Adverse childhood experiences and health-care costs in adult life. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 4:1–15.

National Cabinet 2020. National Cabinet Statement. Media statement by Prime Minister 29 March 2020. Canberra.

Peterman A, Potts A, O’Donnell M, Thompson K, Shah N, Oertelt-Prigione S & van Gelder N 2020. Pandemics and violence against women and children. Center for Global Development Working Paper (in press). Viewed 6 May 2020.

van Gelder N, Peterman A, Potts A, O'Donnell M, Thompson K, Shah N & Oertelt-Prigione S 2020. COVID-19: Reducing the risk of infection might increase the risk of intimate partner violence. EClinicalMedicine 21. Viewed 6 May 2020.