Physical violence and harm


  • Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4510.0 - Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia, 2017.

    Victims of Domestic and Family Violence-Related Offences

    This chapter presents experimental data about victims of selected Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) –related offences. Victims of selected offences have been determined to be FDV–related where the relationship of offender to victim, as stored on police recording systems, falls within a specified family or domestic relationship or where an FDV flag has been recorded, following a police investigation.

    Key findings include:

    • FDV-related homicide victims accounted for over a third of total homicide victims, and females accounted for over half of all FDV-related homicide victims.
    • FDV-related assault is mostly likely to occur in the age range 25-34 years; and, across all states and territories, females are more likely than males to be victims – at least three times as likely, and up to six times more likely.
    • FDV-related sexual assault accounted for over a third of total sexual assaults and there are six times as many female victims as male victims.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Personal Safety, Australia, 2016, ABS cat no. 4906.0 (2016).

    This release presents information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2016 Personal Safety Survey (PSS).

    The survey collected detailed information from men and women about their experiences of violence since the age of 18, as well as experiences of current and previous partner violence, stalking, physical and sexual abuse and harassment, abuse before the age of 15, and general feelings of safety.

    • ‘Women aged 18 years and over were more likely than men to have experienced either physical violence and/or sexual violence, by a partner since the age of 15’ (see Table 3);
    • Women were nearly three times more likely to have experienced partner violence than men, with approximately one in six women (17% or 1.6 million) and one in sixteen men (6.1% or 547,600) having experienced partner violence since the age of 15 (see Table 3);
    • One in six women (16% or 1.5 million) and one in seventeen men (5.9% or 528,800) experienced physical violence by a partner (see Table 3);
    • Approximately 54% (149,600) of women who experienced violence by a current partner, and 68% (931,800) of women who experienced violence by a previous partner, experienced more than one incident of violence from that partner (see Tables 17-18);
    • Women were more likely to experience fear of anxiety due to violence from a partner than men (see Tables 20-21).
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Women’s Safety Australia, 1996, ABS cat no 4128.0 (1996).

    2.6% of women who were married or in a de facto relationship (111,000) experienced an incident of violence by their partner in the previous 12 month period, while 8.0% (345,400) reported an incident of violence at some time during their current relationship. Women were more at risk of physical violence than sexual violence by their partner. 7.6% of married women (329,700) reported an incident of physical violence by their partner at some time during the relationship and 1.0% (43,900) an incident of sexual violence. Half of the women who had experienced violence by their current partner said there had been more than one incident, 7.4% said it occurred often, while 26% said it occurred only rarely.

    3.3% of women experienced violence from a previous partner during the previous 12 month period. When violence over the whole relationship is considered, women were much more likely to have experienced violence from a partner they no longer live with than from a current partner. 42% of women (1.1 million) who had been in a previous relationship reported an incident of violence by a previous partner compared to 8.0% of women who reported violence from a current partner during the relationship. Women were more at risk of physical violence than sexual violence. 42% of women who had been in a previous relationship had experienced physical violence and 10% had experienced sexual violence.

    Approximately 700,000 women who experienced violence by a partner in a previous relationship were pregnant at some time during the relationship. 42% of these women (292,100) reported that violence occurred during a pregnancy and 20% experienced violence for the first time when they were pregnant (see table 6.13).
  • This resource provides detailed analysis of the prevalence of acquired brain injuries among both victims and perpetrators of family violence. For both victims and perpetrators, brain injury impacts capacity to recover, change and safeguard future wellbeing. This study utilises data obtained from Victorian hospitals between 2006 and 2016 (p 25). Family violence is a significant cause of brain injury, with around 40 percent of victims having sustained a brain injury (pp 29). Moreover, brain injury was associated with 14 of the 17 family violence-related deaths in the study period (p 29). There is also evidence to suggest that rates of brain injury among perpetrators of family violence are disproportionately high, indicating that having suffered a brain injury is a risk factor for future perpetration of family violence (p 19). Finally, the study highlights that the available data is likely to represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’, with many injuries going unreported or undiagnosed, emphasising the need for additional research in this area (pp 34-5).
  • Coumarelos, Christine, and Jacqui Allen, ‘Predicting Women’s Responses to Violence: The 1996 Women’s Safety Survey’ (1999) 47 Crime and Justice Bulletin: Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice 1.
    This article reports on data drawn from the 1996 Women's Safety Survey, a nationally representative sample survey. The article examines data relating to 412 victims of physical assault and 139 victims of sexual assault. Analysis showed consistently that assault not involving injury and assault perpetrated by a current partner were less likely than other types of assault to be reported or to result in the use of victim services. The analysis also showed that, in some instances, there were relatively lower reporting and service use rates for young, Australian-born and first-time victims.
  • Hegarty, Kelsey, and Robert Bush, ‘Prevalence and Associations of Partner Abuse in Women Attending General Practice: A Cross-Sectional Survey’ (2002) 26 (5) Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 437.
    This research reports on the results of a survey of women attending general medical practitioners in Brisbane’s inner South region during 1996. 1,836 surveys were completed. One in four women reported they had (ever) experienced physical abuse in their intimate relationship, with 5% of women reporting they had experienced physical abuse in the past 12 months. Women were also asked whether they had ever abused their partner and why. The main reasons stated why women physically abused their partners was because they were ‘made angry by their partner’ (68.1%) or in ‘self-defence’ (59.1%). Physical abuse of partners was generally not as a way of ‘controlling their partner’ (72.9%) or because they were ‘intoxicated’ (87.5%) (p439).
  • Mazza, Danielle, Lorraine Dennerstein and Vicky Ryan, ‘Physical, Sexual and Emotional Violence Against Women: A General Practice-Based Prevalence Study’ (1996) 164(1) Medical Journal of Australia 14.
    3026 women over 18 years were surveyed in Melbourne general medical practices in 1993 and 1994. 72% responded to the survey. Over a quarter of women in relationships reported they had been victims of physical or emotional abuse by their partner in the previous year, one in 10 reporting that they experienced ‘severe’ physical violence (ie: kicked, bitten, hit with a fist or object or beaten up, choked, threatened with a knife or gun or had a knife or gun used against her). Thirteen percent of women had experienced rape or attempted rape, 10% had been severely beaten during childhood and 28% had experienced childhood sexual abuse involving physical contact. The abuse had been disclosed to the woman's doctor by only 27% of those who had experienced partner or childhood physical abuse (mostly because the doctor had never asked) and 9% of those who had experienced sexual abuse (mostly because the woman did not see it as relevant to the consultation).
  • Mooney, Rosemary and Deborah Byrne, Understanding the relationship between family violence and brain injury (The Brain Injury Association of Tasmania, 2016).

    This report provides a summary of the key issues surrounding the complex relationship between injury and family violence in Australia. It notes that half of the people who perpetrate family violence have an existing brain injury (but not all people living with a brain injury perpetrate family violence). Research demonstrates that there is an association between brain injury and increased aggressive behaviour. Moreover, the types of abuse victims of family violence often report (being hit in the face, head and neck, being shaken, and being choked) are all risk factors for brain injury. Research has established that at least one third of women who have experienced family violence has sustained a brain injury. However, the needs of women who live with traumatic brain injury are not being met (p.1).

    It notes that ‘[v]ictims of family violence are seldom screened for brain injury which means that the phenomenon of brain injury as a consequence of family violence is under reported; the same is true for perpetrators of family violence. Prevalence rates are therefore difficult to estimate due to under reporting, under diagnosis, and under researching of brain injury, making it an ‘invisible’ problem’ (p.1).

    It concludes that the relationship between brain injury and family violence shown in this report points to an ‘urgent need for education and training across all intersecting areas in relation to implementing brain injury screening and the provision of targeted services that are appropriate and effective for people living with a brain injury’ (p.2). This report makes fourteen recommendations.
  • Mouzos, Jenny, and Toni Makkai, ‘Women's Experience of Male Violence: Findings from the Australian Component of the International Violence Against Women Survey (IVAWS)’ (Research and Public Policy Series No 56, Australian Institute of Criminology, 2004).
    This paper reports on the findings of the International Violence Against Women Survey (IVAWS), which was conducted across Australia between December 2002 and June 2003. A total of 6,677 women aged between 18 and 69 years participated in the survey, and provided information on their experiences of physical and sexual violence including childhood violence. The report describes the type of violence (including threats of violence) by current and former intimate male partners, and other known and unknown males. The IVAWS measures three distinctive types of violence against women: 1) physical (including threats of physical violence); 2) sexual (including unwanted sexual touching); and 3) psychological (controlling behaviours such as put downs, keeping track of whereabouts).
  • This literature review found that “there is little evidence that alcohol use is a primary cause of violence against women. The paper does, however, identify that there are clear associations, and in some cases, strong correlations between alcohol use and violence against women, including, for instance, in the severity of the violence.” The relationship between alcohol and violence against women manifests in three ways:

    • Alcohol use is linked with the perpetration of violence against women.
    • Alcohol use is linked with women’s victimisation by violence.
    • Alcohol is used as a coping strategy by women who have experienced violence
  • This report is focussed on health outcomes associated with physical and sexual abuse in a domestic partner context. The research reports that physical injuries, filicide and suicide are some of the health outcomes contributing to the disease burden of intimate partner violence in Victoria (p11). It reports on findings in various studies that show women are three times more likely to be injured as a result of violence, five times more likely to require medical attention or hospitalisation and five times more likely to report fearing for their lives (p15). Notably less than 20% of women exposed to violence report to authorities (p19).The study reports that where sexual violence is involved bruising, tears and lacerations to the vaginal area and anus are common (p20).
  • Young, Margrette, Julie Byles and Annette Dobson, ‘The Effectiveness of Legal Protection in the Prevention of Domestic Violence in the Lives of Young Australian Women’ (2000) 148 Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice 1.
    Interviews with 674 young women who had been in a violent relationship with a partner or spouse were undertaken. 493 women said they had experienced physical violence. This paper reports on the responses of those 493 women. Nearly half of them reported serious violence including being beaten, choked or threatened, or having been the victim of a threatened shooting. 7% had been shot or stabbed by a partner. About 75% had been subjected to ‘medium severity’ violence: slapped, kicked, hit with a fist or other object. The study notes that seeking legal protection from violence including serious violence rarely made things worse for these young women (p2); seeking help from police was not as effective as calling the police combined with obtaining a court order (p2-3).


  • April M Zeoli, Rebecca Malinski and Hannah Brenner, ‘The Intersection of Firearms and Intimate Partner Homicide in 15 Nations’ (2017) Trauma, Violence, & Abuse (online first).
    This article explores the use of firearms in the commission of intimate partner homicides in 15 countries (p 1). The sample of countries included 6 in Europe, 3 in Oceania, and 2 each in the Middle East, North America, and Africa (p 3). The results indicate that guns are used in the commission of 11% of intimate partner homicides in Australia (p 4). The report also highlights that Australian law imposes stringent restrictions on gun ownership, particularly in cases of intimate partner violence (p 7), which have been demonstrated to have a substantial impact on reducing numbers of firearm-related homicides (p 9). Comparatively, the US had the highest rate of firearm-related homicides (over 50%), whereas Fiji and the UK had the lowest rates (0% and 3% respectively) (pp 8-9).
  • Corrigan, John, et al, ‘Early Identification of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Female Victims of Domestic Violence’ (2003) 188 (5) American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 71-76.
    This study identifies and explores the relationship between domestic violence and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Over a 7- to 9-month survey period, a total of 169 women with health issues directly attributable to domestic violence and who were referred to sexual assault-domestic violence health staff were identified. Thirty percent (n = 51) agreed to participate in the study. A positive loss of consciousness on at least one occasion was reported in 30% of the respondents, and 67% of women reported residual problems that were potentially head-injury related.
  • This resource provides practical guidance for judges in engaging with victims of domestic violence in the courtroom, including particular information about Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS). BWS is ‘a collection of psychological symptoms’, which is often considered a subcategory of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (p 10). Women suffering from BWS may act in ways that confuse those who wish to assist them, making it difficult to participate in the legal system, even though they want the abuse to stop. Victims may experience the ‘fight’ response, in which they become hyper-vigilant to cues of violence, which can impair concentration and lead to anxiety and panic disorders (p 10). Victims may also experience the ‘flight’ response, which prompts women to mentally retreat from the abuse, which can result in denial, minimisation and disassociation (p 11). Finally, women suffering from BWS may experience memory loss, and other psychological consequences, such as flashbacks to past experiences of abuse, incoherent thought patterns, and dissociation (p 11).