Gendered violence remains a ‘national crisis’, ABS data shows

For a quarter of Australian women who have experienced violence, it was from someone close to them.

For a quarter of Australian women who have experienced violence, it was from someone close to them. Photo: AAP

One in five Australian women have been exposed to sexual violence in their lifetime but new data shows rates of harm inflicted by intimate partners are declining.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest personal safety report reveals 22 per cent of women have been exposed to sexual abuse, one in four of them at the hands of an intimate or family member.

But rates of intimate partner violence against women have dropped from 2.3 per cent in 2016 to 1.5 per cent in 2021-22.

Experts are cautious about the decline, noting the latest report might not reflect the changing forms of violence.

“It’s really important for the survey questions to evolve with perpetrator tactics to capture things like technology-facilitated abuse,” Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre director Kate Fitz-Gibbon told AAP.

“We also know that all forms of intimate partner violence are under-reported. The survey relies on self-reported victimisation data so that’s something to keep in mind.”

University of Melbourne’s Kristin Diemer, who was part of the ABS expert advisory panel, said the latest results might not show the full picture.

“We’re not dismissing the data that was collected during the (COVID-19) pandemic but different forms of survey methods were used,” she said.

“With further releases of the data, we should be able to look at particular acts of violence and see if they are different from what’s happened in the past.”

For the first time, the ABS looked at the prevalence of economic violence in cohabiting partner relationships.

About 16 per cent of women have experienced controlling behaviour around their finances, compared to 7.8 per cent of men.

“Economic abuse can be the most crippling in terms of a woman’s future after she leaves a relationship,” Professor Diemer said.

“She can have debts incurred that she has to pay off over 20 to 30 years. She may be bankrupt. She may have trouble getting a loan or a rental lease agreement all because of financial abuse.”

Our Watch chief executive Patty Kinnersly said economic violence became more prevalent during the pandemic lockdowns.

“We also heard about other ways where, mostly men, stopped women from using the car or accessing finances or took away their aids or their medication,” she said.

Men were more likely to experience physical violence than women (42 per cent compared to 31 per cent), while a stranger was often the perpetrator against men (30 per cent).

When it comes to sexual violence, 22 per cent of women experience it compared to 6.1 per cent of men.

“Violence is still disproportionately gendered,” Ms Kinnersly said.

“We need to remember these aren’t just stats. One woman is too many.”

The latest data shows gender-based violence is a “national crisis” that needs increased funding and attention, Professor Fitz-Gibbon said.

“We’ve seen the federal government in the last week asked significant questions about their commitment of over $300 billion to submarines.

“Less than one per cent of that has been committed to tackling violence against women.

“If we have a government that’s committed as they’ve said they are … then we need to see a significant increase in the funding commitment.”

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