Family violence and sexual violence is widespread and causes physical, sexual, psychological, economic, social and cultural harm, particularly to women and children. Family violence and sexual violence destroys families and communities and undermine our ability to achieve equality in our communities.
Family violence occurs when a perpetrator exercises power and control over another person. It involves coercive and abusive behaviours that are designed to intimidate, humiliate, undermine and isolate - resulting in fear and deprivation of liberty. These behaviours can include physical and sexual abuse, as well as psychological, emotional, cultural, spiritual and economic abuse.
Sexual violence includes rape and sexual assault, unwanted touching or sexual comments, sexual harassment, being forced to participate in pornography or the sex industry and technology-facilitated or image-based abuse. Sexual exploitation can also take place in a family context and is a form of sexual abuse, where offenders use power over a child or young person to sexually or emotionally abuse them.
While both men and women can be perpetrators and men, women and children can be victims, overwhelmingly the majority of victims are women and children, and the majority of perpetrators are men.
Family violence is not part of Aboriginal culture, but family violence impacts on Aboriginal people at vastly disproportionate rates and can have a devastating effect on Victorian Aboriginal communities. Contributing factors include colonisation, dispossession of land and culture and the wrongful removal of children.
Family violence can take many forms. It can occur within intimate relationships, extended families, kinship networks, intergenerational relationships and through family-like or carer relationships. This may include trafficking, forced marriage, stalking and harassment, sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation (FGM), dowry or migration-related abuse.
Intimate partners, family members and non-family carers can perpetrate violence against people with a disability. Violence can be perpetrated by adult children of the victim. Young people can use violence or be victims of violence within their family. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender diverse, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people may experience violence in their relationships or family of origin.
Children’s experiences in families, such as child abuse, neglect, family violence, bullying, isolation, social disadvantage, family ill-health, poverty and discrimination, can have serious consequences, especially when they occur early in life, are chronic, severe, or cumulative. We know that adversity does not predestine children to poor outcomes. Most children are able to recover when they have the right support at the right time, particularly the consistent presence of a safe and supportive caregiver. These experiences affect children differently, depending on individual, family and environmental protective and risk factors.
At its core, family violence is reinforced by gender norms and stereotypes. It is rooted in the inequality between women and men, and its intersection with inequalities connected to colonialism, racism, class, sexuality, age, disability and religion. This environment fosters discriminatory attitudes and behaviours that condone violence and allow it to occur. For this reason, addressing gender inequality and discrimination is at the heart of preventing family violence, and other forms of violence against women.
- In Australia, one in 3 women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15, and one woman a week is killed by her intimate partner.1 Intimate partner violence is the greatest health risk factor (greater than smoking, alcohol and obesity) for women in their reproductive years.2
- In Australia, one in 5 women has experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. Almost 2 million Australian adults had experienced at least one sexual assault since the age of 15. The majority (97%) of offenders recorded by police are male.3
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are between 2 and 5 times more likely than other Australians to experience violence as victims or offenders. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence-related assaults than other Australian women.4
- 1.4 million Australian adults (8%) have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 15. In 2018–19, sexual abuse was recorded as the primary type of abuse for about 10% of the 47,500 children who had substantiated cases of child abuse.5
- In 2018, police recorded around 7,900 sexual assaults against children aged 0–14 at the time of being reported to police. This equates to a rate of 167.6 sexual assaults recorded per 100,000 children, a higher rate than for people aged 15 and over.6
- Australian research and international data suggest that intimate partner violence occurs in LGBTIQ populations at similar levels as within the heterosexual population.7
- In the last 12 months in Australia, people with disability are at 2.6 times the risk of intimate partner violence in comparison to people without disability.8 90% of Australian women with an intellectual disability have been subjected to sexual abuse, 68% before they turn 18.9
- At the end of 2020, the police received 92 reports of forced marriage, which as we know, constitutes family violence and is a criminal offence. Over half of victims were under the age of 18, and victims most vulnerable to forced marriage were girls aged 15 to 19.10
- In Australia at least 11 girls every day are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM), which as we know constitutes family violence, is a criminal offence, and causes lasting physical and psychological damage. The number of women and girls in Australia at risk of FGM has more than doubled since 2014 and over 200,000 survivors need support.11
- ANROWS, 2016,
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018,
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2006,
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020,
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020,
- Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2015,
- Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health, 2021, ‘Nature and extent of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation against people with disability in Australia’
- Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) 2010,
- Australian Federal Police, Media release, 2020,
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019,
Reviewed 10 January 2022