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4128.0 - Women's Safety Australia, 1996  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 11/12/1996  Ceased
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Preface

This publication presents results from the national Women's Safety Survey conducted in February to April 1996. The survey provides information on women's safety at home and in the community and, in particular, on the nature and extent of violence against women in Australia.

Information is presented about the prevalence of physical and sexual violence experienced by women and the nature of this violence, including: relationship to the perpetrator (male and female), where the violence occurred, and whether or not injuries were sustained. Additional information is reported about the actions taken in response to occurrences of violence, women's fears of violence and incidents of stalking and other forms of harassment.

The survey was funded by the Office of the Status of Women (OSW) and the Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services, both of which have responsibility for developing and implementing policies relating to women.

A Survey Reference Group, comprising experts in the field of crime and violence against women, provided the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) with advice on the information to be collected and on some aspects of survey methodology. Members of the group included representatives from State and Commonwealth health departments, crime research agencies, women's services providers, women's health research organisations, academics and OSW.

The ABS was solely responsible for the development and conduct of the survey. As for all ABS surveys, extensive testing was carried out to ensure that the survey would collect objective and high quality data.

The ABS would like to thank the 6,300 women who completed the survey. Their participation has ensured the production of results which will be valuable for informing public debate about violence against women and the further development of policies and programs aimed at prevention.

INTRODUCTION

POLICY CONTEXT

Violence in society takes many forms. Men, women and children can all be victims as well as perpetrators of violence. Also, the nature and prevalence of violence experienced by different groups is known to differ, depending on age, gender, the closeness of the relationship between perpetrator and victim, and whether it occurs in private or public domains. However, governments, at Commonwealth and State levels, and community service groups have in recent years given increasing attention to the development of laws, policies and programs designed to assist women subjected to physical and sexual violence and to minimise the level of violence against women, with violence between partners a major area of concern.

Actions taken over the last two decades include:

  • the establishment of various support services such as rape crisis centres and, for women escaping domestic violence, temporary housing and other support services;
  • the formation of specialised police and medical service units with expertise in investigating complaints, collecting evidence and treating women who are victims of violence; and
  • the reform of laws enabling women to obtain protection from domestic violence through the police and courts.
The provision of such services has been complemented by community awareness programs aimed at reducing levels of violence against women.

There have been many calls from national bodies, policy makers, researchers and service providers for comprehensive national data on the extent of violence against women. The National Committee on Violence Against Women, in its National Strategy on Violence Against Women, (National Committee on Violence Against Women (1992) The National Strategy on Violence Against Women) recommended that an appropriate tool be developed to measure the levels and types of violence against women and to measure changes over time. The Council of Australian Governments Working Party on the National Strategy on Violence Against Women (Report of the Council of Australian Government Working Group on the National Strategy on Violence Against Women (1994) unpublished report ) reaffirmed the need for national data on violence against women. As a result, the Women's Safety Survey was designed to provide information which will assist in the development and evaluation of policies and programs related to women's experience of violence and to the prevention of violence against women.


THE SURVEY

The Women's Safety Survey's primary focus is the measurement of physical and sexual violence. While limited in focus to women's experience of violence, as opposed to that of children and men or other specific groups known to be at risk of violence, the survey collected information about experiences of violence, perpetrated by both men and women. As well as examining incidents of violence against women, the survey also collected information on abuse, harassment, and on women's feelings of safety within the home and the community.

Before proceeding with the survey, the ABS considered three points of critical concern:
  • whether violence against women was an issue of significant government and community interest;
  • whether objective and high quality data could be collected; and
  • whether the information collected would inform public debate and discussion.
The ABS was satisfied on all these counts.


MEASURING VIOLENCE


For purposes of this survey, violence is defined as any incident involving the occurrence, attempt or threat of either physical or sexual assault. Measuring violence in the community through household surveys is a complex task. It tests people's memories by asking about events that occurred in the past, which may have been traumatic and which may have involved people closely related to them. Collecting accurate statistics can be affected if respondents feel threatened by the act of providing information or if they are concerned that the information might be used against the perpetrator.

There are no generally agreed or accepted standards for defining what constitutes violence. In developing the concepts and definitions used in the survey, the ABS was assisted by a survey reference group, which included members with legal and crime research backgrounds. The definitions used were based on actions which would be considered as offences under State and Territory criminal law. For example, physical violence included the occurrence, attempt or threat of physical assault, where physical assault was the use of physical force with the intent to harm or frighten. The definitions of violence are set out in more detail in the Glossary (p. 77). While, inevitably, the incidents of violence reported by women reflected their perceptions of the concepts and definitions used, the incidents reported were judged as significant by the respondent.

Through extensive consultation with experts in the field and rigorous testing, the ABS gave careful attention to the type of information collected and the manner in which it was collected. Special steps were taken to improve the quality of the survey results including detailed and precise questioning and the use of personal interviews, as opposed to a self completion mail back questionnaire. Women were informed that the survey was not compulsory and a specific requirement was that interviews were conducted with women in private, thus ensuring confidentiality of any information disclosed. The use of specially trained interviewers ensured that rapport could be established with respondents and that the relevant concepts and definitions could be explained as necessary.


SCOPE AND COVERAGE LIMITATIONS

The Women's Safety Survey was designed to provide national estimates of the nature and extent of violence experienced by women. Approximately 6,300 women completed the survey, representing a response rate of 78%. In general, the survey does not support reliable estimates for the States and Territories. Nor does it allow for detailed disaggregation of the data. Estimates of interest presented in the publication may be small numbers and in such cases should be used with caution.

The size and scope of the survey also affects estimates relating to small population groups. For example, there have been particular concerns about levels of violence experienced by Indigenous women. The Women's Safety Survey cannot provide any insights into this issue because women living in rural and remote areas had a reduced chance of selection and because the number of Indigenous women in the survey was small. Similarly, the survey collected information about the country in which a woman was born and some estimates can be provided for women according to whether they were born in English and non-English speaking countries. However, it is not possible to analyse experiences of women born in particular countries. Details of the survey design and the number of people required to provide reliable estimates, are given in the Technical Notes (p. 74).

COMPARISON OF RESULTS

The survey greatly extends the limited information available from crime victim surveys periodically undertaken by the ABS, administrative sources such as police and court statistics, and smaller less representative studies undertaken by researchers in the field. Results from this survey differ from those obtained in the last ABS Crime and Safety Survey, although both surveys reveal low occurrences of physical and sexual assault. The Women's Safety Survey found that 5.9% of women had experienced physical violence in the last 12 month period and 1.5% had been sexually assaulted. Corresponding figures from the 1993 Crime and Safety Survey are 1.8% and 0.6%. The Crime and Safety Survey is a general crime victimisation survey where personal assault is just one component of the whole survey. On the other hand the Women's Safety Survey is a detailed survey with a specific focus on physical and sexual violence against women. Therefore, the Women's Safety Survey would be expected to provide better estimates of violence against women than the more general survey on crime and safety. For the same reason, great care should be taken in comparing figures from the two surveys.


OVERVIEW

DEFINITION OF VIOLENCE

Violence is any incident involving the occurrence, attempt or threat of either physical or sexual assault. Physical assault involves the use of physical force with the intent to harm or frighten a woman. An attempt or threat to inflict physical harm is included only if a woman believes it is able and likely to be carried out. Sexual assault includes acts of a sexual nature carried out against a woman's will through the use of physical force, intimidation or coercion, or any attempts to do this. Unwanted sexual touching is excluded from sexual assault. Sexual threat involves the threat of an act of a sexual nature which the woman believes is able and likely to be carried out. Refer to the Glossary (p. 77) for more detailed descriptions of the definitions.

EXPERIENCE OF VIOLENCE

During the 12 months prior to the survey 490,400 women aged 18 and over (7.1%) experienced an incident of violence. Women were nearly four times more likely to experience violence by a man than by a woman. 22% of women who experienced violence (109,100) reported incidents by more than one perpetrator (see table 3.8).

2.1 WOMEN'S EXPERIENCE OF VIOLENCE(a) DURING THE LAST 12 MONTHS

(a) A woman could have experienced both physical and sexual violence, as well as both assault and threat. A woman could have experienced violence by both a male and female perpetrator. The components when added may therefore be larger than the total.

A larger proportion of women experienced physical violence than sexual violence. 4.9% of women (338,700) experienced physical violence by a man, compared to 1.9% (132,300) who experienced sexual violence by a man.

Younger women were more at risk of violence than older women. 19% of women aged 1824 had experienced an incident of violence in the previous 12 month period, compared to 6.8% of women aged 3544 and 1.2% of women aged 55 and over.




2.2
WOMEN WHO EXPERIENCED VIOLENCE DURING THE LAST 12 MONTHS

Age group (years)


Physical violence

Incidents of physical violence may involve one or more actions on the part of the perpetrator. The survey classified the nature of physical violence on the basis of these actions in the last incident. When physical violence occurred, women were more likely to be pushed, grabbed, shoved or threatened than they were to be slapped, choked or beaten. Of the 4.9% of women (338,700) who experienced physical violence by a man


2.3
WOMEN'S EXPERIENCE OF PHYSICAL VIOLENCE BY A MAN DURING THE LAST 12 MONTHS,
Type of Physical Violence in the Last Incident


In the previous 12 month period, 13% experienced a threat or attempt only and a further 31% were pushed, grabbed or shoved either alone, or in conjunction with threats or attempts (see table 3.9).

48% of women who were physically assaulted by a man in the previous 12 month period (140,900) sustained physical injuries in the last incident. The most common injuries were bruises, cuts and scratches (see table 3.14).
More women experienced physical violence from a current or previous partner than from a stranger or another man known to them (such as a relative, friend, work colleague or professional). In the previous 12 month period, 104,600 women experienced physical violence by their current partner, 75,800 by a previous partner and 67,300 by a stranger.



2.4
WOMEN WHO EXPERIENCED VIOLENCE BY A MAN DURING THE LAST 12 MONTHS,
relationship to perpetrator




Sexual violence

During the 12 months prior to the survey 133,100 women (1.9%) experienced an incident of sexual violence. This includes sexual assault, involving acts of a sexual nature carried out against a woman's will, as well as threats of sexual assault which a woman believed were likely to be carried out. Sexual violence was almost exclusively perpetrated by men (99%). Three-quarters of women who experienced sexual violence (100,000), reported an incident of sexual assault in the previous 12 month period and 44,800 women reported a threat of sexual assault (see table 3.7).

In contrast to physical violence, more women experienced sexual violence from someone other than their partner. 45,800 women had experienced sexual violence by a stranger, 23,800 by a boyfriend or date and 12,400 by their current partner in the previous 12 month period.

22% of women who were sexually assaulted by a man in the previous 12 month period (22,000) were physically injured in the last incident with bruises the most common injury (see table 3.14).


ACTIONS TAKEN IN RESPONSE TO VIOLENCE


There are a range of actions that a woman can take as a result of an incident of violence including: contacting the police, seeking advice or support from a professional, such as a doctor, counsellor or religious minister, contacting a service provider, for crisis, legal or financial assistance, or speaking to other people, such as family and friends.

Overwhelmingly, the main action taken after experiencing an assault by a man was talking to other people, particularly family and friends. 58% of women who were physically assaulted in the previous 12 month period (170,500) discussed their experience with a friend or neighbour and 53% spoke to a family member (155,600). Of those women who were sexually assaulted, 59% (58,000) spoke to a friend or neighbour and 32% (31,300) spoke to a family member. 4.5% of women who were physically assaulted (13,200) contacted a crisis service organisation, as did 8.1% of women who were sexually assaulted (8,000).


2.5
WOMEN WHO WERE PHYSICALLY ASSAULTED BY A MAN DURING THE LAST 12 MONTHS,
Actions taken After the Last Incident


19% of women who were physically assaulted and 15% of women who were sexually assaulted in the previous 12 month period reported the incident to the police (see

table 4.8). The main reason given for not contacting the police after the last incident of physical assault was that women wished to deal with the incident themselves (42%). A further 27% said they did not regard the incident as serious (see table 4.6).

VIOLENCE BY CURRENT PARTNERS

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 (see table 6.4).

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 (see table 6.7).



2.6
WOMEN'S EXPERIENCE OF VIOLENCE BY THEIR CURRENT MALE PARTNER




VIOLENCE BY PREVIOUS PARTNERS


3.3% of women experienced violence from a previous partner during the previous 12 month period. Many of these will no longer be in contact with this partner. 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 (see table 6.4).

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).

Violence which occurs between partners in a home may affect the children who also live in the home. 68% of women who experienced violence by a previous partner reported that they had children in their care at some time during the relationship (682,200) and 46% (461,200) said that these children had witnessed the violence (see table 6.3).


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