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Violence against women: a silent but significant problem

This International Women’s Day, we’re discussing an issue that affects women the world over. Violence against women is an epidemic, quietly creeping into every community, in every postcode.

Serious, prevalent and defined by gender inequality

The definition of violence against women encompasses all forms of violence experienced by women because of their gender, or that disproportionately affect women. This includes physical, sexual, emotional, cultural/spiritual and financial violence, and a wide range of controlling, coercive and intimidating behaviour.

This type of violence can affect women of any race, education level, socioeconomic group or religion. In Australia, despite the notable gains that have been made in the area of gender equality in recent decades, inequalities for women and girls persist across many areas, It is these inequalities that form the foundation of violent attitudes toward women and girls.

Violence against women: the facts

While many debates continue around the topic of gender equality, the numbers about violence against women sadly remain the same:

  • 1 in 3 women has been a victim of physical or sexual violence, since the age of 15, by someone known to them. (2016 Personal Safety Survey, ABS)
  • Almost 1 in 4 women have been emotionally abused by a partner since the age of 15. (2016 Personal Safety Survey, ABS)
  • 1 woman dies almost every week at the hands of a current or former partner. (2015 Australian Institute of Criminology report)

Violence can intensify during different life stages or events in women’s lives, and different groups of women can also experience violence in ways that are distinct to their circumstances. For example:

  • Young women are especially vulnerable to sexual assault
  • Pregnant women may be at increased risk of male intimate partner violence
  • Women leaving (or attempting to leave) violent relationships are vulnerable to increased violence
  • Women with disabilities experience violence at rates that are higher than those of other women, and are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and/or multiple victimisation
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience family violence and non-partner sexual assault at a higher rate than other groups, and with more serious consequences
  • Immigrant and refugee women experience violence in ways that are unique to the socioeconomic consequences of migration to, and settlement in, Australia
  • Women living in regional and remote areas are more likely to have experienced violence since the age of 15 years than those living in major cities
  • People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or gender diverse also experience violence. The use of ‘women’ includes anyone who identifies and lives as a woman, noting most of the existing evidence relates to women in heterosexual relationships

Violence against women is a community problem, and it affects children as well

There are four drivers that are most consistently associated with higher levels of violence against women, all of which are reinforced outside the home.

These are:

  • Condoning of violence against women
  • Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence
  • Rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity
  • Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women

Violence against women has health consequences that can be immediate and acute, long-lasting and chronic, and/or fatal (whether from prolonged illness and disability or homicide).

The more severe the violence, the greater its impacts on women’s health, both physical and mental. But non-fatal consequences of violence can be far-reaching, due to the length of time that women endure violence before they seek help (if ever).

The impacts of violence against women on their children – whether the violence is witnessed or direct – can be profound and lasting. Children exposed to violence are more likely to have a range of health, developmental and social problems, both during childhood and later in life.

Alcohol abuse is a factor in violence against women

Community issues and ways of thinking are not the only factor that makes violence against women more likely.

While alcohol is not a direct cause of violence, alcohol abuse features in a disproportionate number of police call-outs to family violence and is related to a higher number of, and more severe, incidents of violence against women.

Rather than looking at alcohol as a factor in isolation, we need to understand it in relation to social norms and practices that condone or support violence against women, especially those relating to masculinity and men’s peer group behaviour.

What can be done to prevent violence against women?

Just as violence against women is a community problem, it has a community solution.

Prevention activities can include:

  • Research and public policy to understand the cause, prevalence and drivers
  • Media campaigns aimed at creating awareness
  • Community/bystander action
  • Creating a safe environment for survivors of violence to disclose their experience
  • Ensuring support is available to survivors if and when they disclose

Further advice and support:

1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732

Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491

Lifeline 13 11 14

Violence against women: a silent but significant problem