Breaking down the ABS report ‘Domestic Violence: Experiences of Partner Emotional Abuse’

Breaking down the ABS report ‘Domestic Violence: Experiences of Partner Emotional Abuse’

Wednesday 31 August 2022

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According to a new report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 3.6 million Australians have experienced emotional abuse from a partner.

In the report Domestic Violence: Experiences of Partner Emotional Abuse, the ABS provides an analysis of data from the 2016 Personal Safety Survey (PSS), identifying key characteristics that are associated with an increased likelihood of experiencing emotional abuse from a partner. 

Let’s break this down.  

What does the ABS mean when they refer to ‘emotional abuse?’ 

According to the report, the ABS defines ‘emotional abuse’ in the PSS as specific behaviours or actions that: 

“…are aimed at preventing or controlling [a person’s] behaviour, causing them emotional harm or fear. These behaviours are characterised in nature by their intent to manipulate, control, isolate or intimidate the person they are aimed at. They are generally repeated behaviours and include psychological, social, financial (also known as economic abuse), and verbal abuse.”

Examples of emotional abuse as defined by the ABS include: 

  • Trying to stop a person from contacting their friends, family, or community 
  • Constantly putting someone down 
  • Limiting a person’s access to household money 
  • Threatening to remove access to a person’s child/children. 

With this definition in mind, the data collected in the PSS found that an estimated one in four women (or 2.2 million) have experienced emotional abuse since the age of 15, from either a current or former partner. 

Does this differ to coercive control? 

The term ‘emotional abuse’ is often used interchangeably with coercive control, but they are not the same. Coercive control is not a separate form of family violence – rather, it is a part of all family violence, including emotional abuse. 

Think of it this way: coercive control is a pattern of abusive behaviours and tactics used by a perpetrator to gain power and control over a victim survivor. It is not a ‘standalone’ type of family violence. All forms of family violence can be used by a perpetrator to gain and maintain power and control. 

It’s also important to remember that when we talk about family violence, we are talking about patterns of abusive behaviours that are used to control someone in a family, family-like or intimate relationship, and to make that person feel afraid for their safety and wellbeing. It can take many forms – not just physical or sexual abuse. Similarly, all forms of family violence can be separate, or can occur together. 

The behaviours defined by the ABS as emotional abuse include a range of tactics associated with other forms of family violence, such as financial abuse. 

With that in mind, what does the ABS data say? 

Women with disability, single parents and people experiencing financial stress were more likely to experience abuse 

The report highlighted several characteristics that were linked with higher rates of emotional abuse. 

For instance, women aged between 30 and 54 experienced the highest rates of emotional abuse, while women aged over 65 were less likely to experience abuse. 

6.3% of women with disability or a long-term health condition had experienced partner emotional abuse, compared to 4.1% of women without disability or a long-term health condition.  

Women who were single parents of children under 15 years old were more than twice as likely to experience partner emotional abuse, compared with women from all other household types. 

Both men and women living in households who had experienced cash flow problems within the last 12 months were more than twice as likely to experience partner emotional abuse as those who did not experience cash flow issues. Similarly, women living in households that were unable to raise $2000 in a week for something important were almost twice as likely to experience partner emotional abuse. 

The most common emotional abuse experienced was threatening and degrading behaviours 

76% of women who had experienced emotional abuse by a current partner had experienced that abuse in the form of threatening or degrading behaviours. 41% had experienced abuse in the form of controlling financial behaviours. 

Significantly, of the 1.7 million women who experienced emotional abuse by a previous partner, 88% experience threatening or degrading behaviours, and 63% experienced controlling social behaviours. 

The data from this report further highlights that regardless of what forms it takes, family violence is always underpinned by power and control. Coercive and controlling behaviours are found across all types of family violence, not just emotional abuse. 

Find out more about different forms of family violence here. 

For more information on family violence, including how you can seek support for yourself or a loved one, visit Are You Safe at Home? 

Page last updated Wednesday, August 31 2022


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Supporting communities to help end family violence: Safe and Equal launches ‘Are You Safe at Home?’ videos

Supporting communities to help end family violence: Safe and Equal launches ‘Are You Safe at Home?’ videos

Wednesday 24 August 2022

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Conversations about family violence are important - and we want to spread the word that anyone can make a difference simply by listening and offering support.

That’s why we’ve created for our Are You Safe at Home? initiative. These short animations, which are available in 15 community languages, have been created to support family, friends and colleagues of people who are experiencing family violence.  

‘Family and friends are often the first ones to know something isn’t right. They play a crucial role in identifying and responding to family violence in the community,’ said Safe and Equal CEO Tania Farha. 

‘We know that starting the conversation can be hard, which is why these videos and resources are so important. They’re simple but powerful tools to help people support loved ones who are experiencing abuse.’ 

We need your help! 

Media has the power to reach so many different communities – including people who may not know what family violence is, or what they can do to help their loved ones.  

We are asking for your support to help raise awareness across Australia – through sharing the videos on your digital channels, social media, or by linking to the Are You Safe At Home? website at the bottom of any articles you publish on family violence. This is an invaluable way for your readers to access information and support. 

Please reach out via if you have any questions, or if you would like to work with us on an upcoming story. 

Page last updated Wednesday, August 24 2022


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Safe and Equal responds to proposed consent legislation reforms

Safe and Equal responds to proposed consent legislation reforms

Thursday 11 August 2022

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Safe and Equal welcomes the recently proposed reforms to consent legislation in Victoria. These amendments mean that, legally, consent for sexual activity must be actively sought and can be withdrawn at any time. Significantly, this would mean the law recognises that consent cannot be given if coerced under fear or force.

The introduction of this legislation is an important and historical moment in Victoria, and an incredible step forward in upholding the rights of victims of sexual violence.  

“By amending these laws, the Victorian Government is sending a clear message to victim survivors: that they’ve been heard, they are believed, and they deserve better legal recourse,” said Safe and Equal CEO Tania Farha. 

“It also sends the message to perpetrators that sexual assault in all forms will not be tolerated by our justice system.”  

Family violence and sexual assault are inextricably linked. Family violence is an ongoing pattern of power and control which results in a victim survivor living in constant fear for their safety. These proposed changes recognise this, and acknowledge that consent cannot be freely given when there’s a threat of family violence. 

“Perpetrators of family violence use a range of complex tactics to maintain control over victim survivors,” said Ms Farha.  

“These tactics, known as coercive control, completely erode a victim survivor’s sense of safety and identity and instil a permanent sense of fear – that’s why these changes are needed.” 

The implementation of this legislation must be supported by broader awareness raising, professional development and education for young people. We know this is on the agenda and urge the government to prioritise the full scope of work needed. 

Changing the law is just one step in recognising and responding to sexual assault and family violence. There’s more work to do, including implementing the rest of the recommendations outlined by the Victorian Law Reform Commission in the Improving the Response of the Justice System to Sexual Offences Report. 

We commend the Victorian Government for prioritising what is an incredibly complex area of law reform and look forward to working together to create stronger outcomes for victim survivors of sexual assault and family violence and, ultimately, preventing this violence before it occurs. 

We also acknowledge that these reforms would not have been possible without the tireless advocacy of many victim survivors – to them, we say thank you. 

Page last updated Thursday, August 11 2022


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Response to the Inquiry into children affected by parental incarceration report

Response to the Inquiry into children affected by parental incarceration report

Tuesday 9 August 2022

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Safe and Equal welcomes the release of the final report from Victoria’s Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee’s inquiry into children affected by parental incarceration.

The report details how shockingly invisible these children are within the system, and the significant harms they experience when deprived of the opportunity to grow up with their parents. The Inquiry’s findings make clear the lack of appropriate community support available to children and families affected by parental incarceration, and the failure of the justice system and courts to consider the rights and needs of children when making custodial rulings. 

Safe and Equal CEO Tania Farha commended the Committee’s recommendations for longer-term, sustainable funding for organisations that support these children and families. 

Organisations that support children and families of incarcerated parents do significant and highly-specialised work. It’s great to see their vital expertise acknowledged and prioritised in the report, she said. 

We welcome all recommendations contained in the report, and are particularly pleased to see the following: 

  • Legislative reform should be enacted to reduce the growing prison population in Victoria. 
  • That the Victorian Government implement systemic data collection processes to identify the number of children impacted by parental incarceration, including the children of parents on remand. 
  • That Victoria Police, in collaboration with legal and community stakeholders, implement a review mechanism for family violence matters capable of identifying instances where a victim survivor may have been misidentified as the primary aggressor in an incident and provide information about a process for the withdrawal of criminal charges. 
  • That the Victorian Government actively and continuously consult with children and families affected by parental incarceration in designing and implementing appropriate systemic changes and improved supports for this cohort. 
  • That the Victorian Government develop a long-term sustainable funding model to resource community organisations that support children affected by parental incarceration and their families. 

Importantly, the Committee’s findings highlight that family violence is a significant driver of women’s imprisonment. Without appropriate support for women and mothers experiencing family violence, we will continue to see unfathomably high rates of incarceration, and the increased risk of harm to children.

Even short periods of imprisonment can result in catastrophic implications for women and their children. We can’t ignore the links between structural gender inequality, family violence and the rising rates of women in Victoria’s prisons.

– Tania Farha, Safe and Equal CEO 

The report further highlights the improvements to systemic data collection required to address the invisibility of children and young people whose parents are in prison. As we simply don’t know how many Victorian children currently have a parent in prison, we cannot offer appropriate supports, or work to improve the system to better meet their needs.  

Notably, this report was released on National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Children’s Day (4 August). We know that women, and in particular Aboriginal women, are the fastest growing cohort in Victorian prisons. As the report states, 20 per cent of Aboriginal children will experience parental incarceration, compared to 5 per cent of non-Aboriginal children.  

These statistics are unacceptable and require urgent action. We recognise the strength and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the face of ongoing colonisation, racism and discrimination, and acknowledge that these factors lead to the over-incarceration of Aboriginal people. 

We are heartened to see such considered and actionable recommendations, despite the undeniable complexity of the issues detailed in the report. We look forward to working with the Victorian Government and our colleagues in the justice sector to achieve meaningful and long-lasting outcomes for these children. 

Read the full report here.

Page last updated Tuesday, August 9 2022


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Family violence, homelessness and pregnancy: Keeping the perpetrator in view

Family violence, homelessness and pregnancy: Keeping the perpetrator in view

Wednesday 3 August 2022

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This op-ed, written by Safe and Equal's Policy Manager Kate Mecham, first appeared in Volume 35 of Parity Magazine, Australia's national homelessness publication.

A note on language: Safe and Equal recognises that family violence impacts people across a diversity of gender identities, social and cultural contexts, and within various intimate, family and family-like relationships. Consequently, we predominately use the gender-inclusive terms ‘victim survivor’ and ‘perpetrator’ to acknowledge the complex ways family violence manifests across the community. Importantly, the term ‘victim survivor’ refers to both adults and children who experience family violence, recognising that children and young people who experience family violence are victim survivors in their own right. However, where references are being made specifically to the experiences of women, we use gendered language to accurately reflect this. As this article refers to people who are pregnant — who are predominantly women, I have chosen to use gendered language in this article.

As the peak body for family violence services in Victoria, Safe and Equal is very pleased to sponsor this edition of Parity and draw attention to the interconnections between pregnancy, homelessness and family violence.

We know that pregnancy and immediately post-birth are times of increased risk of family violence. In the case of intimate partner violence, as relationship dynamics begin to change with the impending birth of a baby, family violence may start for the first time or it may escalate if already present, putting both mother and baby at risk. For young people who are pregnant, family violence risk may be present in the form of intimate partner violence and/or from their family of origin who may not be supportive of the pregnancy, further complicating the level of risk experienced and the types of supports needed to support young mothers and their children.

It is common for women and young people to find a new impetus to leave family violence when they become mothers, or when it becomes clear that their children are also being affected by the violence. Violence against themselves may be tolerated, but violence against their children is not. Thus, pregnancy creates both an opportunity and risk — an opportunity to engage with victim survivors of family violence to talk about safety, and a risk as pregnancy is already a time of increased risk that increases again at times of separation or when planning to leave.

We know that family violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women and children. Many mothers are faced with the dreadful choice of remaining in a violent relationship or taking their children and leaving only to be faced with the very real prospect of becoming homeless. Family violence is also the leading cause of youth homelessness, as many young people who experience family violence leave home to escape. For young women experiencing homelessness, the risk of family violence, sexual assault and pregnancy increases.

‘No woman should be forced to make the choice between putting herself and her children at risk of homelessness or continuing to experience family violence’.

This nexus of pregnancy, family violence and homelessness is why this edition of Parity is so important. Research on the experiences of women who are pregnant and homeless has demonstrated that a vast majority of these women have experienced family violence. In the mix of pregnancy, medical needs, homelessness, possible drug or alcohol addiction and/or mental illness, where is the perpetrator?

When working with women who are pregnant and homeless, these critical questions must be asked. Is this woman a victim survivor of family violence? Is attempting to leave family violence the reason they are homeless? Are we recognizing and supporting both the woman and her children’s acts of resistance and efforts to stay safe in the face of violence? Where is the perpetrator? Is the system keeping them in view? Do services know where they are, what they are doing, and how their actions may have impacted and still be impacting the mother and child?

Are we viewing mental illness or substance abuse through a trauma‑informed lens, which may reveal that these issues are a response to family violence‑related trauma? Are we recognising that, for some of these women and children, family violence may still be occurring? That this trauma is not an event they have left behind, even if they are being linked in with other services?

If the abuse, violence, coercive control and resulting fear are ongoing, recovery from family violence is not possible. Are we able to acknowledge what a mammoth task it may be for the mother to effect certain changes in her life at this time? Are we able to adjust service expectations accordingly, with a view to keeping both mother and child safe and — ideally — together?

In such scenarios, it is critical that we shift our focus to the perpetrator of family violence and assess to what extent their actions are the root cause of many other issues someone who is pregnant and homeless may be experiencing. If the family violence risk from the perpetrator was removed, how might the health, wellbeing and safety of each woman and her baby be improved?

Fortunately, Victoria is starting to make this shift. The introduction of the family violence Multi Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) framework is supporting non-specialist family violence services who work with victim survivors of family violence to better assess the safety needs of both adult, child and adolescent victim survivors. The Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme (FVISS), Child Information Sharing Scheme (CISS) and rollout of the Central Information Point (CIP) all are enhancing services’ abilities to share risk-relevant information about perpetrators and victim survivors to better inform risk assessments, safety planning and holistic service delivery.

These reforms are still in the early days of implementation, and their full effect on outcomes for victim survivors, including women who are pregnant and homeless who have experienced family violence, is still yet to be felt. But they are also not enough on their own. Even when fully implemented, much will rely on the expertise and experience of individual practitioners to be able to utilise these tools effectively. It is, therefore, necessary that sectors are resourced to support their staff to use these tools and work collaboratively with other sectors to answer these critical questions through multiple practice lenses to get the best picture of what a client needs.

We also need housing.

Homelessness cannot be solved without housing. No woman should be forced to make the choice between putting herself and her children at risk of homelessness or continuing to experience family violence. We cannot reasonably expect anyone to address mental illness or substance abuse issues when they are homeless, managing a pregnancy and faced with the prospect of bringing a baby into the world without a safe place to live. We also need more crisis accommodation for young people who are independently fleeing family violence, either from an intimate partner or family of origin, to stop the intergenerational impact of family violence.

The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence very clearly found that children experience the effects of family violence prior to birth. Yet the service infrastructure and amount of safe, affordable, long‑term housing to support women who are pregnant and experiencing family violence and homelessness remains insufficient to address their needs. We are immensely pleased that attention is being drawn to this group of women and children and look forward to the ensuing conversation about what is needed and how to best support them.

Page last updated Wednesday, August 3 2022


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