Personal Safety Survey and National Community Attitudes Survey Results 2023

Personal Safety Survey and National Community Attitudes Survey Results 2023

What have we learned and what do we still need to know?

Thursday 30 March 2023

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  • 1 in 4 women has experienced violence by an intimate partner or family member since the age of 15 
  • 1 in 4 women has experienced emotional abuse by a cohabiting partner, since the age of 15 
  • 1 in 5 women has experienced sexual violence, since the age of 15 

Source: Personal Safety Survey, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2023. 

Author: Marina Carman

In March this year, the reports on the latest rounds of two major national surveys about family and gendered violence were released. Safe and Equal’s Executive Director of Primary Prevention, Marina Carman, takes us through the results of both surveys, why they are important, and the data gaps that remain. 

  • The Personal Safety Survey (PSS) is conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It is based on earlier surveys focussed on women, but has been conducted population-wide in 2005, 2012, 2016 and in 2021-22. A total of 11,905 people completed the latest survey, drawn from a random sample of households. The survey includes people aged 18 and over, with questions about the nature and extent of violence experienced since the age of 15.  
  • The National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) is conducted by ANROWS. It began in 1987, and is conducted every four years. The 2021 survey included 19,100 people aged 16 and over, through a random selection of phone numbers. The survey includes questions about how participants understand violence against women, their attitudes towards it, what influences their attitudes, as well as attitudes to gender equality and preparedness to intervene. 

Both surveys are conducted periodically (every four years), and use roughly the same questions each time. So they give us a snapshot at particular points, and allow for tracking of broad societal level changes. These surveys are key sources of data to inform reporting against indicators in the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022-2032. 

Why is this important? 

Statistics can be a powerful way to convince people about a social problem, and particularly to argue for the prioritisation of government policy and investment. Numbers that quantify how many people experience family and gendered violence are critical for gaining attention and arguing the need for change. Meanwhile, numbers that tell us about attitudes towards violence are important in tracking progress in changing attitudes that drive violence, and helping us prevent it in the future. 

But numbers only tell part of the story. They give us a greater understanding of family and gendered violence, but we also need to understand how best to use them, and their limitations as well. 

When using and quoting statistics, the best available data will be the most ‘representative’ data. The most representative data is population-level data – and it is expensive and time-consuming to collect and analyse – so it’s extremely valuable. 

What do we know from the PSS? 

In the 2023 release, many measures of experiences of violence against women were stable, but levels of violence by cohabiting partners and sexual harassment were down. The survey was completed during the pandemic when many people were either locked down or working more from home. 

The sample size is significantly smaller (11,905 down from 21,250 in 2016). The ABS notes on methodology suggest that this was due to resource issues and additional requirements introduced to keep participants safe (private interviews). But the sample is still large and representative. 

Any changes downward in prevalence are good but reported levels of violence against women are still high. In addition, other research and data have suggested an increase in family and gender-based violence during the pandemic, so it is currently unclear what these results mean in terms of trends over time. In any case, we need sustained action to drive change home over the long-term. 

What do we know from the NCAS? 

Results from the 2021 survey of the NCAS show that understanding and attitudes regarding violence against women and gender inequality have improved slowly but significantly over time. Improvements in understanding of violence against women and rejection of gender inequality are closely related to rejection of violence against women, though the latter has improved more slowly. 

Attitudinal rejection of sexual violence improved, and there was higher recognition of some forms of technology-facilitated abuse, stalking and behaviours that constitute coercive control. However, rejection of domestic violence has remained unchanged since 2017, and participants were more likely to recognise domestic violence than to understand that it is disproportionately perpetrated by men against women.  

In the latest survey, compared to previous ones, significantly fewer respondents recognised that men are more likely to commit domestic violence and that women are more likely to experience physical harm from domestic violence. This is a key finding in informing the targeting of future messages and interventions. 

While most respondents reported attitudes that reject gender inequality, less progress has been made with certain attitudes held by a minority (i.e. attitudes that undermine women’s leadership, reinforce rigid gender roles in specific areas, limit women’s personal autonomy, normalise sexism and deny that gender inequality is a problem). Similarly, some attitudes that condone violence against women were more likely to be reported by a minority of respondents (i.e. attitudes that minimise the seriousness of violence, shift blame onto victims and survivors, mistrust women’s reports of violence, objectify women and disregard consent). 

Women and non-binary people had higher understanding and rejection of violence against women and rejection of gender inequality than men. Other demographic factors were also examined and there were differences in responses according to gender, age, sexuality, country of birth, formal education, employment, etc. However, the contribution of demographic factors wasn’t found to be the most important thing predicting or shaping the results. 

The NCAS report outlines a detailed set of implications, many of which support the need for primary prevention initiatives aimed at reinforcing the gendered nature of violence, addressing backlash and resistance, and adopting a ‘gender-transformative’ approach to target gender norms and other drivers of violence. The NCAS is particularly useful in providing details about specific attitudes that are slower to change, and where intervention is particularly needed. 

What do we still need to know? 

The PSS doesn’t tell us enough about the experiences of a range of communities. 

  • Household sampling and telephone interviews can limit the inclusion of people without a fixed address or in care settings. 
  • Some communities may be less likely to be fully open about sensitive issues if being interviewed, compared to an anonymous survey (e.g. LGBTIQ+ communities). 
  • This was the first time the PSS asked about sexual orientation. It didn’t ask about gender diversity. It also doesn’t provide reporting of results disaggregated (separated out) by any other demographic factor other than gender. 

In the 2021 NCAS a number of improvements were made, compared to previous surveys: 

  • The survey implemented the 2020 ABS Standard for Sex, Gender, Variations of Sex Characteristics and Sexual Orientation Variables, and provided data from non-binary and gender diverse participants for the first time. 
  • It also introduced new questions about recognition of particular forms of violence targeted at people because of their migrant or disability status, gender experience, sexuality or religion. 
  • Separate reports will be released detailing results from participants by age, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants and people born in a ‘non-main English-speaking country’. 

These population-level surveys are really important – and while they can always be improved – they can’t ask and answer all questions. Surveys can tell us who experiences violence and by whom, what sort of violence and when, as well as how people think about violence at a point in time. But they can’t tell us everything – especially why or what works to change this. We have an evidence base that addresses these questions, and we need a broad and inclusive national research agenda to fill in gaps and build on this further to inform our efforts. 

How do we use statistics? 

Quoting statistics can be powerful. But it needs to be done carefully, so we’re properly acknowledging sources and representing the findings accurately. Overusing or relying too heavily on statistics can also present a negative picture, and this can make the current situation seem inevitable and even accidentally reinforce the ideas we are trying to change.  

To shift people towards change, statistics about violence need to be placed within a story that starts with a positive vision for the future, explains what drives violence against women and other forms of family and gendered violence, and ends with suggestions for action and practical solutions everyone can get behind.  

For more on statistics you can use in your work, see: 

Author: Marina Carman 


With the Safe and Equal monthly bulletin

Latest Personal Safety Survey shows family violence remains a critical issue for Australians

Latest Personal Safety Survey shows family violence remains a critical issue for Australians

Tuesday 21 March 2023

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Safe and Equal welcomes the release of the fourth Personal Safety Survey, which shows Australia still has a long way to go to end family violence with one in four women reporting they have experienced violence from an intimate partner or family member.

The Personal Safety Survey is administered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics every four years and collects detailed information about Australians’ experiences of violence.  

The survey is a critical measure of the prevalence of family and gender-based violence in Australia and contributes to a bigger picture of what these experiences look like. 

By providing key insights into the prevalence of family violence and sexual assault, the Personal Safety Survey plays a crucial role in shaping policy and service approaches to addressing these significant community issues.  

“It allows us to see where and how progress is being made and how experiences of violence change over time,” said Safe and Equal’s Executive Director for Policy, Communications and Engagement Louise Simms. 

The survey provides a benchmark from which goals and targets can be set – including in Australia’s National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children, which relies on this data to help measure indicators of change. 

The most recent survey captured responses from 11,905 adults between March 2021 and May 2022.  This includes experiences of current and previous intimate partner violence, emotional abuse, physical and sexual abuse, stalking, and, for the first time, economic abuse.  

Key findings indicate that since the age of 15 years old: 

  • One in three women (3.1 million) has experienced physical violence 
  • One in five women (2.2 million) has experienced sexual violence 
  • One in four women has experienced intimate partner violence 
  • One in five women has experienced stalking 
  • One in four women has experienced emotional abuse by a cohabiting partner 
  • One in six women has experienced economic abuse 

The survey also shows that an estimated 2.6 million people aged 18 years and over witnessed violence towards a parent or partner before the age of 15. 

While the data shows a decline in some forms of violence and abuse, concerningly rates of physical and sexual violence have largely remained the same since the 2016 survey. 

“While any decrease in the prevalence of family violence is a good thing, we also need to recognise that this data, while crucial, is only part of the picture,” said Ms Simms. 

The Personal Safety Survey does not currently capture information about gender diversity, nor does it provide reporting of results separated out by any other demographic factor other than gender. This means we are unable to provide a deeper analysis of violence against women according to ethnic identity, country of origin, cultural or linguistic background, migration status, or religion. The survey also does not capture specific data on the experiences of First Nations people, LGBTIQA+ people or people with disability. 

Additionally, the data was captured during the pandemic, which may have had an impact on the results that may not be reflected long-term. 

“It’s important to keep this in mind when contextualising this data, as the impacts from COVID-19 may have influenced temporary changes that may not last in the long-run – only time will tell,” said Ms Simms. 

“We saw that during the pandemic, demand for specialist family violence services skyrocketed – and this has not decreased. Services are also grappling with increases in the complexity and severity of violence victim survivors are experiencing.” 

The data helps us to see that across Australia, we still have a long way to go to eliminating family and gender-based violence.  

An integral part of working towards this is to ensure specialist services are adequately funded so they can continue doing the critical work of supporting victim survivors. 

“Under current funding models, services are finding themselves stretched to their limits,” said Ms Simms. 

“Without sustained and ongoing investment, services are unable to respond to the increasing number of women and children who need support.” 

“Family violence, in all its forms, is entirely preventable. But we’ll never get there without continued investment and prioritisation from governments, including support for prevention initiatives that challenge the very community attitudes that drive this violence in the first place.” 

Media contact:

Louise Simms
0450 081 547

Page last updated Tuesday, March 21 2023


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Safe and Equal urgently requests continued funding for the Equal Remuneration Order

Safe and Equal urgently requests continued funding for the Equal Remuneration Order

Thursday 9 March 2023

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Peak body Safe and Equal, on behalf of the Victorian specialist family violence sector, has today written to Ministers asking them not to cut critical funding which is due to expire in June.

This funding is crucial to enabling community services, including specialist family violence services, to adequately pay their workforces and support people escaping violence and abuse.

In Victoria, the Commonwealth’s decision not to continue Equal Remuneration Order (ERO) funding in 2023-24 will result in a $23.6 million cut to Victorian housing, homelessness and specialist family violence services. Victorian family violence services stand to lose approximately $2 million, which will have a significant impact on the sector’s capacity to support victim survivors.

“Demand for family violence services is at an all-time high, people experiencing abuse are facing complex barriers to accessing support, and the people working in these services are still facing significant burnout and fatigue on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Safe and Equal’s Executive Director of Policy, Communications and Engagement, Louise Simms.

“Reducing our capacity further will only exacerbate the high levels of stress and risk our workforce is under and we’ll see even more people forced to leave the sector.”

The Commonwealth’s decision to cut funding is at odds with the vision that it set out in the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022-2032, as a further reduction in capacity within the family violence sector ultimately negatively affects victim survivors of family violence.

“Our members already report holding extensive waitlists and are forced to exit clients sooner than safe, good practice would warrant, to make room for more people who are desperately waiting for a service,” said Ms Simms.

Extended wait times put victim survivors at increased risk of violence. Family violence can escalate quickly and these demand-management practices can lead to clients losing access to supports while they are still experiencing some level of risk – certainly, well before they are on a path to long-term recovery. This only increases the likelihood that they will require support again in the future.

The effects these cuts will have on the homelessness sector more broadly will further negatively impact victim survivors, as many people escaping family violence end up needing access to safe and affordable housing.

“We know that the homelessness sector is also under immense pressure at a time when housing costs and the costs of living are driving more people into homelessness and poverty. This funding cut will exacerbate homelessness among victim survivors of family violence, predominately women and children,” said Ms Simms.

The ERO was put in place to mitigate the gendered pay disparity experienced by female dominated, underpaid workforces in the community services sector, and particularly the specialist family violence sector. Cutting ERO funding directly undermines its original intention and will further disadvantage working women.

Safe and Equal is calling for a commitment to continue ERO supplementation for another year. This funding is critical for our sector and, most importantly, the people we support to be safe.


Media contact:

Louise Simms
0450 081 547

Page last updated Thursday, March 9 2023


With the Safe and Equal monthly bulletin

Family Law Council Consultation Submission Summary

Family Law Council Consultation Submission Summary

9 March 2023

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Safe and Equal recently responded to an online Family Law Council consultation on the experiences of children and young people moving thorough the Australian family law system.

The Family Law Council consultation sought to understand:

  1. The extent to which the family law system upholds the rights of children and young people under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  2. Whether or not particular parts of the family law system manage the participation of children and young people effectively.
  3. What, if any, changes would improve the way the family law system upholds the rights of children and young people.

Safe and Equal’s response was informed by consultation with member organisations, particularly Djirra, to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-specific issues were included. The points raised in our response reflect both Safe and Equal and Djirra’s concerns about the family law system, as well as those of other member organisations and stakeholders.

Based on feedback from victim survivors, our member services and other allied organisations, Safe and Equal does not believe that the Australian family law system meets its obligations and upholds the rights of children and young people under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Australian family law system does not provide space and mechanisms for children’s voices to be heard and considered in decision making processes.

The prevalence of family violence in family court proceedings has a major impact on children. Children and young people are victim survivors of family violence in their own right and can experience family violence directly or indirectly. Family law processes and decisions that expose children to a perpetrator of family violence, even if the violence has not been directly perpetrated against them, can have devastating impacts for children and their welfare. Therefore, decisions made about a child’s future must be safe and based upon family violence expertise and should afford substantially more weight to the wishes and feelings of children than current practice.

Page last updated Thursday, March 9 2023


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‘Cracking the code’ to end family and gender-based violence

‘Cracking the code’ to end family and gender-based violence

Wednesday 8 March 2023

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This day and every day, we all deserve to feel safe, included and equal.  

This International Women’s Day, we are moving beyond morning teas to spotlight the work going on across the year to bring the gendered issues that women experience to light.  

Organisations from across Victoria are working hard to build a birds-eye view of the challenges facing both people experiencing violence and the services that support them. By building evidence and our understanding, we can find and promote inclusive, sustainable solutions to modern issues and build a safe and equal future for all. 

Today we want to spotlight some of the research being done in Victoria to ‘crack the code’ to end family and gender-based violence: 

This is the work going on across the state. On an individual level, there are ways that we can help to build the bigger picture for our community and workplace decision-makers: 

  • Leveraging the research above to inform conversations and outcomes in your workplace 
  • Funding organisations to continue this important work  
  • Ensuring that emerging research captures diverse experiences 

Learn more and get involved with UN Women Australia’s #IWD2023 campaign here: 


With the Safe and Equal monthly bulletin