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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2014  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/06/2014  Final
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EMOTIONAL ABUSE


CONTENTS
- Introduction
- What is emotional abuse?
- How many people have experienced emotional abuse by a partner?
- Types of emotional abuse behaviour experienced
- How often was emotional abuse experienced?
- Fear and anxiety due to emotional abuse
- Experience of violence and emotional abuse by a current partner
- Experience of physical and/or sexual abuse before age 15
- Looking ahead

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
- Current partner violence and emotional abuse
- Emotional abuse against children

EXPLANATORY INFORMATION
- Data sources and definitions
- Endnotes

Related terms

Emotional abuse, partner violence, sexual abuse, physical abuse, relationships, controlling behaviour, threatening behaviour, domestic violence, non-physical violence

INTRODUCTION

When people think about domestic violence occurring within couple relationships, they often think about physical or sexual violence. Emotional abuse is a non-physical form of violence that can have devastating and long lasting effects on those who experience it.1 Emotional abuse can cover a wide range of behaviours or actions aimed at intimidating, controlling, isolating or manipulating a person.

Recent amendments to the Family Law Act 1975,2 in particular the inclusion of emotional abuse within family violence, recognises the harm that emotional abuse can cause within a family, and allows more to be done to protect children and other family members within the family law system.

This article focuses on people aged 18 years or over and their experience of emotional abuse by a current or previous partner since the age of 15.

What is emotional abuse?

In the 2012 ABS Personal Safety Survey (PSS) and this article, emotional abuse is defined as abuse that occurs when a person is subjected to behaviours or actions (often repeatedly) aimed at preventing or controlling their behaviour, with the intent to cause them emotional harm or fear through manipulation, isolation or intimidation.

Some examples of emotionally abusive behaviours include:
  • stopping or trying to stop their partner from contacting or seeing family or friends
  • constant insults aimed at making their partner feel ashamed, belittled or humiliated
  • monitoring their partner's whereabouts
  • lying to their child/children with the intent of turning them against their partner
  • controlling their partner's access to employment, study or household money
  • depriving their partner of their basic needs such as food or sleep
  • threats of harm against themselves or others.

There are also other forms of emotional abuse. For more information see the Data sources and definitions.


HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE EXPERIENCED EMOTIONAL ABUSE BY A PARTNER?

The 2012 PSS found that overall, women were more likely to have experienced emotional abuse by a partner than men, with one in four (25%) women and one in seven (14%) men having experienced emotional abuse by a partner since the age of 15 (2.1 million women and 1.2 million men).

PERCENTAGE WHO EXPERIENCED EMOTIONAL ABUSE BY A PARTNER(a)(b), BY SEX


(a) Emotional abuse by a partner since the age of 15.
(b) Includes both same-sex and opposite-sex partners.
Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey, 2012
Current and previous partners

A person may have experienced emotional abuse by a current partner of either sex, a previous partner of the opposite sex, a previous partner of the same sex, or all of these. In the 2012 PSS, 4.5% of women and 2.9% of men had experienced emotional abuse by their current partner. Around one in five women (23%) and men (21%) who had experienced emotional abuse by their current partner had also experienced emotional abuse by a previous partner.

One in five (21%) women and one in eight (12%) men had experienced emotional abuse by a previous partner. Of those who had experienced emotional abuse by a previous partner, 15% of women and 14% of men had experienced emotional abuse by more than one previous partner.

Information presented below relating to current partners includes partners of both sexes. Information presented below relating to previous partners is restricted to experiences of emotional abuse by previous partners of the opposite sex. Information on previous partners of the same sex is available, but not enough for a detailed discussion in the remainder of this article. For more information see the Data sources and definitions.
TYPES OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE BEHAVIOUR EXPERIENCED

Adults may experience one or more different types of emotional abuse behaviour from their partner, and this can differ between women and men.

Current partner

Of the 392,000 women who had experienced emotional abuse by their current partner, almost half (46%) reported that they were constantly insulted to make them feel ashamed, belittled or humiliated. In contrast, around a quarter (27%) of the 248,000 men who had experienced emotional abuse from their current partner had experienced constant insults.

Both women and men who had been emotionally abused by their current partner commonly reported that their partner had controlled or tried to control where they went or who they saw (34% and 41%, respectively), or monitored their whereabouts (25% and 28%, respectively). A similar proportion of women and men also reported that their current partner had stopped or tried to stop them from contacting family, friends or their community (17% and 23%, respectively).

Men who had experienced emotional abuse by their current partner were more likely than women to report that their partner had threatened to take their children away (16% compared with 7%).

TYPES OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE BEHAVIOURS(a)(b) EXPERIENCED BY CURRENT PARTNER(c), BY SEX


(a) Emotional abuse by a current partner since the age of 15.
(b) Not all types of emotional abuse behaviour shown.
(c) Respondents may have reported more than one type of emotional abuse behaviour.
Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey, 2012
Previous partner

Over two thirds (69%) of the 1.8 million women who had experienced emotional abuse by a previous partner of the opposite sex had been constantly insulted to make them feel ashamed, belittled or humiliated. In contrast, less than half (38%) of the 1 million men who had experienced emotional abuse by a previous partner had experienced constant insults from their partner.

Controlling behaviour

Of those who had experienced emotional abuse by a previous partner, women were more likely than men to experience certain emotionally abusive behaviours, including: their previous partner had controlled or tried to control where they went or who they saw (59% compared with 44%), and stopped or tried to stop them from contacting family, friends, or their community (45% compared with 34%).

A similar proportion of both women and men who had experienced emotional abuse from their previous partner said their partner had monitored their whereabouts (48% and 43%, respectively), lied to family (not including children) or friends with the intent of turning them against their partner (40% and 43%, respectively), and damaged, destroyed or stole their property (42% and 38%, respectively).

Women who had experienced emotional abuse from a previous partner were less likely than men to report that their previous partner had lied to their children with the intent of turning their children against them (29% compared with 38%).

Threatening behaviour

Of those who had experienced emotional abuse from a previous partner, women were more likely than men to have received threats of harm to friends and loved ones. In particular, women were around three times more likely than men to report that their previous partner had threatened to harm: their family or friends (18% compared with 6%), their child or children (15% compared with 6%), or their pets (13% compared with 4%). Around one in twelve (8%) women who had been emotionally abused by their previous partner reported that their pets had been harmed.

A similar proportion of both women and men reported that their previous partner had threatened to take their child or children away from them (27% and 30%, respectively).

TYPES OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE BEHAVIOURS(a)(b) EXPERIENCED BY PREVIOUS PARTNER(c), BY SEX


(a) Emotional abuse by a previous opposite-sex partner since age 15. Behaviours refer to most recent emotionally abusive previous partner.
(b) Not all types of emotional abuse behaviour shown.
(c) Respondents may have reported more than one type of emotional abuse behaviour.
(d) Does not include child/ren.
Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey, 2012
HOW OFTEN WAS EMOTIONAL ABUSE EXPERIENCED?

Current partner

For women and men who had experienced emotional abuse by their current partner, the frequency of emotional abuse was found to be similar. Both women and men most commonly reported that they experienced emotional abuse from their current partner a little of the time (37% and 42% respectively).

FREQUENCY OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE BY CURRENT PARTNER(a), BY SEX


(a) Emotional abuse by a current partner since the age of 15.
(b) Estimates of men who experienced emotional abuse by a current partner were less accurate and should be treated with caution.
Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey, 2012

Previous partner

While there was little difference in the frequency of emotional abuse experiences between women and men with their current partner, there was a difference for those who reported that a previous partner had been emotionally abusive.

Almost half (47%) of women who had experienced emotional abuse by a previous partner of the opposite sex reported that the emotional abuse occurred all or most of the time. In contrast, a third (34%) of men who had experienced emotional abuse by a previous partner said the abuse occurred all or most of the time.

FREQUENCY OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE BY PREVIOUS PARTNER(a)(b), BY SEX


(a) Emotional abuse by a previous opposite-sex partner since age 15.
(b) Most recent emotionally abusive previous partner.
Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey, 2012

FEAR AND ANXIETY DUE TO EMOTIONAL ABUSE

While both women and men reported emotional abuse by a partner, women were more likely to experience fear and/or anxiety as a result of the emotional abuse.

Current partner

Almost two thirds (63%) of women who had experienced emotional abuse by their current partner experienced fear and/or anxiety due to the emotional abuse. In contrast, less than half (43%) of men who had experienced emotional abuse by their current partner experienced fear and/or anxiety as a result of such abuse.

PERCENTAGE WHO EXPERIENCED FEAR AND/OR ANXIETY DUE TO CURRENT PARTNER EMOTIONAL ABUSE(a),
BY SEX


(a) Emotional abuse by a current partner since the age of 15.
Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey, 2012

Previous partner

Of women who had experienced emotional abuse by a previous partner of the opposite sex, three quarters (76%) reported feelings of fear and/or anxiety associated with the abuse. In contrast, less than half (46%) of men had experienced fear and/or anxiety as a result of the emotional abuse.

PERCENTAGE WHO EXPERIENCED FEAR AND/OR ANXIETY DUE TO PREVIOUS PARTNER EMOTIONAL ABUSE(a)(b), BY SEX


(a) Emotional abuse by a previous opposite-sex partner since age 15.
(b) Most recent emotionally abusive previous partner.
Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey, 2012

EXPERIENCE OF VIOLENCE AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE BY A CURRENT PARTNER

Emotional abuse can occur in relationships without the presence of any violence, however violence by a current partner was more common when emotional abuse was present.

Around a third (33%) of the 392,000 women who had experienced emotional abuse by their current partner had also experienced violence (physical and/or sexual) by them. Around one in five (18%) of the 248,000 men who had experienced emotional abuse by their current partner had also experienced violence by them.

In contrast, of those who had never experienced emotional abuse by their current partner, just 2.1% of women and 1.4% of men had experienced violence by their current partner.

EXPERIENCE OF CURRENT PARTNER VIOLENCE(a) BY EMOTIONAL ABUSE EXPERIENCE(b), BY SEX


(a) Physical and/or sexual violence by a current partner since the age of 15.
(b) Emotional abuse by a current partner since the age of 15.
Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey, 2012
EXPERIENCE OF PHYSICAL AND/OR SEXUAL ABUSE BEFORE AGE 15

Current partner

Those who had experienced emotional abuse by their current partner were more likely to have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse before the age of 15 than those who had not experienced emotional abuse by their current partner.

Of those who had experienced emotional abuse by their current partner, over a third (37%) of women and a quarter (25%) of men had also experienced physical and/or sexual abuse before the age of 15. This was twice as high as for those who had not experienced emotional abuse by their current partner (18% of women and 12% of men).

EXPERIENCE OF ABUSE BEFORE AGE 15(a), BY CURRENT PARTNER EMOTIONAL ABUSE EXPERIENCE(b), BY SEX


(a) Includes physical and/or sexual abuse.
(b) Emotional abuse by a current partner since age 15.
Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey, 2012
Previous partner

Over a third (36%) of women and over a quarter (28%) of men who had experienced emotional abuse by their previous partner had experienced physical and/or sexual abuse before the age of 15. This was more than twice as high as for those who had not experienced emotional abuse by a previous partner (15% of women and 10% of men).

EXPERIENCE OF ABUSE BEFORE AGE 15(a), BY PREVIOUS PARTNER EMOTIONAL ABUSE EXPERIENCE(b), BY SEX


(a) Includes physical and/or sexual abuse.
(b) Emotional abuse by a previous opposite-sex partner since age 15.
Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey, 2012
LOOKING AHEAD

While there has been a considerable amount of research into the prevalence and impact of physical and sexual violence in couple relationships, it is only in recent years that emotional abuse has been recognised as a damaging element of family violence.1 The 2012 Personal Safety Survey was the first of its kind in Australia to collect detailed information about emotional abuse behaviour and its prevalence within partner relationships.

Further work is currently underway to better understand the prevalence and incidence of emotional abuse in the context of family and domestic violence. The ABS is working with a range of agencies and service providers as part of The National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children to establish a statistical framework for the measurement of family, domestic and sexual violence, which includes measures of emotional abuse. More information about this work can be found in Defining the Data Challenge for Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence, 2013 (cat. no. 4529.0).
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

CURRENT PARTNER VIOLENCE AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE

Where people had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their current partner, they were more likely to experience emotional abuse. In the 2012 PSS, 2.7% of women and 1.4% of men had experienced violence (physical and/or sexual) by their current partner since age 15.

Over half (55%) of women, and over a third (37%) of men who had experienced violence by their current partner since age 15 had also experienced emotional abuse by their partner. In contrast, 3.1% of women and 2.4% of men who had not experienced violence by their current partner had experienced emotional abuse by them.

EXPERIENCE OF CURRENT PARTNER EMOTIONAL ABUSE(a), BY CURRENT PARTNER VIOLENCE EXPERIENCE(b), BY SEX


(a) Emotional abuse by a current partner since age 15.
(b) Physical and/or sexual violence by a current partner since age 15.
Source: ABS Personal Safety Survey, 2012


EMOTIONAL ABUSE AGAINST CHILDREN

It is difficult to get an accurate picture of the extent of emotional abuse against children in Australia. Child protection statistics provide the number of notifications, investigations and substantiations of abuse, including emotional abuse, neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse. The data is limited to only those who come into contact with children's services agencies, and does not give a prevalence rate of abuse against children across the community.3

In 2011-12, there were 17,600 substantiated claims of emotional abuse against children aged 0-17, making emotional abuse the most common form of substantiated abuse claims against children in Australia, followed by neglect (15,000), physical abuse (9,900) and sexual abuse (5,800).4 Emotionally abusive behaviours against children include verbal abuse, terrorising, isolating, ignoring and rejecting. It may also include exposure to domestic violence.3 For more information about child protection statistics, their definitions and limitations, see AIHW, 2013.


EXPLANATORY INFORMATION

DATA SOURCES AND DEFINITIONS

This article uses data and definitions from the ABS Personal Safety Survey (PSS), conducted between February and December, 2012.

The scope of the survey was persons aged 18 years and over in private dwellings across Australia. People living in non-private dwellings, such as prisons, aged care facilities and other health facilities were excluded. Both urban and rural areas in all States and Territories were included in the survey, except for very remote areas of Australia and Discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities.

Anxiety is defined as distress or uneasiness of mind resulting from apprehension of danger or misfortune. The anxiety or worry may be accompanied by restlessness or feeling 'on edge', difficulty concentrating or mind going blank, irritability, muscle tension or sleep disturbance.

Fear includes fear of reprisals or the recurrence of a similar incident by either the perpetrator or another person.

Violence is defined as any incident involving the occurrence, attempt or threat of either physical or sexual assault experienced by a person since the age of 15.

Current partner: The person the respondent currently lives with in a married or de facto relationship. Current partner includes both male and female partners.

Previous partner: A person the respondent lived with at some point in a married or de facto relationship from whom the respondent is now separated. Includes
  • a partner the respondent was living with at the time of experiencing violence
  • a partner the respondent was no longer living with at the time of experiencing violence.
It is possible that a person may have experienced emotional abuse by both a current and a previous partner, or by both a male and female previous partner. Where a person has experienced emotional abuse by more than one type of partner, they are counted separately for each type of partner but are only counted once in the aggregate totals.

Where a person had experienced emotional abuse by more than one previous male or female partner, the information relates to the previous male or female partner who had most recently emotionally abused them.

Detailed information on emotional abuse by previous partners must be split by the sex of the previous partner. Due to relatively small numbers of people reporting emotional abuse by a previous partner of the same sex, apart from the section 'How many people have experienced emotional abuse by a partner', previous partner refers to the previous opposite-sex partner.

Types of behaviours: A person was considered to have experienced emotional abuse where they reported they had been subjected to or experienced one or more behaviours that were aimed at preventing or controlling their behaviour with the intent to cause 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, economic and verbal abuse. Respondents were able to report more than one type of behaviour. It is possible that people may have experienced other behaviours not included in this list that may be considered emotionally abusive. For a detailed list of the behaviours included see ABS Personal Safety Survey, Australia, 2012.

In the 2012 PSS, threats of violence were included as a type of violence, rather than as a type of emotional abuse. For more information, see ABS Personal Safety Survey, Australia, 2012.

Frequency of emotional abuse by a partner relates to emotional abuse by a current and/or previous partner. If the frequency of emotional abuse changed, for example, depending on the time of the year, then the person was asked to determine how often the abuse occurred overall. If the respondent reported emotional abuse by more than one previous partner, this relates to their most recently emotionally abusive previous partner.

Violence is defined as any incident involving the occurrence, attempt or threat of either physical or sexual assault experienced by a person since the age of 15.

Physical and sexual abuse before the age of 15: The 2012 PSS collected information about whether a person had experienced physical or sexual abuse from any adult (male or female), including their parents before the age of 15. Physical abuse includes any deliberate physical injury (including bruises) inflicted upon a child (before the age of 15 years) by an adult. Discipline that accidentally resulted in an injury is excluded. Sexual abuse includes any act by an adult involving a child (before the age of 15 years) in sexual activity beyond their understanding or contrary to currently accepted community standards. A small number of people refused to answer whether or not they had experienced physical or sexual abuse before the age of 15. These people were included in the total but excluded from other analysis.


ENDNOTES

1. Henning, K & Klesges, LM 2003, ‘Prevalence and characteristics of psychological abuse reported by court-involved battered women’, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 18, pp. 857-871.
2. The definition of 'family violence' in the Family Law Act, 1975, was updated in 2012 to recognise that family violence can take many forms including physical, psychological and emotional. This new definition may differ somewhat from the definition of emotional abuse as used in the PSS. For more information see www.ag.gov.au/familyviolenceact.
3. Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), 2013, Child abuse and neglect statistics. Last viewed 29 May 2014, <www.aifs.gov.au>.
4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2013, Child protection Australia: 2011-12. Child Welfare series no. 55. Cat. no. CWS 43. Canberra: AIHW. Last viewed 29 May 2014, <www.aihw.gov.au>.

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