DEFINITIONAL COMPLEXITIES OF FAMILY, DOMESTIC AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE
One of the key challenges in measuring family, domestic and sexual violence lies in the complexity of the behavioural acts, relationships and situations that can be considered.
Definitions of family, domestic and sexual violence are shaped by the context of enquiry and informed by the strategies, perspectives and agendas of individuals or organisations. Definitions may be based on, for example, specific legal, policy, service provider or research perspectives. The impact that definitions can have on the use, or role of data in regard to family and domestic violence is discussed in ‘The gender debate in domestic violence: The role of data’ (Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse (ADFVC), 2013). Similarly ‘The nature and extent of sexual assault and abuse in Australia’ discusses the effect that definitions of sexual assault and abuse can have on data and understandings of sexual violence in its broader form (Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault (ACSSA), 2012).
Defining the data challenge outlines these definitional complexities but does not seek to set a definition. Instead, it provides a common language for family, domestic and sexual violence by outlining the potential behaviours and relationships that should be considered when establishing a measurable definition. It recognises that the dynamics of sexual violence incidents can be different and occur in the context of a wider range of relationships, both known and unknown, between perpetrators and victims. The broad term ‘family, domestic and sexual violence’ is used in this publication as an umbrella term that encompasses all the potential behaviours and relationships outlined in Defining the data challenge. This is a combination of the terms ‘family violence’, ‘domestic violence’ and ‘sexual violence’ (Diagram 3).
From a statistical measurement perspective, some issues are specific to family and domestic events only, while others are relevant to sexual violence. Accordingly the term ‘family and domestic’ is used to encompass violence that occurs in a context where there is a particular kind of known relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. This can be narrowly defined (e.g. intimate partner violence) or broadly defined (e.g. people living in the same house). Sexual violence may, or may not, be a feature of a family and domestic violence event. Similarly, ‘sexual violence’ can be considered an umbrella term that includes all the behaviours that are outlined in Defining the data challenge. More specific terms such as ‘sexual assault’ and ‘sexual abuse’ are used verbatim when referring to existing data reports and data collections.
There are a number of challenges in measuring the extent of sexual violence in Australia. Sexual violence can include a broad range of behaviours; however, under an offence-based definition incidents of sexual violence are narrowly defined as sexual assault that are classified as criminal acts by law. As a result, a reported incident may not be considered to be ‘sexual assault at law’, and, consequently may not be recorded. Individual perceptions of what constitutes sexual violence can also result in a person not reporting an incident/event as sexual violence/assault. This can present problems in attempting to collect and classify information related to a person’s perception of the incident.
There are a range of organisations involved in the provision of services to those affected by family, domestic and sexual violence, and subsequent collection of information in this field (e.g. justice, health and human service organisations). Often the responses to those who have experienced family and domestic violence events differ from responses to those that have experienced sexual violence. These organisations tend to be independent entities and as such are not required to share or compare information across sectors or jurisdictions. Accordingly data collection is organisation specific and results in little commonality on data procedures and definitions.
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