A number of data sources can be utilised to estimate the incidence and prevalence of family, domestic and sexual violence, such as police, child protection agencies and housing and support services. However, measurement of the ‘size of the problem’ is problematic with administrative data due to the different pathways a reported offence may take through the civil or criminal justice system, and attrition in the numbers of incidents and prevalence counted at several points in a sequence of events.
Developing an accurate measure using administrative by-product data to indicate risk through the take up of services can prove challenging as an incident may come to the attention of more than one agency or service provider, so that a victim or perpetrator appears in more than one database in relation to the same incident. The services could be accessed either within a sector, such as through the use of multiple health service providers, or across sectors, such as when a perpetrator is dealt with by the criminal justice system and the civil justice system.
It is recognised that gaining a measure of the prevalence and effects of these risk enhancing or protecting attributes is complex, and identification of specific target groups that are at risk is difficult as family, domestic and sexual violence affects all cross-sections of society. Despite these difficulties, it remains important from a research and service provider perspective to maximise data about key groups to better target interventions, education programs and support services.
Victimisation surveys provide the most comprehensive measure of the prevalence of family, domestic and sexual violence. They can capture information about a victim’s past experiences regardless of whether they have reported the incident or incidents to police or other services. Some information about perpetrators can also be collected with this method. However, these surveys may be less useful in identifying the specific risk-enhancing or mitigating factors; instead case studies, which could inform this area, may be appropriate. Official surveys generally only ask questions about family, domestic and sexual violence of adults, and some are more comprehensive sources of information than others due to differences in sample and methodology.
Development of these data sources may result in a better understanding of risk, enabling the identification of risk factors that have the strongest correlation with family, domestic and sexual violence, and those which may have a lesser influence. An understanding of the interaction between risk factors would be useful in developing targeted prevention, intervention and support strategies.
A number of issues make it difficult to estimate the incidence and prevalence of family, domestic and sexual violence:
- under-reporting and under-recording;
- hidden-reporting and the effects of counting or recording rules;
- the amalgamation of multiple or serial victimisations in single statistics or records;
- the loss of information about offenders in victim-based records;
- timing of recording;
- false reporting;
- pathways of reported offences through the civil or criminal justice system;
- complexities in the way referrals to child protection for family, domestic and sexual violence-related incidents are made, resulting in double-counting where information is not shared between service providers;
- not being able to frame the assault as criminal – the victim may not understand that they are entitled to protection from sexual assault even when in a relationship with the perpetrator;
Potential units for analysis
- difficulties in linking data to see patterns in offending or escalations in violence;
- comparability between states and territories, across different data sources, and through the use of different recording rules; and
- a lack of data recording on specific risk factors.
‘Risk’ is primarily concerned with understanding the likelihood of involvement in family, domestic or sexual violence incidents.
The potential units of analysis are:
- people – victims and perpetrators; and
- incidents of family, domestic and sexual violence.
Investigations of risk can also focus upon particular sub-populations, such as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, or people with a disability, who may have different risk profiles, or be susceptible to multiple risk factors. Risk can also be measured at different levels of analysis, such as population level, community level, relationship level or individual level.
Questions to support research and policy priorities
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- How big is the problem of family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia?
- Does the size of the problem vary across different populations groups or communities?
- Does the risk or likelihood of being a victim/perpetrator of family and domestic violence increase or decrease significantly through engagement with services, programs and support?
- How likely is it that Australians will be a victim of family, domestic or sexual violence?
- How likely is it that Australians will be a repeat victim of family, domestic or sexual violence, and who is likely to experience repeat victimisation?
- How likely is it that Australians will commit family, domestic or sexual violence related offences?
- How likely is it that Australians will be a repeat offender of family, domestic or sexual violence, and who is likely to re-commit these offences?
- What are the characteristics of particular sub-populations that place them at more or less risk of family, domestic or sexual violence?
- Is there change over time?
- Are victims or perpetrators more likely to repeatedly form relationships that are characterised by violence?
- Are victims and witnesses of family and domestic violence more likely to become future victims or perpetrators?