4906.0.55.003 - Personal Safety Survey, Australia: User Guide, 2012  
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Contents >> Survey Content >> Survey Definitions

SURVEY DEFINITIONS

The 2012 PSS has maintained, where possible, the same concepts and definitions as used in the 2005 PSS and 1996 WSS.

In developing the concepts and definitions used in the WSS, the ABS was conscious that at the time there were generally no agreed or accepted standards for defining what constitutes violence. Assistance was sought from a specifically formed WSS Survey Advisory Group, which included members with legal and crime research backgrounds to determine the definitions of what constitutes violence and to describe related concepts. The definitions developed and used for the WSS were based on actions which would be considered offences under State and Territory criminal law. For example, physical violence was defined as the occurrence, attempt or threat of physical assault, where physical assault was the use of physical force with the intent to harm or frighten.

Given user requirements that, wherever possible, the data be comparable with the 2005 PSS and the 1996 WSS, these same definitions have been used for both the 2005 and the 2012 PSS. The retention of these definitions has been supported by the PSS Survey Advisory Groups convened for both the 2005 and 2012 PSS.

The Glossary provides detailed definitions for data items collected in the survey. A comprehensive list of data items and their response categories are available from the Downloads Tab.


DEFINITION OF VIOLENCE

For the purposes of this survey, 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. This is outlined in more detail below.

Consideration was given during the development of the 1996 WSS as to whether unwanted sexual touching and/or emotional abuse should be included in the definition of violence. It was decided to exclude them from the definition of violence because of the high degree of subjectivity associated with measuring these concepts, and because although some forms of unwanted sexual touching may in fact constitute a criminal offence, many would not. Unwanted sexual touching is collected in the survey under Sexual Harassment, for the definition of unwanted sexual touching, see the Glossary. The subsequent PSS have applied the same definitions to ensure comparability of data over time.

Each of these components of violence are defined as follows:

Physical assault involves the use of physical force with the intent to harm or frighten a person. Assaults may have occurred in conjunction with a robbery and includes incidents where a person was assaulted in their line of work (e.g. assaulted while working as a security guard). This includes being: pushed, grabbed or shoved; slapped; kicked, bitten or hit with a fist; hit with an object or something else that could hurt you; beaten; choked; stabbed; shot; or any other type of physical assault which involved the use of physical force with the intent to harm or frighten a person. Physical assault excludes incidents of sexual assault or threatened sexual assault which also involved physical assault, and excludes incidents that occurred during the course of play on a sporting field. Physical assault also excludes incidents of violence that occurred before the age of 15 - for the purposes of this survey, these are defined as Physical Abuse. If a person experienced physical assault and physical threat in the same incident, this was counted once only as a physical assault. If a person experienced sexual assault and physical assault in the same incident, this was counted once only as a sexual assault.

Physical threat
is an attempt to inflict physical harm or a threat or suggestion of intent to inflict physical harm, that was made face-to-face where the person believes it was able to and likely to be carried out. Physical threat includes incidents where a person was threatened in their line of work. It excludes: any incident of violence in which the threat was actually carried out and incidents which occurred during the course of play on a sporting field. If a person experienced sexual threat and physical threat in the same incident, this was counted once only as a sexual threat.

Physical Violence involves any incidents of Physical Assault and/or Physical Threat.

Sexual Assault
is an act of a sexual nature carried out against a person's will through the use of physical force, intimidation or coercion, and includes any attempts to do this. This includes rape, attempted rape, aggravated sexual assault (assault with a weapon), indecent assault, penetration by objects, forced sexual activity that did not end in penetration and attempts to force a person into sexual activity. Incidents so defined would be an offence under State and Territory criminal law. Sexual assault excludes unwanted sexual touching - for the purposes of this survey, this is defined as Sexual Harassment. Sexual assault also excludes incidents of violence that occurred before the age of 15 - for the purposes of this survey, these are defined as Sexual Abuse. If a person experienced sexual assault and sexual threat in the same incident, this was counted once only as a sexual assault. If an incident of sexual assault also involved physical assault or threats, this was counted once only as a sexual assault.

Sexual threat
involves the threat of acts of a sexual nature, that were made face-to-face where the person believes it is able to and likely to be carried out. If a person experienced sexual assault and sexual threat in the same incident, this was counted once only as a sexual assault.

Sexual Violence involves any incidents of Sexual Assault and/or Sexual Threat.


DEFINITION OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE BY A PARTNER

The definition of Emotional Abuse by a partner was reviewed during development of the 2012 PSS and has been expanded to include a more comprehensive suite of behaviours - refer to Appendix 1 for details of changes from 2005.

For the 2012 PSS, a person was considered to have experienced emotional abuse where they reported they had been subjected to or experienced one or more of the following behaviours by a partner since the age of 15:
  • Stopped or tried to stop them from contacting family, friends or community
  • Stopped or tried to stop them from using the telephone, Internet or family car
  • Monitored their whereabouts (e.g.. constant phone calls)
  • Controlled or tried to control where they went or who they saw
  • Stopped or tried to stop them knowing about or having access to household money
  • Stopped or tried to stop them from working or earning money
  • Stopped or tried to stop them from studying
  • Deprived them of basic needs such as food, shelter, sleep or assistive aids
  • Damaged, destroyed or stole any of their property
  • Constantly insulted them to make them feel ashamed, belittled or humiliated
  • Lied to their child/ren with the intent of turning them against them
  • Lied to other family members or friends with the intent of turning them against them
  • Threatened to take their child/ren away from them
  • Threatened to harm their child/ren
  • Threatened to harm other family members or friends
  • Threatened to harm any of their pets
  • Harmed any of their pets
  • Threatened or tried to commit suicide

Respondents were asked to consider whether the above behaviours were repeated with the intent to prevent or control their behaviour and were intended to cause emotional harm or fear.

Emotional abuse excluded:
  • Nagging - a respondent whose spouse nagged them was not defined as being emotionally abused unless the respondent perceived this behaviour caused them emotional harm or fear.
  • A respondent who has a substance abuse, gambling or compulsive shopping issue (etc), whose spouse restricted their access to money, the car, or the internet, are not defined as being emotionally abused unless the respondent perceived that these restrictions caused them emotional harm or fear.

Refer to the Glossary for more detailed descriptions and definitions for each of the behaviours.


DEFINITION OF PARTNER

The term 'partner' in the PSS is used to describe a person the respondent currently lives with, or lived with at some point, in a married or de facto relationship. Partner violence only refers to violence a respondent experienced from a person they currently live with, or lived with at some point, in an intimate relationship. Violence by a partner excludes violence experienced by persons in an intimate relationship which does not involve living together.

For the purposes of the PSS current and previous partner have been defined as follows:
  • Current partner: The person the respondent currently lives with in a married or de facto relationship.
  • 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; or a partner the respondent was no longer living with at the time of experiencing violence.

Partner violence
refers to any incident of sexual assault, sexual threat, physical assault or physical threat by a current and/or previous partner. This excludes emotional abuse by a partner. Respondents who had experienced emotional abuse by a current and/or previous partner were asked questions about that emotional abuse but unless they had also experienced violence by a current and/or previous partner, they were not asked the more detailed questions relating to partner violence.

Partner violence does not include violence by a "boyfriend/girlfriend or date". For the PSS a boyfriend/girlfriend or date refers to a person the respondent dated, or was intimately involved with but did not live with. This relationship may have different levels of commitment and involvement. For example, one date only, regular dating with no sexual involvement, or a serious sexual or emotional relationship. Refer to the Glossary.

Respondents who have experienced violence by a boyfriend/girlfriend or date were not asked the more detailed questions relating to partner violence. The partner violence questions focus on what happened when the respondent experienced violence while they were living with their partner and are not applicable or relevant to a boyfriend/girlfriend or date type relationship. In addition, the impacts of experiencing violence by someone who the respondent has lived with are different to the impact for those who experience violence from someone they have not lived with. Therefore a conscious decision was made to make the distinction between relationships that involved living together at some stage during the relationship (such as current or previous partner), and relationships that did not involve living together (such as boyfriend/girlfriend or date).


DEFINITION OF ABUSE BEFORE THE AGE OF 15

For the PSS the term 'abuse' refers to incidents of physical or sexual violence before the age of 15.
  • Sexual abuse is defined as 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.
  • Physical abuse is defined as 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.


DEFINITION OF STALKING

The definition of stalking is based on State and Territory legislation. It is defined by a range of activities which the person believed were undertaken with the intent to harm or frighten. Stalking involves various activities, such as loitering and following, which the person believed were being undertaken with the intent to harm or frighten. To be classified as experiencing an episode of stalking more than one type of behaviour had to occur, or the same type of activity had to occur on more than one occasion. The PSS measures whether someone has experienced stalking during their lifetime (ie stalking is not limited to experiences since the age of 15).

Stalking activities include:
  • Loitered or hung around outside person's home
  • Loitered or hung around outside person's workplace
  • Loitered or hung around outside person's place of leisure or social activities
  • Followed them - Note: if a person was watched and followed in the same incident and this only happened once, this is not defined as stalking
  • Watched them - Note: if a persons was watched and followed in the same incident and this only happened once, this is not defined as stalking
  • Interfered with or damaged any of the person's property
  • Gave them, or left material where they could find it, that they found offensive or disturbing - Includes anything that was intended to harm or frighten the respondent, for example, pornographic material, destroyed photographs, articles about murders, dead animals
  • Telephoned them, sent them mail or contacted them electronically with the intent to harm or frighten - ‘Contacted electronically’ includes contacting the respondent by SMS messages, emails, or placing information about them on a website, with the intent to harm or frighten them


DEFINITION OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Sexual harassment is considered to have occurred when a person has experienced or been subjected to behaviours which made them feel uncomfortable, and were offensive due to their sexual nature. The PSS measures whether someone has experienced sexual harassment during their lifetime (ie sexual harassment is not limited to experiences since the age of 15).

Sexual harassment includes the following behaviours:
  • Indecent phone calls - Includes someone leaving a sexually explicit message on voicemail or an answering machine. Does not include messages in which profanity was used, unless this was offensive due to its sexual content.
  • Indecent text, email or post - Includes electronic messages (such as text messages, SMS, MMS, posts on Facebook, emails, or other Internet messages), and written messages (such as letters delivered by mail or notes left where a person could find them). Does not include messages in which profanity was used, unless this was offensive due to its sexual content.
  • Indecent exposure - Is the act of exposing genitals for the purpose of distressing, shocking, humiliating and/or generating fear in a person.
  • Inappropriate comments - Includes inappropriate comments in a group situation as well as when the respondent is alone with the person who is harassing them, and sexual comments that are related to the respondent’s race, such as implying that people of a particular cultural group have certain sexual characteristics.
  • Unwanted touching, grabbing, kissing or fondling - Unwanted touching is momentary or brief touching or contact and includes groping or brushing against a breast or bottom. Anything that the respondent perceived to be more serious or longer than momentary would be defined as Sexual Assault.


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