4906.0.55.003 - Personal Safety Survey, Australia: User Guide, 2016  
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PARTNER EMOTIONAL ABUSE

POPULATION

Information regarding emotional abuse experienced since the age of 15 was obtained from men and women aged 18 years and over in the 2016 PSS who identified that they live with and/or had a previous partner that they lived with.

DEFINITION

Partner

The term 'partner' in this module is used to describe a person the respondent lives with, or lived with at some point, in a married or de facto relationship.

Current partner refers to a person the respondent currently lives with in a married or de facto relationship, at the time of the survey.

Previous partner refers to a person the respondent lived with at some point in a married or de facto relationship from whom they are now separated. This includes a partner the respondent was living with at the time of experiencing emotional abuse, or a partner the respondent was no longer living with at the time of experiencing emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse occurs when a person is subjected to certain behaviours or actions that are aimed at preventing or controlling their behaviour, causing 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. Details of more behaviours used to define emotional abuse in the PSS are outlined in the methodology section below.

Most recent emotionally abusive previous partner

Where a person had experienced emotional abuse by more than one previous partner, respondents were asked to focus on the most recent emotionally abusive previous partner when answering the more detailed questions about previous partner emotional abuse. This may or may not have been the same previous partner that was most recently violent, if the respondent had also experienced previous partner violence. In other words, the most recently violent previous partner and most recent emotionally abusive previous partner may be the same or different.

Emotional abuse by a previous partner includes abuse that occurred after the relationship ended.

METHODOLOGY

The Partner Emotional Abuse module is designed to establish whether the respondent has experienced any manipulative or controlling behaviours from their current partner and/or from a previous partner since the age of 15. The set of questions is asked separately for emotional abuse by a current partner and emotional abuse by a previous partner, with minor differences in questions asked (for example, questions about the final separation are only asked of previous partner).

For the 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:

  • Controlled or tried to control them from contacting family, friends or community
  • Controlled or tried to control them from using the telephone, internet or family car
  • Controlled or tried to control where they went or who they saw
  • Kept track of where they were and who they were with (e.g. monitoring social media, etc.)
  • Controlled or tried to control them from knowing, accessing or deciding about household money
  • Controlled or tried to control them from working or earning money
  • Controlled or tried to control their income or assets
  • Controlled or tried to control 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 (e.g. put-downs)
  • Shouted, yelled or verbally abused them to intimidate them
  • 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 their other family members or friends
  • Threatened to harm any of their pets
  • Harmed any of their pets
  • Threatened or tried to commit suicide

In order for behaviours experienced by the respondent to constitute ‘emotional abuse’, the behaviours need to have been:
  • Repeated, with the intent to prevent or control the respondent, and
  • Causing the respondent emotional harm or fear.

The definition of emotional abuse excludes:
  • Cases of nagging (e.g. about spending too much money on fishing gear, or going out with friends) unless this nagging causes them emotional harm or fear.
  • Cases where a spouse has restricted the respondent’s access to money, the car, or the internet as a result of the respondent’s substance abuse, gambling, or compulsive shopping issues unless the respondent perceives that these restrictions cause them emotional harm or fear.

DATA ITEMS

The data items and related output categories for this topic are contained within the Emotional Abuse tab in the data item list which is available in Excel spreadsheet format from the Downloads tab of this product. There are also a small set of Emotional Abuse aggregate items which can be located in the SPS Level – EMAB Aggregates tab, also in excel spreadsheet format from the downloads page.

DATA USES

Partner emotional abuse data can be used to examine:
  • The prevalence of partner emotional abuse.
  • The characteristics of emotional abuse by a current and previous partner, such as the types of emotionally abusive behaviours experienced, how often the emotional abuse was experienced, and whether anxiety or fear was experienced as a result.


Partner emotional abuse data cannot be used to examine:
  • The prevalence of emotional abuse by persons other than a partner the respondent lived with. For example, information about emotional abuse by a family member or an intimate partner that the respondent never lived with (e.g. boyfriend or girlfriend) is not collected in the PSS.
  • The characteristics of all previous partner emotional abuse, as detailed information is only collected for the most recently emotionally abusive previous partner. Respondents are, however, asked whether they experienced emotional abuse by more than one previous partner.
  • Partner emotional abuse data cannot be used to examine the characteristics of all previous partner emotional abuse, as detailed information is only collected for the most recently emotionally abusive previous partner. Respondents are, however, asked whether they experienced emotional abuse by more than one previous partner.

INTERPRETATION

Points to be considered when interpreting data for this topic include the following:
  • Whether or not the emotional abuse amounted to a criminal offence cannot be determined from the information collected.
  • The PSS only asks respondents about selected emotionally abusive behaviours, and therefore may not capture all forms of emotional abuse that exist.
  • The recognition and identification of any behaviour as emotionally abusive is based on the respondent’s subjective beliefs. Individual differences in thresholds for what constitutes manipulative/controlling/isolating/intimidating behaviour resulting in fear or emotional harm will affect how respondents answer these questions.
  • Where a person has experienced emotional abuse by both a current partner and a previous partner, they are counted separately for each type of partner but are counted only once in the aggregated total. Conceptually it is invalid to add together data about the characteristics for current and previous partner emotional abuse, as the characteristics of partner emotional abuse could differ depending on the type of partner. This would also double count all persons who have experienced emotional abuse by both a current and previous partner.
  • Experiencing emotional abuse by a previous partner does not necessarily imply that the abuse occurred after the relationship ended as it could have occurred both during and after the relationship ended. The term ‘previous partner’ is used as the respondent was no longer in a relationship or living with the person at the time of interview.
  • Previous partner emotional abuse relates to the most recently emotionally abusive previous partner, and is therefore not necessarily representative of all previous partner emotional abuse. Care should be taken in the way this data is interpreted and reported, and data users should refrain from generalising the findings to all previous partner emotional abuse.
  • In circumstances where respondents have difficulty answering questions about the frequency of behaviours, as this may have varied over time, they are instructed to determine how often the behaviours occurred overall.
  • Where respondents are asked whether the emotionally abusive partner ever assaulted or threatened to assault them (i.e. in cases where they identified previously that they had had more than one previous partner), the definition of assault/threat is left to the respondent’s interpretation, rather than applying the strict definitions from the Violence Prevalence module. As such, the reporting of experiences of previous partner violence in the Emotional Abuse module may not be replicated in the Violence Prevalence data or vice versa.

COMPARABILITY WITH PREVIOUS SURVEYS
  • Comparisons between the 1996 WSS and 2005 PSS, and the 2012 and 2016 PSS are limited to only current partner emotional abuse, as the earlier survey editions did not collect information about experiences of previous partner emotional abuse. Users should also remain mindful of the expanded definition of partner emotional abuse as new behaviours were added in each new edition of the survey.
  • There were some minor changes to the question wording in the 2016 PSS, however these do not impact on the overall comparability of 2016 data with previous surveys. The changes include:
    • Removing the word ‘intent’ from the initial question about whether the partner had caused the respondent emotional harm or fear (i.e. the respondent is asked whether they were caused emotional harm or fear, regardless of the intent of the partner).
    • The words ‘stopped or tried to stop’ in the behaviour descriptions were replaced with ‘controlled or tried to control.’
    • The words ‘monitored your whereabouts’ in the behaviour descriptions were replaced with ‘kept track of where you were and who you were with.’
    • Social media was added as an example of monitoring behaviour that can occur online.
  • In the 2012 PSS, if a respondent experienced emotional abuse by both a male and female previous partner, information was collected separately for both the most recently abusive male previous partner and the most recently abusive female previous partner. This was changed in the 2016 PSS, where information was collected only in relation to the most recently emotionally abusive previous partner overall. This has a negligible impact on comparability across the two surveys, as the number of respondents experiencing emotional abuse by both a male and female previous partner is very small.


COMPARISONS WITH OTHER CYCLES

1996 Women's Safety Survey2005 Personal Safety Survey2012 Personal Safety Survey2016 Personal Safety Survey

Population


Timeframe
Women aged 18 years and older


Experiences of current partner emotional abuse since the age of 15
Men and women aged 18 years and older

Experiences of current partner emotional abuse since the age of 15
Men and women aged 18 years and older

Experiences of current/previous male/previous female partner emotional abuse since the age of 15
Men and women aged 18 years and older

Experiences of current/previous partner emotional abuse since the age of 15
DefinitionManipulation, isolation or intimidation by a current male partner
Manipulation, isolation or intimidation by a current male partner. Includes a persistent behaviour that seeks to control the respondents behaviour and contact with others.Emotional abuse occurs when a person is subjected to certain behaviours or actions that are aimed at preventing or controlling their behaviour with the intent to cause them emotional harm or fear. these behaviours and 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.

Emotional abuse occurs when a person is subjected to certain behaviours or actions that are aimed at preventing or controlling their behaviour with the intent to cause them emotional harm or fear. these behaviours and 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.
Emotional abuse behaviours
  • Insulted with the intent to shame, belittle or humiliate
  • Damaged or destroyed property
  • Tried to prevent knowledge about or access to family money
  • Tried to prevent use of the telephone or car
  • Tried to prevent contact with family or friends
  • Threatened to harm children
  • Threatened to harm or harmed pets
  • Tried to prevent contact with family or friends
  • Tried to prevent use of the telephone or family car
  • Tried to prevent knowledge about or access to family money
  • Insulted with the intent to shame, belittle or humiliate
  • Threatened to harm children
  • Threatened to harm other family/friends
  • Damaged or destroyed property
  • Threatened to harm or harmed pets
  • Threatened suicide
  • 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 from 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, belittles or humiliated
  • Lied to their children 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 children
  • 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
    • Controlled or tried to control them from contacting family, friends or community
    • Controlled or tried to control them from using the telephone, internet, or family car
    • Controlled or tried to control where they went or who they saw
    • Kept track of where they were and who they were with (e.g. monitoring social media, etc.)
    • Controlled or tried to control them from knowing, accessing or deciding about household money
    • Controlled or tried to control them from working or earning money
    • Controlled or tried to control their income or assets
    • Controlled or tried to control 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 (e.g. put-downs)
    • Shouted, yelled or verbally abused them to intimidate them
    • 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 their other family members or friends
    • Threatened to harm any of their pets
    • Harmed any of their pets
    • Threatened or tried to commit suicide

    Comparability1996 data is limited to current male partner emotional abuse. As a result, only current male partner emotional abuse data from other years is comparable with 1996 data. Whilst the data is comparable, users should remain mindful of the expanded definition of emotional abuse as new behaviours were added in each new edition of the survey.2005 data is limited to current partner emotional abuse only. As a result, only current partner emotional abuse data from other years is comparable with 2005 data. Whilst the data is comparable, users should remain mindful of the expanded definition of emotional abuse as new behaviours were added in each new edition of the survey.2012 data is comparable with 1996 and 2005 data for current partner emotional abuse only, and 2016 data for both current partner and previous partner emotional abuse. Whilst the data is comparable, users should remain mindful of the expanded definition of emotional abuse as new behaviours were added in each new edition of the survey.2016 data is comparable with 1996 and 2005 data for current partner emotional abuse only, and 2012 data for both current partner and previous partner emotional abuse. Whilst the data is comparable, users should remain mindful of the expanded definition of emotional abuse as new behaviours were added in each new edition of the survey.