Women's Safety Survey

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    Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

    The first Women's Safety Survey (WSS) was conducted from February to April 1996. Information was collected from approximately 6,300 women aged 18 and over about their safety at home and in the community. In particular, information was collected about women's experiences of physical and sexual violence, the nature of the violence, the actions women took after experiencing violence and the effect on their life. Additional information was collected about incidents of stalking and other forms of harassment.

    The survey was conducted after calls from national bodies, policy makers, researchers and service providers for comprehensive national data on the extent of violence against women. The WSS was designed to provide information which will assist in the development and evaluation of policies and programs related to women's experience of violence and to the prevention of violence against women.

    Key users of the data include: the Office of the Status of Women, Commonwealth and State health departments, criminologists, women's service agencies and women's health research organisations.

    Interviews were conducted with women aged 18 years and over who were usual residents of randomly selected households. Only one woman in each selected household was eligible to be included in the survey.

    Women excluded from the survey were:

    • certain diplomatic personnel of overseas governments, customarily excluded from census and surveys;
    • overseas residents in Australia;
    • members of non-Australian defence forces (and their dependants) stationed in Australia; and
    • residents of special dwellings, such as hospitals, retirement villages, refuges etc.

    The Women's Safety Survey cannot provide reliable information about the levels of violence experienced by Indigenous women because the number of Indigenous women in the sample was small.


    Conceptual framework
    All women - experience of physical and sexual violence by men and women, experience of stalking by men, general feelings of safety, experience of selected types of harassment, experience of physical and sexual abuse as a child.

    Main outputs
    All women - experience of physical and sexual violence by men and women, experience of stalking by men, general feelings of safety, experience of selected types of harassment, experience of physical and sexual abuse as a child.

    Women who experienced physical and/or sexual violence (separately collected for male and female perpetrators) - when the incident occurred, relationship to the perpetrator, type of violence, injuries sustained, location of violence, actions taken as a result of a violent incident (eg police contact, contacting service providers, seeking professional help or talking to others), reasons for not contacting the police or service providers, effects on life (change in day-to-day activities and time off work), fear for personal safety as a result of the incident, involvement of alcohol.

    Women with a partner (current and previous) - experience of physical and sexual violence, experience of emotional abuse (current partner only).

    Women who experienced violence by a partner (current or previous) during the relationship - frequency of violence, children witnessing violence, violence during pregnancy and separation, patterns of separation, whether living in fear.

    Women who experience stalking by a man - type of stalking, when stalking began, whether stalking has stopped, how the perpetrator was known to them, police contact, reasons for not contacting the police, effects on life (change in day-to-day activities and time off work), fear for personal safety as a result of the stalking.

    General safety and harassment - all women were asked about their feelings of safety when alone in selected situations, such as using and waiting for public transport after dark, walking in their local area after dark and when home in the evening or night. They were also asked about their experience of various forms of harassment including whether they had received an obscene telephone call, experienced a man indecently exposing himself, received unwanted comments about her body or sex life from a man, or experienced unwanted sexual touching by a man.

    Experience of emotional abuse - This information was only collected from women who were currently married or in a de facto relationship with a man. The questions sought to determine if a woman had experienced manipulation, isolation or intimidation by a current male partner. Time constraints did not allow for the inclusion of a detailed definition of each type of abuse in the questionnaire but definitions were provided in the interviewer's instructions to assist respondents who had difficulty interpreting the questions.

    Experience of child abuse - all women were asked if they had experienced physical or sexual abuse before the age of 15 years.

    The purpose of including questions about women's experience of physical and sexual abuse when a child was not to measure the extent of child abuse (in order to do this a separate survey would be required). The aim of including these questions was to provide background information about women's experiences and to allow for investigation of the relationship between childhood abuse and experiences of violence as an adult.

    Care should be taken when using these items as they were not collected using detailed questioning. The experience of physical abuse as a child is particularly difficult to measure, given changes in what is generally perceived as acceptable behaviour toward children, particularly in relation to discipline. For example, while caning was practised at schools in the past, this is no longer an acceptable practice. In order to minimise the level of interpretation by respondents, a definition of physical abuse was included in the survey question. However, in the end, the response given by women would reflect their interpretation of the question and what constitutes physical abuse.

    Socio-demographic information - this information was collected about the woman and, where applicable, her male partner. The latter was provided by the respondent. Information collected included:

    • educational attainment;
    • employment status;
    • income; and
    • birthplace (including birthplace of the woman's mother and father).


    Other concepts (summary)


    Comments and/or Other Regions
    The survey was designed to produce national estimates, however, some State data is available: the amount of detail able to be provided increases with population size.

    Once Only

    Frequency comments

    Not applicable as this is a one-off survey.


    Data availability comments
    Three standard products exist:

    4128.0 Women's Safety, Australia
    4129.0 Women's Safety, Australia: User Guide
    4128.0.15.001 Women's Safety Survey, Unit Record File, Australia

    Customised tabulations can also be run on request..

    08/09/2004 03:01 PM