Childhood abuse increases risk of violence in adulthood


New analysis released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that people who experienced childhood abuse are at increased risk of experiencing violence as an adult.

ABS Director of the National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics, William Milne, said the 2016 Personal Safety Survey (PSS) showed 71 per cent of people who experienced childhood abuse also experienced violence as an adult, compared with 33 per cent of those who did not experience childhood abuse.

“The survey found that people who experienced childhood abuse also reported worse outcomes, as adults, in other aspects of their lives,” Mr Milne said.

“For instance, they were more likely to have lower levels of educational attainment, to experience financial stress, and to rate their health as poor, compared to those who did not experience childhood abuse.”

In Australia, there are 2.5 million adults who have experienced abuse during their childhood, this includes 1.1 million (5.8 per cent) who experienced physical abuse, 913,100 (5.0 per cent) who experienced sexual abuse and approximately half a million (2.7 per cent) who experienced both physical and sexual abuse.

Today’s release is the first time the PSS has been used to analyse the socio-demographic characteristics of adults who have experienced childhood abuse and the connection between childhood abuse and experiences of violence later in life.

The PSS collects information from men and women aged 18 years and over about the nature and extent of physical and sexual violence experienced since the age of 15. It also includes detailed information about their experience of partner violence, partner emotional abuse and stalking since the age of 15, lifetime experiences of sexual harassment and general feelings of safety. Additionally, the PSS collects information from adults about physical and sexual abuse experienced before the age of 15, as well as witnessing parental violence before the age of 15.

If you or anyone you know is in need or crisis please call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or Lifeline 131 114.

Media notes

  • Childhood abuse refers to the experience of physical and/or sexual abuse before the age of 15. It excludes abuse perpetrated by a person under the age of 18, discipline that accidentally resulted in injury, and emotional abuse.
  • Violence is defined as any incident involving the occurrence, attempt or threat of either sexual or physical violence since the age of 15.
  • Educational attainment refers to the completion of year 12 or equivalent.
  • Further information can be found in Personal Safety, Australia (4906.0) and Personal Safety Survey, Australia: User Guide, 2016 (cat. no. 4906.0.55.003).
  • When reporting ABS data, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (or ABS) must be attributed as the source.
  • For media requests and interviews, contact the ABS Media team on 1300 175 070 (8.30am - 5pm Mon-Fri).
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