4529.0 - Defining the Data Challenge for Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence, 2013  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 07/02/2013  First Issue
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This section considers the list of extensive behaviours that are recognised, and the relationships between individuals, in a variety of settings, which can constitute family, domestic or sexual violence. Two key considerations that must be taken into account to arrive at a meaningful operational definition for statistical purposes are the specific behaviours to be included, and the relevant relationship of interest. These may vary in breadth or specificity according to the purpose of the measure used and may also lead to the incorporation of other relevant characteristics, such as the physical location.

Describing behaviours
Behaviour-based definitions of family, domestic or sexual violence can be used to bridge the gap between objective and subjective definitions. They can also provide the basis for comparability by enabling definitions to be derived from behavioural descriptions, rather than legal definitions that can vary across states and territories.

Behaviour associated with family, domestic or sexual violence may range in intensity and frequency from relatively minor incidents to serious offences that may occur once or have a cumulative effect over the course of time. A central feature of family and domestic violence, noted in the National Plan, is the ongoing pattern of behaviour by one partner to control the other through fear, such as the use of violent and threatening behaviours, and occurs between people who are in, or have been in, an intimate relationship. While the behaviours outlined below list potential acts and behaviours relating to incidents of violence, it is acknowledged that these acts and behaviours can co-occur and that behaviours can overlap between violence definitions. It should also be noted that the behaviours described below do not provide an exhaustive list of all possible scenarios, as environmental factors, societal attitudes and legal definitions may shape these understandings which can change over time.

Physical assault and abuse: actual or threatened, causing pain, injury and/or fear that can be a single incident or a series of incidents that are located on a continuum of behaviours;

  • direct assault on the body (strangulation or choking, shaking, eye injuries, slapping, pushing, spitting, punching, or kicking).
  • actions leading to disablement or murder;
  • use of weapons including objects;
  • assault or neglect of children; and
  • sleep and food deprivation.
Sexual assault and abuse: actual or threatened, including sexual assault and the sexual abuse of children, that can be a single incident or a series of incidents that are located on a continuum of behaviours from sexual harassment to life-threatening rape;
  • any form of pressured and unwanted sex or sexual degradation by an intimate partner or ex-partner, such as sexual activity without consent;
  • non-consensual sexual acts;
  • causing pain during sex;
  • assaulting genitals;
  • forcing or coercing a person to have sex without protection against pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease;
  • making the victim perform sexual acts unwillingly (including taking explicit photos);
  • criticising, or using sexually degrading insults;
  • forcing a person/child to take their clothes off or remain naked against their will;
  • forcing a person to watch pornography or sexual activities;
  • lewdness or stalking;
  • indecent assault;
  • date rape;
  • drug-assisted sexual assault;
  • child sexual abuse or incest;
  • deliberate acts that groom children for sexual activity or exploitation ; and
  • exposure of a person/child to pornography, use of a person/child in the creation of pornography.
Psychological abuse: involving manipulative behaviour to coerce, control or harm;
  • denying a person’s reality;
  • unfairly blaming a person for adverse events or making them feel they are a problem; or constant comparisons with other people, which work to lower confidence and self-worth;
  • driving dangerously with the intent to incite fear or cause harm to another person;
  • making threats regarding custody of, or access to, any children;
  • acts intended to control an individual; and
  • asserting that the police and justice system will not assist, support or believe the victim should they seek assistance or report abuse.
For individuals in same-sex relationships, abusive partners can rely on homophobia or heterosexism as a tool to control their partner. This type of abuse can involve ‘outing’ or threatening to ‘out’ their partner to friends, family, police, church or employer, telling their partner that:
  • they will lose custody of their children as a result of being ‘outed’;
  • the police or the justice system will not assist because the legal justice system is homophobic;
  • the abusive behaviour is normal within gay relationships and convincing the abused partner that they do not understand lesbian or gay relationships and sexual practices because of heterosexism (Chan 2005).
Emotional abuse:
  • blaming a person for all of the problems in the relationship;
  • constantly comparing the victim with others to undermine self-esteem and self-worth;
  • sporadic sulking, withdrawing all interest and engagement (such as periods of silence); and
  • emotional blackmail.
Verbal abuse: actual or threatened, in private or in public (including through electronic means);
  • designed to humiliate, degrade, demean, intimidate, or subjugate;
  • threat of physical violence; and
  • swearing and verbal attacks that focus on intelligence, sexuality, body image and capacity.
Economic abuse: actual or threatened, including;
  • deprivation of basic necessities;
  • seizure of income or assets;
  • withholding or controlling, against a person’s will, their access to money, food, clothes and personal items such as car keys or phone;
  • unreasonable denial of the means necessary for participation in social life; and
  • control of money or financial resources/information, including:
    • preventing access to bank accounts;
    • providing an inadequate ‘allowance’;
    • not allowing the victim to seek or hold employment; and
    • using all wages earned by the victim for household expenses.
Social abuse: actual or threatened, through forced isolation from family or friends;
  • control of all social activity;
  • deprivation of liberty;
  • deliberate creation of unreasonable dependence;
  • systematic isolation from family and friends through techniques such as ongoing rudeness to family and friends to alienate them;
  • instigating and controlling the move to a location where a person has no established social circle or employment opportunities; and
  • forbidding or physically preventing a person from leaving the home and meeting people.
Property damage: actual or threatened, including;
  • damage to an individual’s personal or shared property;
  • damage to the property of children, friends and/or parents; and
  • violence towards pets.
Harassment or stalking: actual or threatened, such as;
  • constant phone calls/texting to a workplace or home;
  • repeated visits to a workplace or home;
  • bullying;
  • monitoring and surveillance; and
  • cyber-stalking.
Spiritual abuse: actual or threatened, denial and/or misuse of religious beliefs or practices to;
  • force victims into subordinate roles; and
  • misuse of religious or spiritual traditions to justify physical violence or other forms of abuse.
Describing relationships
When considering the various meanings of the terminology used when discussing family, domestic or sexual violence, either broad or narrow definitions can be applied to the relationship, depending on the context of investigation, which may be legal, policy or research based. Relationships, including current and former partners that could be included in a definition are:
  • married;
  • defacto;
  • intimate relationships, whether of a sexual nature or not;
  • parent-child;
  • sibling;
  • domestic relationships;
  • foster and guardian relationships;
  • relatives through blood, marriage, or cultural, ethnic or religious beliefs, including kinship;
  • relationships of dependency, or involving personal or financial commitment;
  • persons who cohabit, such as an individual and their carer, persons living in a rooming house or shared accommodation or other non-familial domestic arrangements;
  • other relationships including friendships, colleagues, peers, health and personal service providers; and
  • individuals unknown to one another.
Specific population groups of interest
The following population groups have been shown to experience higher incidences of family and domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • Children:
    Living in an environment where violence occurs is extremely damaging to children, and negative outcomes can arise regardless of whether children witness or experience the violence or not (Carmody 2009). Infants exposed to family and domestic violence may experience negative developmental, social, emotional and behavioural consequences. Children and young people experience anger, sadness, shame, guilt, confusion, helplessness and despair. The consequences of this abuse can be felt for many years and have intergenerational effects.
  • Young women:
    International and national studies demonstrate that the risk of violence by a male intimate partner can be three to four times higher for women aged 18-24 years than the risk for women across all age groups (Young, Byles & Dobson 2000).
  • Pregnant women and women with children:
    Women may be at increased risk of family, domestic and sexual violence when pregnant, including susceptibility to the onset of violence. The frequency and severity of violence has been found to be higher among pregnant women and the onset of pregnancy has been found to increase the rate of psychological abuse among those women who had previously reported being abused (Carmody 2009). Women with children’s experience of violent situations are more complex as the children can be used to control or confound efforts to escape violent situations or environments. Women are also at risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease as a consequence of sexual violence.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:
    The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over-represented as victims and as offenders of family, domestic and sexual violence, with victimisation rates estimated to be much higher than those of non-Indigenous women. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are as much as 35 times more likely than non-Indigenous women to sustain serious injury and require hospitalisation as a result of violence committed by a spouse or partner (Carmody 2009).
  • Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities:
    Research findings are mixed regarding the experience of violence in CALD communities. Some studies suggest that people from non-English speaking backgrounds experience higher levels of violence, whereas others suggest the rate of physical violence is lower than, or similar to, the rate among those people from English-speaking backgrounds. Other research shows that these individuals are less likely to report family and domestic violence to police or to access mainstream services because of a perception that their particular situation may not be fully appreciated (Carmody 2009).
  • People with disabilities:
    People with disabilities may be particularly vulnerable to family, domestic and sexual violence in a number of relationships, such as from family members, carers or from people with whom they share a house or residence. People with intellectual disabilities are especially vulnerable, experiencing high rates of sexual assault (VicHealth 2011).
  • People living in rural and remote areas:
    Geographical and social isolation may compound problems of sexual assault and family violence. This is mainly due to the reduction in access to support networks and services. Transport options are also limited and alternative accommodation restricted with fewer safe-crisis accommodation options available in rural and remote locations (Carmody 2009).
  • Older people:
    Violence committed against older people is also referred to as ‘elder abuse’. Over a fifth of elderly abuse incidents are committed by the victim’s spouse or partner. Evidence suggests that the majority of older people who are victims of physical, sexual or financial abuse are long term victims of abuse, often perpetrated by a partner who is in a duty of care relationship with the victim (Morgan Disney & Associates, 2000).
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people:
    LGBTI people experiencing family, domestic and sexual violence may experience different behaviours, and require specific support services in response to their experience of violence.
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