3.6 million people experienced partner emotional abuse

Media Release

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released new analysis of Personal Safety Survey (PSS) data, shedding further light on experiences of partner emotional abuse in Australia.

According to the 2016 PSS, an estimated 2.2 million adult women (23 per cent) and 1.4 million adult men (16 per cent) have experienced emotional abuse by a partner at some point since the age of 15.

In the PSS, partner emotional abuse occurs when a person is subjected to behaviours 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, financial and verbal abuse.

ABS Director of the National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics, Will Milne, said the new analysis identified a number of socio-demographic characteristics that were associated with higher rates of partner emotional abuse.

“People more likely to experience partner emotional abuse were single parents, people with intellectual or psychological disability, and those experiencing financial stress,” Mr Milne said. 

The analysis also found that childhood experiences of abuse and exposure to violence increased the risk of experiencing partner emotional abuse later in life.

“Women and men who experienced childhood abuse or witnessed parental violence as a child were about twice as likely to experience partner emotional abuse in their adulthood.

“The rate was highest for women who were both physically and sexually abused as a child. We found they were three times more likely to experience partner emotional abuse in adulthood (57 per cent) than women who did not experience childhood abuse (18 per cent),” Mr Milne said.

The data also showed that those who experienced emotional abuse were more likely to have also experienced other forms of domestic violence.

“We found that over half of women (58 per cent) and a quarter of men (26 per cent) who experienced partner emotional abuse had also experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner. The rate of partner violence was over eight times higher than for those who had not experienced emotional abuse,” said Mr Milne.

Further results from the new analysis, including detailed information about the abusive behaviours experienced (such as social/financial abuse), frequency, and impacts of emotional abuse are presented in the article ‘Domestic Violence: Experiences of Partner Emotional Abuse,’ available on the ABS website.

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

Media notes

  • Partner is used to describe a person the respondent lives with, or lived with at some point, in a married or de facto relationship.
  • Single parent is defined as one adult living in a household with at least one child under the age of 15.
  • Childhood abuse refers to any act of physical and/or sexual abuse by an adult towards a child under the age of 15.
  • Witnessing violence is defined as a respondent (before age 15) seeing or hearing their parent(s) experiencing partner violence.
  • Violence is defined as any incident involving the occurrence, attempt or threat of either sexual or physical assault.
  • It is not possible to determine the temporal and causal relationship between experiences of partner emotional abuse and partner violence, including whether one type of experience preceded or instigated the other.
  • Emotional abuse and partner violence may have been experienced by different partners.
  • When reporting ABS data you must attribute the Australian Bureau of Statistics (or the ABS) as the source.
  • For media requests and interviews, contact the ABS Media Team via media@abs.gov.au (8.30am-5pm AEST Mon-Fri).
  • Subscribe to our media release notification service to get notified of ABS media releases or publications upon their release.
  • This media release was originally published on 24/08/2022 under the headline ‘3.6 million Australians experienced coercive control,’ and was subsequently updated on 25/08/2022. For consistency in terminology, ‘coercive control’ has been replaced with ‘partner emotional abuse,’ and the definition of partner emotional abuse has been added to the body of the media release.

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