Defining the Data Challenge for Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence

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Presents statistical conceptual information relating to family, domestic and sexual violence and describes the main concepts, sources and priorities

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As Australia's national statistical agency, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) plays a central role in the production of information that supports government decision and policy-making, and coordination of the evidence base within the national statistical system. In doing so, the ABS not only collects and publishes data that describe the wellbeing of individuals and of society as a whole, but also develops tools such as conceptual frameworks and information development plans to support the further development of data in particular areas of statistics.

In 2005 the ABS released its National Information Development Plan for Crime and Justice Statistics (NIDP), 2005 (cat. no. 4520.0), developed in collaboration with key stakeholders in criminal justice. One of the agreed priorities specified in the NIDP was to develop an evidence base that would inform the criminal justice system response to family and domestic violence, and support the development of prevention and intervention strategies to decrease its incidence and prevalence.

This publication seeks to consolidate and update the work accomplished in two previous Information Papers; The Sexual Assault Information Development Framework, 2004 (cat. no 4518.0) and The Conceptual Framework for Family and Domestic Violence, 2009 (cat. no. 4529.0). The creation of this publication provides the foundation for future work to build an evidence base for family, domestic and sexual violence.

Laying the foundations - defining the data challenge for family, domestic and sexual violence

Aims of this publication

Defining the data challenge for family, domestic and sexual violence is a tool for policy and data experts, as well as researchers and service providers with an interest in family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia. It presents statistical and conceptual information relating to family, domestic and sexual violence, describing the main concepts, sources and priorities in this field. It also incorporates strategies for information development to address priority information needs relating to family, domestic and sexual violence.

This is a supporting document for a long term project to improve the evidence base, outlined in the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, 2010-2022 (the National Plan) and aims to improve the information available to support research, policy development, operational decision-making, education and community awareness activities into the future.

Defining the data challenge outlines and describes the social phenomena of family, domestic and sexual violence and aims to translate it into a statistically measurable context by:

  • explaining the definitional and collection challenges associated with family, domestic and sexual violence data;
  • identifying and organising key statistically measurable elements of family, domestic and sexual violence; and
  • highlighting the related research and policy information needs applicable to family, domestic and sexual violence.

It is expected that this publication will contribute to policy development and service delivery planning by facilitating a common language that accurately and reliably measures statistics in this field. The multi-dimensional nature of family, domestic and sexual violence, and the development of legal and service responses to the problem over time, have led to a variety of definitions and a lack of comprehensive quality data to support effective evidence-based policy, services and responses for victims and perpetrators.

The short to medium-term aim is to assist in the determination of the key information priorities and understand the current data environment. This involves undertaking environmental and data gap analysis exercises to more effectively understand where the data needs are, and determine a course of action to address these needs.

A long-term aim of the National Plan is to create nationally consistent data definitions and collection methods to provide a fit-for-purpose, rich and flexible evidence base to meet current and future needs across the field. These needs may relate to topics ranging from primary prevention, understanding prevalence and incidence, to responses and service provision.

Policy context - the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children

The Commonwealth established the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (NCRVWC) in May 2008 to advise government on measures to reduce the incidence and impact of violence against women and their children. In response, the National Council developed the report Time for action: The National Council’s Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, 2009-2021 (NCRVWC 2009a). This report outlines the evidence-based plan, identifying six outcome areas and strategies for delivery, noting the crucial role of quality data to support evidence-based decision-making, and the need to further develop data in this field.

The Time for Action report and the Council of Australia Governments (COAG) National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children is comprised of a range of initiatives to address the report recommendations. This includes the establishment of a National Centre for Excellence which will bring together existing research and undertake new research on family, domestic and sexual violence. The report also recommends the development of a data collection and reporting framework, and a series of four three-yearly action plans with associated monitoring and reporting to drive the plan.

Building an evidence base

The plan to develop an improved evidence base will occur in concert with a range of other National Plan initiatives. The outcomes will assist a range of sectors with a remit to address family, domestic and sexual violence, such as health, education, civil and criminal justice, community services, housing and employment.

It is anticipated that many of the outcomes of the project, such as informing future policy questions and assisting in planning prevention, intervention and operational responses will be realised in the long-term. Short to medium-term outcomes of improved information and more streamlined data collection and presentation may be realised during the project, however, and in turn may influence other activities under the future National Plan action plans.

Phase one of this evidence base building project involves a range of activities to support strategic targeting of data development efforts throughout the life of the National Plan. This will enable a coordinated approach to information development effort across the Commonwealth, states and territories and the non-government sector. Defining the data challenge for family, domestic and sexual violence is the first deliverable in phase one, and will assist in forming future phases including the national data collection and reporting framework.

The national data collection and reporting framework will be comprised of the following:

  • national data standards for key indicators and variables;
  • shared understanding of data priorities and needs against a data collection framework and where to prioritise investment; and
  • coordination of national and state/territory data collections (including existing surveys, and administrative by-product data sets) to improve coverage, reduce duplication, and comparability.

A coordinated and consolidated approach to data collection will guide the following:

  • improved quality of priority areas of data: improved timeliness, accessibility, coherence, relevance, accuracy, interpretability;
  • a strong collaborative network of data custodians in the fields of sexual assault, family and domestic violence and related areas;
  • exploration of the feasibility of statistical data integration and sharing to efficiently meet priority needs, should there be data needs not easily met through a single dataset;
  • improved description and presentation of the evidence base for family, domestic and sexual violence, including appropriate metadata, definitions and caveats to enable informed use of data; and
  • ethical collection, storage and presentation of information relating to those who have experienced family, domestic and sexual violence as victims, perpetrators and witnesses.

Publication outline

This chapter has introduced the background and policy context in relation to family, domestic and sexual violence together with the aims and provides an outline of the publication. Chapter 2 discusses the complexities involved in defining family, domestic and sexual violence. Chapter 3 describes the nature and function of Defining the data challenge as a tool for statistical measurement of family, domestic and sexual violence. Chapters 4-9 individually scope each element in terms of its characteristics, related data, research and policy needs, measurement options and potential units for analysis. Chapter 10 provides a summary and discusses future developments.

Defining family, domestic and sexual violence


The terms ‘family and domestic violence’, and ‘sexual violence’ cover a wide range of abusive and controlling behaviours that aim to control others, and are among the most personal and intimate criminal acts. A key challenge in defining and measuring family, domestic and sexual violence lies in the complexity of the behavioural acts involved, and the relationships and situations in which these acts occur. This chapter discusses the challenges of terminology and definition, and outlines the potential scope of measurement and related statistical challenges in the measurement of family, domestic and sexual violence.

Definitional complexities

At time of publication there was no single, agreed definition for family, domestic and sexual violence. Definitions of family, domestic and sexual violence are shaped by the context of inquiry and informed by the perspective and understandings of researchers or organisations. For example support services tend towards a holistic approach that informs service planning to meet the needs of victims and/or perpetrators. Legal definitions are more prescriptive, and define family, domestic and sexual violence according to criminal law offences or civil law matters. The different Australian Commonwealth and state and territory jurisdictional legal definitions are discussed in Domestic Violence Laws in Australia (NCRVWC 2009b) which provides a comparative analysis of the laws relating specifically to family and domestic violence in Australia and New Zealand.

Defining the data challenge for family, domestic and sexual violence sets out the complexities of defining family, domestic and sexual violence but does not articulate a particular fixed definition. Rather it provides a foundation to support a common language used to measure family, domestic and sexual violence. The purpose of a definition in this context therefore is to assist in the collection of data. The next section discusses the elements that are appropriate to a definition for statistical purposes.

Definitional features

Family and domestic violence

There has been increasing recognition, especially since the 1970s, that domestic violence is a significant issue of public concern, not solely a ‘domestic’ or private matter (Murray & Powell 2008). Domestic violence is also often referred to as family violence when describing abuse of this nature because this term encompasses a broader range of aggressive behaviours that take place in family relationships (NCRVWC 2009c). The term ‘family and domestic’ violence is used throughout this publication.

The impacts of family and domestic violence are felt by all Australians, directly or indirectly, through their families, communities and the broader social and economic landscape, and are a significant cost driver across different systems including homelessness, child protection, health and justice. These terms encompass a wide range of abusive behaviours committed within intimate and familial relationships such as those involving family members, children, partners, ex-partners, or caregivers. It can also have severe negative impacts on the emotional and social well-being of whole families.

Violence can result in social, psychological, health and financial consequences that have profound impacts on the quality of life of people directly affected by it. For many the consequences of violence may be felt for many years and may require ongoing support. In addition to the direct effects on victims, their children, their families and friends, employers and co-workers, there are also significant flow-on effects that impact local communities and reach wider society. These effects may include direct or indirect economic costs, such as the costs to the community of bringing perpetrators to justice, the costs of medical treatment or support and housing services for victims, and productivity loss due to absence from work. However, given that a substantial proportion of family and domestic violence incidents go unreported, it is difficult to quantify the true extent of these impacts.

The components that form a definition of family and domestic violence for statistical purposes include behaviours and relationships. The types of behaviour vary and can include:

  • physical violence;
  • sexual abuse;
  • emotional abuse;
  • verbal abuse and intimidation;
  • economic and social deprivation;
  • damage of personal property; and
  • abuse of power.

The types of relationships also vary and can include family and co-habitation, while some are specific to family violence legislation, such as spouse and de-facto relationships. These definitions can be extended to include other relationships such as cultural and kinship relationships, foster care relationships, blood relatives who do not co-habit or care situations, such as elder abuse. This publication includes recognition of these different facets of behaviour and relationships that comprise family and domestic violence.

Sexual violence

Sexual violence covers a wide range of behaviours perpetrated against adults and children. Persistent efforts over the last 30 years have resulted in increased awareness of sexual violence by challenging the idea that it is solely a private matter (Carmody 2009). Sexual assault is perhaps one of the most serious, core components of sexual violence. Sexual assault is a public health matter with potential human, economic and public health related costs (Carmody 2009) and attracts criminal justice sanctions (NCRVWC 2009b).

Sexual assault offences are often under-reported and may be unrecorded, making it difficult to statistically measure the prevalence of sexual assault in the community. It is also associated with other risks that are different from those experienced by people who have suffered other forms of physical violence. These include a greater risk of being killed by their partner (if within an intimate partner relationship or separation), stress-related symptoms, and increased detrimental health effects (physical, emotional, mental health) (Wall 2012). The available evidence suggests that most victims of sexual violence do not report the crime to police, and that many do not access the services available to provide support.

Sexual violence can include behaviours such as sexual harassment, stalking, forced or deceptive sexual exploitation (such as having images taken and/or distributed without freely given consent), indecent assault and rape. Evidence suggests that opportunities for sexual offending are deeply embedded in ordinary, everyday contexts and that women, men and children are primarily assaulted by people they know, such as by partners, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and often in contexts of trust and familiarity (Clark & Quadara 2010). While there is an acknowledgement that sexual violence can occur in non-domestic settings perpetrated by individuals unknown to the victim, incidents perpetrated by strangers are less frequent than supposed.

In considering the components that form a definition of sexual violence it is helpful to differentiate between ‘offence’ and ‘experience’ based definitions. The ‘offence’ based definition is based on behaviours defined in the criminal law of states and territories (and to a lesser extent, Commonwealth law). For statistical purposes, these offences are described in the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC), 2011 (cat. no. 1234.0). Beyond the scope of offences detailed in the criminal law, broader conceptions of sexual violence may contribute to an ‘experience’ definition, which acknowledges a broader spectrum of behaviours.

Family and domestic violence and sexual violence - similarities and differences

As previously discussed family and domestic violence and sexual violence share a range of characteristics, as well as some key differences. While sexual violence can overlap or be a feature of family and domestic violence, the dynamics of sexual violence incidents can be very different and occur in the context of a wider range of known relationships between perpetrators and victims, but can also occur where the victim and perpetrator are not known to one another. As such victims of sexual violence may require different formal responses and support to that of victims of family and domestic violence.

Defining the data challenge acknowledges the usefulness of considering these forms of violence in concert, given the commonalities in key research questions and information needs relating to these topics. While recognising the similarities it is important to note that there are specific differences between these concepts, and as such information, where possible, will be collected separately to allow for comparison in analysis.

Purpose and scope of the publication

The purpose of Defining the data challenge for family, domestic and sexual violence is to provide a structure that enables the routine recording, analysis and reporting of data about family, domestic and sexual violence. It is designed to accommodate occurrences of any form of family, domestic and sexual violence, whether it occurs in a familial or non-familial relationship, on a single occasion, or reoccurs over a long period of time.

The scope extends beyond that which becomes known to the criminal or civil justice system, or is addressed by formal services.

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has considered the matters of a common interpretive framework and a common definition in relation to Commonwealth laws that affect people experiencing family and domestic violence (ALRC 2010). However these recommendations have not been implemented. While state and territory legal definitions continue to vary, difficulties will arise in classifying incidents of family and domestic violence. The legislative frameworks are continually being extended to deal with the issue of the treatment of family and domestic violence incidents, by widening the range of behaviours that constitute family and domestic violence and thus the legal definitions in the jurisdictions.

Describing behaviours and relationships

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.

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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.

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Statistical measurement - prevalence and incidence

Defining the data challenge refers to ‘prevalence’ and ‘incidence’ as measures of family, domestic and sexual violence. Both terms are useful to measure the levels of victimisation in society in a range of different ways, depending on the definition/classification in use, and the context in which the measure is used.

  • Prevalence:
    Prevalence estimates measure the extent of victimisation experienced within the community; defined as the number of people in the relevant population who have experienced family, domestic or sexual violence at least once within a specified reference period.
  • Incidence:
    Incidence measures the extent of offending behaviour within a community; defined as the number of incidents of family, domestic or sexual violence that have occurred in the relevant population within a specified reference period. Incidence measures will be larger than prevalence measures because victims may experience more than one incident.

Statistical challenges

The scope and method of inquiry can influence how family, domestic and sexual violence is defined by shaping what behaviours and relationships are included or excluded. Different disciplines approach the subject matter from different perspectives and with varying requirements; for example researchers, service providers, legislative frameworks and other disciplines all have their own focus.

The main statistical challenges are to derive information and data elements that:

  • appropriately represent the concepts, terminology, definitions and data items that support user-defined measures of family, domestic and sexual violence;
  • appropriately represent the elements of jurisdictional legislation; and
  • provide a tool for the representation of data as required by users for a variety of needs, such as policy development at all levels of government, research and evaluation, and service planning and delivery.

Once suitable data specifications have been determined, it is necessary to consider the methodological considerations in obtaining information about family, domestic and sexual violence. This includes the measurement issues and limitations encountered in data collection and use.

Measurement issues

Data limitations

Barriers to disclosure/reporting

Data sources

Assessing the suitability of data

Data to support the National Plan


Defining the data challenge


Defining the data challenge for family, domestic and sexual violence is a tool for policy and data experts, as well as researchers and service providers with an interest in data, in the fields of family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia. It maps the context and defines the scope of inquiry around the subject matter and identifies the elements for measurement.

It defines and describes the social phenomena of family, domestic and sexual violence and puts it into a statistically measurable context by identifying key statistically measurable ‘elements’. These elements describe the types of data needed to:

  • support the analysis of the current status of family, domestic and sexual violence as areas of social concern;
  • support measurement of the activity and performance of the systems that provide responses to family, domestic and sexual violence; and
  • support the measurement of changes over time.

This provides for a systematic and rigorous way of thinking about family, domestic and sexual violence, and promotes standards, consistency and comparability across the proposed data collections within and between jurisdictions and sectors.

Statistical elements

The system of social statistics presented here focuses on six elements as central organising principles. Each of these elements represents a specific area in which information is required:

  1. Context,
  2. Risk,
  3. Incident/Experience,
  4. Responses,
  5. Impacts and Outcomes, and
  6. Programs, Research and Evaluation.

This publication delineates important concepts, and organises them into a logical structure that shows the key relationships, processes and flows that exist between the elements. It is comprehensive and flexible to allow for change, as well as being cognisant of other frameworks, classifications and standards where relevant.

The elements above break down each concept into component parts, and consider the appropriate unit of analysis for statistical measurement, such as victims, perpetrators, incidents, or the characteristics of incidents. Breaking down the data needs within each element allows for comparability over time, enabling the identification of change and recognition of trends.

Overview of the elements

The diagram below illustrates the elements and shows how the key concepts and processes are related. The diagram does not represent the flow of individuals or linear interactions with the system, as these can occur in many different orders or combinations depending on the individual and situation. Rather, the arrows joining the elements of enquiry represent the links or influences that can exist between each element and the many different relationships that can occur between these concepts when examining family, domestic and sexual violence.

Diagram 1: Representation of the links between the six statistical elements

Diagram 1: Representation of the links between the six statistical elements
Representation of the links between the six statistical elements The diagram illustrates the relationship between the six statistical elements and shows how the key concepts and processes are interrelated. The flow of individuals within the diagram can occur in many different orders or combinations depending on the individual and situation. The diagram shows both unidirectional and bidirectional links between the different elements and how these influence one another within the context of family, domestic and sexual violence. Context - Environmental factors include: · Government policy frameworks · Social capital · Social and geographical dislocation · Historical and cultural context · Status of women and children in society · Socioeconomic status · Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities · Substance use · Precipitating events/triggers · Community attitudes Context - Individual psycho-social factors include: · Possible determinants of incident(s) (for both victims and perpetrators) · Possible determinants of recovery and resilience in victims · Perceptions of roles, rights and responsibilities (for both victims and perpetrators) Risk – Actual and perceived risk of family, domestic or sexual violence include: · Community prevalence · Community incidence · Understandings and acknowledgement of risk · Understanding and acknowledgement of safety · Family history and prevalence of violence Incident/experience – Incident(s) of violence include: · Characteristics of incidents · Victim demographics · Perpetrator demographics · Experience of victims · Experience of secondary victims Responses – Informal response by: · Victim · Secondary victims · Perpetrator · Family, friends · Networks Responses – Formal/system responses: · Health and medical services · Community services · Crisis support services · Counselling · Child protection services · Homelessness and housing services · Education system · Criminal and civil justice system · Family Violence Orders · Family Law Court · Programs to address offending behaviour · Government Impacts/outcomes – Short, medium and long-term impacts and outcomes for: · Victim · Secondary victims · Perpetrator · Family, friends · Community Programs, research and evaluation – Education and prevention programs include: · Research · Targeting · Evaluation Context is split according to Environmental factors and Individual psycho-social factors which share a bidirectional link as well as Environmental factors having a unidirectional link to Risk Risk has a unidirectional link to Incident/Experience which in turn has a unidirectional link to Responses and to Programs, research and evaluation Responses is split into Informal responses and Formal/system responses which both share a bidirectional link with each other. Formal/system responses has a unidirectional link to Programs, research and evaluation whilst Informal response has an additional bidirectional link with Impact/Outcomes which shares a bidirectional link with Formal/system responses as well as a unidirectional link with Programs, research and evaluation Programs, research and evaluation have unidirectional links back to Risk and Context.



The Context element is comprised of the environmental factors present at societal and community levels, and the relationships, daily events, and situations that shape individuals, their family unit or partnerships. Contextual factors relate to both potential victims and potential perpetrators and include the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, the dynamics of families and communities, and the situations in which violence can arise. Previous experiences can influence the nature of the context in which family, domestic and sexual violence may occur, including the personal histories and values that individuals bring to the context of that interaction.

The two major components of the Context element are environmental factors and psycho-social factors, both of which need to be considered together to create a holistic picture of the context in which family, domestic and sexual violence occurs.

Environmental factors

Pyscho-social factors

Data needs

Measuring context



'Risk’ represents the likelihood of an individual becoming a victim or a perpetrator of family, domestic and sexual violence. The identification of risk factors is critically important for informing strategies and programs to ameliorate against risk, and ultimately to guide prevention policy (Carmody 2009). This element describes the actual and perceived level of risk or likelihood of family, domestic or sexual violence occurring.

In order to develop a general community level indicator of current risk, data that measures past prevalence and incidences of family, domestic and sexual violence can be useful. At an individual or sub-population level, the risk or likelihood of being a victim or perpetrator can be examined in the context of factors that increase or reduce the risk of family, domestic and sexual violence.

Community factors

Risk profiles

Data needs

Measuring risk

Incident - experience


The ‘Incident/Experience’ element provides information about the event by describing the characteristics and experience of incidents, victims and perpetrators. This provides the type of data necessary to inform the development of programs, policies and services that seek to reduce incidences of family, domestic and sexual violence.

The issues set out below have been compiled in order to identify the type of data required to meet the information needs of researchers, policy-makers and service providers. Detailed information about every incident is not necessarily required, nor is it possible to collect data with this level of coverage and detail.

Characteristics of incidents

Experience of victims and perpetrators

Data needs

Measuring incident - experience



Responses are actions that may be taken following an incident of family, domestic and sexual violence, and can be classified as formal or informal. Formal responses involve reporting to, or engaging services provided by various formal systems, such as police, government services or other targeted services. Informal responses or disclosures (footnote 4) are actions that do not involve reporting to, or utilising services provided by formal systems. The distinction between informal and formal responses lies mainly in the service transaction, or the requirement that payment be exchanged or records of service be maintained; and in the potential for codes of professional conduct to be involved, for example in mandatory reporting.

Formal services will generally require that reporting and record-keeping functions be administered, whereas informal responses will not. As an example, both a friend or family member and a psychologist might be a source of support for a victim or perpetrator; on the one hand as an informal source of support the friend or family member would not be expected to take notes regarding the interaction or seek payment for their time, however the psychologist, as a formal support, would do both of these.

Informal responses on the other hand may be actions taken by the victim, the victim’s family and friends, a witness to the incident, or other networks available to the victim. Informal responses may also be actions taken by the perpetrator. There are linkages and interactions between formal and informal responses, and between the ‘response’ and ‘impacts and outcomes’ elements.

Information about formal responses are necessary to evaluate and assess systems and services. Formal responses to family, domestic and sexual violence can include an array of services that operate at a number of levels from prevention to intervention. Measures are needed to assess how well these system responses are performing in delivering quality actions to reduce incidences of family, domestic and sexual violence.

Measures can be used to inform improved outcomes for clients of government and non-government services by assessing the types of services provided, accessibility, awareness of services, and whether services meet the particular needs of populations and groups of interest.


Characteristics of responses

Reporting and disclosure

Data needs

Measuring responses

Impacts and outcomes


The impacts and outcomes of family, domestic and sexual violence can vary in duration from short, to long term, affecting victims, perpetrators, their respective families, friends and the broader community. These can affect a wide range of areas of wellbeing, including:

  • population;
  • community;
  • family;
  • individual;
  • physical and mental health;
  • education;
  • employment;
  • economic resources;
  • housing;
  • crime and justice; and
  • culture and leisure.

Potential impacts and outcomes also vary according to the time-frame under consideration. Impacts are classified as short to medium term effects, while outcomes are generally medium to long term effects, particularly those that follow formal interventions. The type of abuse and the length of time of victimisation, as well as the age of the victim at the time of the incident, also affect the nature of impacts and outcomes following family, domestic and sexual violence.

Impacts and outcomes

Data needs

Measuring impacts and outcomes

Programs, research and evaluation


This final element is informed by analysis of information from the other elements - context, risk, incident/experience, response and impact/outcome - which will determine the targeting, content and resourcing of programs, such as public health education, counselling, treatment and rehabilitation. Implementing education and prevention programs can influence the future status of the ‘context’ and ‘risk’ elements, and over time, these changes provide a measure of the effectiveness of these programs, aiding program evaluations.

Evaluation can also be applied to the activities of the criminal and civil justice systems in order to measure the effectiveness of system responses through sentencing and other measures that may be applied to perpetrators. The evaluation of programs and services can also help to improve formal responses to family, domestic and sexual violence and improve the willingness of victims to report incidents. Information generated from evaluations provides organisations with a measure of their effectiveness and responsiveness to family violence as well as informing improvements to intervention strategies (Carmody 2009). Evaluation is a vital component that contributes to improved and best practice responses to family, domestic and sexual violence, which affects both the ‘responses’ and ‘impacts and outcomes’ elements described earlier in this publication.

A strong research base is fundamental to the understanding of all elements described in order to inform policy responses to family, domestic and sexual violence. Research further informs best practice principles to support victims and rehabilitate perpetrators.

Development and operation of specialised programs

Research and evaluation

Data needs

Measuring programs, research and evaluation



Defining the data challenge for family, domestic and sexual violence is the foundational stage in forming an evidence base for family, domestic and sexual violence. It has noted the nature of these significant social and policy matters and the physical, psychological and financial impacts on individuals, their friends and family, the community and society.

This publication describes family, domestic and sexual violence, and provides a conceptual model for data to be collected in support of policy and service development to address these forms of violence. It has also discussed the challenges of definition and terminology and provides a basis to develop a nationally agreed definition for the creation of consistent and comparable data, relating to prevalence, incidence and victimisation.

The data elements required to describe and measure family, domestic and sexual violence are conceptualised and outlined as:

  1. Context
  2. Risk
  3. Incident/Experience
  4. Responses
  5. Impacts and Outcomes
  6. Programs, Research and Evaluation

Future development

Defining the data challenge for family, domestic and sexual violence will contribute to the development of a National Data Collection Framework for family, domestic and sexual violence by mapping the field of interest and identifying key research questions and information needs. Subsequent processes will compare the information outlined in this publication with information holdings that currently exist in relation to family, domestic and sexual violence, identify priority information gaps and identify actions required to build an effective and coherent evidence base.

Building the evidence base is vital to support and inform the research, policy-development and evaluation activity mandated by the National Plan. The National Plan is driven by a series of four three‐year Action Plans which will be evaluated to monitor the success of the plan in achieving the six specific national outcomes. The intention is for these measures of success to be monitored using national surveys and new sources of data as they become available. An effective evidence base is a key resource for decision-makers, policy developers, researchers, service providers and the community to inform attitudes, legal directions, development of best practice and effective and appropriate responses to these forms of violence in Australia.


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This information paper was completed in partnership with a vast range of Commonwealth and State and Territory agencies operating with a remit for policy, research, service provision and prevention in the field of family, domestic and sexual violence. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) acknowledges the support and input of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) which, under the auspices of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, provided funding support for the development of this resource by the ABS.

A range of groups provided support in developing Defining the Data Challenge for Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence including the National Plan Implementation Panel (NPIP). The ABS thanks the members of the Panel, as well as other individuals and agencies for their contribution to this publication.

The ABS would also like to acknowledge the contribution of the Select Council on Women’s Issues (SCWI) for their support and endorsement of ABS activities during the development of this publication.


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History of changes

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Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4529.0

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