Violence against women

Last updated 08 April 2016 — Last reviewed 30 November 2015

Violence against women is a topic that is slowly being brought out into the open and finally getting the attention it deserves. However, there is still a long way to go. 

Clenched hands - worry

The statistics

The 2014 Annual report of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health revealed the level of violence shown towards women is still high and hasn’t changed since a similar report in 1996. The statistics tell some of the story: 

  • Woman looking out the windowMore than half of the women had experienced physical or sexual violence at some stage in their lives
  • In 2013, almost one in five women had experienced physical or sexual violence in the last 12 months
  • 45% of the women reported some form of current or past abuse, with 12% reporting one form of abuse, 8% two forms and 25% reporting three or more forms of abuse

Listen to a podcast

In this podcast Jean Hailes Professor of Women’s Health, Jane Fisher talks about violence against women and what you can do about it.

What makes something ‘abuse’?

There are a number of different types of abuse including:

Physical: Hitting, pushing, slapping, choking or pulling hair, which may or may not involve the use of weapons

Emotional: Deliberately undermining the confidence of the person, this behaviour involves humiliation, threats, put-downs and ridicule. Professor of Psychiatry at Monash University, Jayashri Kulkarni, says, “Emotional abuse is often a weapon that can be wielded with no visible scars”

Sexual: Can involve a range of behaviours that are characterised by unwanted forced sexual contact with either the intimate partner or with others

Controlling behaviour: Characterised by the abusive partner controlling what the woman does, who she sees, talks to, and where she goes. It can also include controlling cash flow, making a woman financially dependent on their abuser

Social: Isolating a woman from her support networks by not allowing them to see her family or friends. This can include putting down or criticising family and friends, which can often lead to a woman distancing themselves from their social network

What to do?

It can be very difficult for someone to believe that their own relationship is abusive. If you are worried about the behaviour within your own relationship, ask yourself:

  • Do I ever feel frightened of my partner?
  • Are there things I couldn’t tell him because I am worried that he will get angry or lose his temper?
  • Do I feel free to make financial decisions or do I have to get his permission in order to spend any money?
  • Am I worried that if I am late home he will think I have been seeing someone else?
  • Does he check my phone to see who I have been talking to?

Answering yes to any of these questions indicates that it might be helpful to have a conversation with someone you trust about how things are going in your relationship.

It’s important to remember that if you are experiencing violence or abuse in your relationship, you are not alone, and there is help available (See bottom of page for contact details). You are never responsible for the violence committed against you.

How to help someone you know who you think is experiencing abuse

Witnessing abusive behaviour or recognising signs of violence in a family member or friend can be distressing. Even more difficult is knowing the behaviour is unlikely to stop unless something is done about it. What can you do?

Understand what the different types of abuse are so you can recognise it when you see or hear it. Look for the following signs: 

  • Reaching out for helpIf they cancel plans at the last minute without explanation
  • Frequent unexplained injuries
  • If they are ridiculed by a partner in public
  • If they appear exhausted or frightened

Often it is hard to get time alone with someone who you suspect is a victim of violence, but if you can it is helpful to indicate you are concerned for them and that you can be trusted. This can be done by asking open-ended questions and responding in a non-judgemental way. For example, you could ask, “It sounds as though you are worried about how ‘X’ will react, does he sometimes lose his temper?”. The next question you ask should be based on the response to the first, for example, “Do you ever feel frightened?”

It is important to ask the person whether they would like any help and then permit them to guide what might or might not be helpful to them. For more information on domestic violence and what to do, please read our article You’re not alone (PDF).

Where to go for help

Support phone for victims of violence against womenIf you think that you, or someone close to you is experiencing violence please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). 1800 RESPECT is a confidential and free service where you can have a private and anonymous conversation with an experienced counsellor. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.

References

  1. Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, Annual Report 2014.

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at November 2015.

Subscribe To our newsletters