Australian Bureau of Statistics includes economic abuse in official figures for the first time

A frightening new form of domestic abuse that inflicts “so much psychological damage” has been included in Australia’s official figures for the first time. See where it’s happening.

A shocking number of men and women are being financially controlled by their partner, with official figures released on Wednesday revealing one in six women and one in 13 men have suffered economic abuse from someone they lived with.

It’s the first time the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has included this form of domestic partner abuse in the Personal Safety Survey.

ABS Director of Crime and Justice Will Milne said economic abuse can include restricting access to bank accounts, or funds, or stopping a partner from working or studying.

He said highlighting the rate of economic abuse helps raise awareness of the issue.

“Economic abuse is no less important than anything else,” Mr Milne said.

“It causes so much psychological damage over time.”

William Milne, ABS Director of Crime and Justice Statistics
William Milne, ABS Director of Crime and Justice Statistics

Associate Professor Kristin Diemer, who researches violence against women, said partner economic abuse can last a lifetime, even if the woman leaves the relationship.

“We are increasingly becoming aware of the impact it has on women,” Assoc Prof Diemer said.

“It might mean they won’t leave an abusive relationship, or if they do they may have lost their self-esteem if they’ve not been able to work.”

Rates of sexual harassment were down across the country compared with the last survey in 2016, but the number of women who said they had been stalked was up slightly from 3.1 per cent to 3.4 per cent.

Mr Milne said statistics relating to people’s experiences over their lifetime have remained largely the same as in 2016, but the numbers are still shocking.

One in five women said they have been the victim of a stalker, while two in five people said they have experienced violence or sexual violence since the age of 15.

“Four million women and four million men have experienced violence or sexual violence over their lifetime,” Mr Milne said.

Kristin Diemer Associate Professor from Department of Social Work School of Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne.
Kristin Diemer Associate Professor from Department of Social Work School of Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

“One in six women and one in 18 men have experienced partner physical or sexual violence.”

But there was one statistic which surprised even the experts.

Domestic violence has significantly decreased since the survey was last done in 2016.

The survey of 12,000 people covered a period when some areas were in lockdown, sparking fears at the time that domestic violence would soar, but the results show the opposite.

Looking at females only at a state and territory level, Victoria – which suffered the longest lockdowns – recorded the lowest rate of women suffering domestic violence in Australia.

There, physical abuse fell from 2.4 per cent in 2016 to 1.4 per cent in 2021-2022, while emotional abuse dropped from 6.8 per cent to 4.9 per cent.

Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania also saw a significant decrease, while NSW saw a slight drop.

The Northern Territory bucked the trend with domestic physical abuse increasing from 7.7 per cent to 8.2 per cent.

Padma Raman is chief executive of ANROWS. Picture: Supplied
Padma Raman is chief executive of ANROWS. Picture: Supplied

While welcoming the results, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety CEO Padma Raman, said it was perplexing because other research at the beginning of the pandemic showed a rise in partner abuse.

Assoc Prof Diemer said she had also expected the opposite and could only guess at why.

“We think there is a pandemic effect, we don’t know for sure what it is,” Assoc Prof Diemer said.

“Some families may have pulled together and seen the pandemic as this big crisis externally and it might have reduced any violence that might have been happening.

It really needs more investigation.”

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