Prevalent and serious

Facts tell us that violence against women is a problem of great magnitude – not to mention being an insidious violation of women’s human rights – with serious health, economic and social consequences for those experiencing it.

  • Current estimates are that one in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15 years while one in five has experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 yearsi.
  • Australian women are more likely to experience physical and sexual violence from someone they know (36% of women) rather than strangers (12% of women). Their victimisation is often at the hands of former or current partnersii. For the majority of women experiencing physical assault by a male perpetrator, for example, the most recent incident was in their own homes (62%)iii.
  • For Victorian women aged 15-44 years, intimate partner violence is identified as the leading contributor to death, disability and illness, outstripping other known risk factors like alcohol harm, illicit substances use, high blood pressure, obesity and smokingiv.
  • The impacts on children who witness violence against their mothers or caregivers in their homes can be profound, including impaired social and learning developmentv.
  • In 2008–09, the estimated annual cost of violence against women to the Victorian economy was around $3.4 billion. This figure is expected to rise to $3.9 billion by 2021–22 if no action on violence against women is takenvi.
  • The social costs to women living with violence include unemployment, poverty, insecure housing and homelessness.


Over the last decade, experts like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) have argued that violence against women is not inevitable but eminently preventable, especially when approached as a population health concern like other major contemporary public health issues (for example, smoking, road trauma). A population or public health approach means tackling the underlying determinants of a problem so that it cannot happen in the first place.

While violence against women is complex, evidence points to two root causes or conditions that are necessary and sufficient for it to occur. These are:

  • the unequal distribution of power and resources between women and men
  • an adherence to rigidly defined gender roles.

Evidence shows that these underlying determinants structure social life in compelling ways, from broad institutions like law, media, religion, family and economic or political structures, to community norms and organisational practices, and personal and intimate relationships. The United Nations Development Fund for Women has studied countries around the world and found that the more equality there is between women and men the lower the rates of violence against women.

Simply put, violence against women will continue as long as inequality exits between women and men. Gender equity measures are therefore mandatory if we are to disrupt the two underlying determinants and render the problem incomprehensible and inconceivable across all levels of social life. Such action is what is known as primary prevention and leading regional action on primary prevention is what Equality and Safety for Women is all about.

Terms and Definitions

A list of Terms and Definitions can be found in the KNOW Toolbox.

i ANROWS, ‘Violence against women: Key statistics’ at http://www.anrows.org.au/publications/fast-facts/violence-against-women-key-statistics based on the 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey
ii Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4906.0 – Personal Safety, Australia, 2012, Latest Issue Released at 11.30 am (Canberra time) 11/12/13, Table 4, ‘Experience of violence since the age of 15, relationship to perpetrator’, at http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/4906.02012?OpenDocument
iii ANROWS, ‘Violence against women: Key statistics’ at http://www.anrows.org.au/publications/fast-facts/violence-against-women-key-statistics based on the 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey
iv VicHealth 2004, The Health Costs of Violence: Measuring the burden of disease caused by intimate partner violence, at https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/publications/the-health-costs-of-violence
v Impacts on children, economic costs (below) and social costs (below) are from VicHealth 2011, Violence against Women in Australia: Research summary, at https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/publications/violence-against-women-in-australia-research-summary
vi Department of Justice 2012, Measuring Family Violence in Victoria: Victorian Family Violence Database Volume 5 Eleven Year Trend Analysis 1999-2010, State Government of Victoria, p. 23.