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What is violence against women?

Violence against women is violence that is directed against a woman, because she is a woman, or violence that affects women disproportionately. 

Violence against women is a broad term that includes domestic and family violence, coercive control, and sexual harassment and assault. It has serious, long-term impacts on women and societies. 

Domestic violence and coercive control

Domestic violence is the deliberate use of violence by a current or former intimate partner against another, over time, that causes the victim to feel fear. It can include physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and financial abuse. 

Domestic violence is characterised by the use of ‘coercive control’ – this is when perpetrators use controlling behaviours to make their victims afraid for their safety. Examples include using threats, intimidation and manipulation to control where someone goes, who they see or what money they have access to. 

Women are more likely than men to fear, and be seriously harmed or killed by, a partner. In Australia, one in four women has experienced violence by a partner, compared to one in 13 men (since the age of 15). 

Family violence

Family violence is a broader term than domestic violence it is violence against any family member by another. It can include child and elder abuse. It is also mostly experienced by women and girls, at the hands of men and boys. 

Sexual harassment and assault

Sexual harassment is an unwelcome sexual advance, or other unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature that makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. 

Sexual assault is a legal term used to describe a range of sexual offences, from showing indecent images to another person, to kissing or touching them, to rape. It is usually perpetrated by someone known to the victim and can occur within intimate partner relationships. 

Sexual harassment and assault also disproportionately affect women and girls – though, they are also experienced by men, boys and people of different genders. 

The impacts of violence against women

Violence against women has a serious and long-term impact on women’s health and wellbeing, on families and communities, and on society as a whole. 

  • For women aged 18-44, violence against women contributes more to women’s ill health than well-known risk factors like tobacco use, high cholesterol or use of illicit drugs.  
  • It has serious impacts on women’s health, including injuries and homicide, poor mental health, reproductive health problems and problems with alcohol and drug use.  
  • Exposure to violence against their mothers or other caregivers causes profound harm to children, with potential impacts on attitudes to relationships and violence, as well as behavioural, cognitive and emotional functioning, social development, education and later employment prospects.
  • The combined health, administration and social welfare costs of violence against women have been estimated to be $21.7 billion a year.  

What about violence against men?

Men and women both experience violence – but they experience it differently. About 95% of all victims of violence, whether women or men, experience violence from a male perpetrator.  

Men experience violence mostly from male strangers, in public, and women experience violence mostly from men they know, at home (usually a current or ex-partner). 

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