This section provides an overview of the estimated incidence of domestic violence and sexual assault in Australia. Both self-reported data by women (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] personal safety and crime victim surveys) and official crime statistics (victim and court statistics for perpetrators) are used to inform these estimates.
While there are a number of data collections that provide information about the incidence and prevalence of domestic and sexual violence1 in Australia, there are some notable limitations to these data sources. These limitations relate primarily to differences in official definitions of domestic violence, under-reporting, and data on victim and perpetrator characteristics.
2.1.1Definitions of domestic violence and sexual assault
Estimating the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault is complicated by the different ways in which both domestic violence and sexual assault have been defined and recorded across jurisdictions.
The definition of domestic violence adopted for this project includes behaviours that are criminal offences as well as those that are not. Criminal justice statistics relating to domestic violence only capture a sub-set of all domestic violence incidents of interest here.
Sexual assault can range from public indecency and exposure through to more severe and violent forms of rape and penetration. Caution is required when examining official crime statistics for sexual assault because the data do not differentiate between indecent exposure, public indecency, attempted rape, or penetration.
It is well recognised that sexual assault and domestic violence offences are significantly under-reported, and that the true incidence of domestic violence and sexual assault is much higher than official criminal statistics (Marcus & Braaf, 2007; Gelb, 2007). The reasons for under-reporting include fear and shame (especially when reporting an offence to the police), and victim dependence on the perpetrator. This means that the exact numbers of victims and perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault in Australia can only be estimated. Importantly, this underestimation has implications for targeting intervention programs or determining the full extent of need for programs.
Evidence of under-reporting of sexual assault (based on the most recent data) can be seen in Figure 1. A marked attrition from the actual incidence of domestic violence and sexual assault through to an offender being convicted of a criminal office and then spending time in custody can also be noted.
(j) Mouzos & Makkai, 2004, Women who experienced intimate partner and non-partner violence, by contact with a specialised agency, 2002-03
2.1.3Data on victims and perpetrators characteristics
This project focuses on the perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault. However, available incidence and prevalence data2focus primarily on victim characteristics – for example, the total number of victims and their demographic characteristics. While there is a breadth of data on victims of crime, particularly as it relates to sexual assault and domestic violence, there is a critical need for similar investment in data collection on the demographic characteristics of domestic violence and sexual assault perpetrators.