National Survey Finds ‘Extremely Concerning’ Community Attitudes Towards Domestic Violence

Woman in long-sleeve white shirt with clasped hands against forehead looking dejected and upset

Two in five Australians wrongly believe domestic violence is equally perpetrated by men and women, a survey released by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety has revealed.

Around 19,000 respondents aged 16 or over participated in the 2021 National Community Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women Survey, which is conducted every four years by the ANROWS.

The data, which was released on Wednesday, showed community understanding of gender inequality and violence against women had gradually improved between 2017 and 2021.

But it also found many Australians hold extremely troubling and, frankly, disturbing attitudes about domestic violence, including that survivors can be responsible for the violence they experience at the hands of men, and that sometimes, violence against women is justified.

Almost 20 per cent of respondents believed that “sometimes a woman can make a man so angry that he hits her when he didn’t mean to” and 16 per cent thought that domestic violence “can be excused if it is a result of people getting so angry they temporarily lose control”.

18 per cent of respondents didn’t recognise that “slapping or pushing a partner to cause harm or fear is ‘always’ domestic violence” and nearly one quarter said “much of what is called domestic violence is a normal reaction to day-to-day stress and frustration”.

One in four respondents thought that if a woman doesn’t leave her abusive partner, she is “partly responsible” for the abuse continuing.

A worrying number of respondents believed dangerous myths and stereotypes about violence against women. Thirty-four per cent thought that it’s “common” for women to accuse men of sexual assault as a way to get back at them, and almost one quarter believed that women who say they’ve been raped regretted consensual sex and led the man on.

In truly abhorrent news, more than one third of respondents believed that women in custody battles often make up or exaggerate claims of domestic violence.

Another concerning statistic showed 41 per cent of respondents believed men and women are equally likely to perpetuate domestic violence — even though Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows 75 per cent of survivors reported the perpetrator as male, while 25 per cent reported the perpetrator as female.

“The findings are problematic because we know that domestic and family violence is perpetrated, by and large, by men against women,” ANROWS chief executive Padma Raman said, per the ABC.

“While we’re seeing increased efforts, in terms of campaigns [and] in terms of government action, we’re still not seeing it recognised for the horrific nature of it, the extent and prevalence of it, and the terror that women live in.”

The survey also found significantly fewer respondents believed that men are more likely to commit domestic violence compared to previous years. In 2021, the figure was 57 per cent — in 2013 it was 71 per cent, and in 2009 it was 74 per cent.

And even though 91 per cent of respondents believed that violence against women is a national issue, only 47 per cent agreed that it’s a problem in their own suburb or town.

Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Director of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, told the ABC the views illustrated in the data were “extremely concerning”.

She said more needs to be done to ensure they don’t worsen.

“We’re seeing globally that threats to women’s rights are emerging in many different countries and different settings,” she said.

“This survey provides a really stark reminder that Australia is not immune from this global movement backwards in the significant backlash against women.

“We must work very hard to ensure that the attitudes and the beliefs that Australians hold, do not slip backwards, and that those problematic beliefs are challenged.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released its statistics on physical and sexual violence less than two weeks ago. According to its Personal Safety Survey, just over one in five women reported suffering sexual violence, compared to one in 16 men.

Twenty-seven per cent of women reported experiencing violence by an intimate partner or family member, compared to 12 per cent of men.

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found between July 2019 and June 2020, 59 of the 86 recorded domestic homicide victims were women, and 36 of them were killed by an intimate partner. Of the 27 male domestic homicide victims, 10 were killed by an intimate partner.

According to journalist and femicide researcher Sherele Moody, 13 women have been killed in acts of violence this year.

In 2022, 66 women died violently. Ten were killed in the same 20-day period.

I don’t know how our leaders plan on stopping violence against women; looking at how many women have been killed in senseless, cruel acts of violence over the past two years, it doesn’t seem like they care about doing anything.

But if Australians still believe that domestic violence can be excused if the perpetrator was angry and temporarily lost control, the violence will continue and more women will die at the hands of men.

Help is available.

If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.

If you’d like to speak to someone about domestic or sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online

Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.