Focus Topic: Under-reporting of domestic violence assaults

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Domestic violence prevalence

Domestic violence (DV) is one of the most common forms of violence against women in Australia. Estimates from crime victimisation surveys suggest that over 240,000 Australian adult women are physically assaulted each year and nearly one-third of these assault victims have been physically assaulted by a current or previous partner (ABS 2006, social trends report). If a broader definition of violence is used (ie one which includes not only physical violence but also threats of violence, as well as sexual and psychological violence) victim surveys estimate that over one-third of women in Australia, who have a current or former intimate partner, have experienced at least one form of domestic violence in their lifetime (Mouzos & Makkai 2004).

DV under-reporting

Many of these violent incidents go unreported. BOCSAR found that less than half of all people who have been a victim of domestic violence report the incident to police. Older victims, those who are married and victims of assaults that did not involve weapons or serious injury are less likely to report (Grech & Burgess 2011). While we know the characteristics of victims who do report assaults to the police, we don’t know much about the reasons why a large proportion of victims do not report the abusive behaviour.

2012 study

Recently, BOCSAR undertook a study funded by Women NSW to examine this issue in more depth. This study involved a telephone interview of 300 women who had been a victim of domestic violence at some stage during their life. The participants were recruited through a variety of NSW Domestic Violence services had helped promote the survey (including counseling services, refuges and advocacy services). Of those interviewed, 22 percent were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, 91 percent spoke English in their home, 35 per cent lived in the Sydney metropolitan area, 56 percent lived in an urban area of NSW, and 61 percent were aged between 25 and 44 years.

Findings

Consistent with other victimisation surveys, this research found that only half of the domestic violence victims interviewed had reported their most recent incident of violence to the police. Only a slightly higher percentage (59 percent) had reported at least one of their previous victimisation episodes to the police.

The most common reasons for not reporting domestic violence to the police were fear of revenge or further violence from the perpetrator (14 percent) feelings of shame or embarrassment (12 percent) or a belief that the incident was too trivial or unimportant (12 percent).

One in 10 victims stated that they had not reported the most recent incident because they had previously had a bad or disappointing experience with the police, while 8 percent had not reported the matter because they thought the police would be unwilling to do anything about the violence.

When victims who had not gone to the police were asked what, if anything, would have made it easier to have gone to the police, 17 percent said that the police being more understanding and proactive in their handling of all kind of domestic violence would have made it easier.

Although many victims had not reported their most recent incident of violence to the police, nearly two-thirds of these respondents stated that they were satisfied that they had not reported the violence. The three main reasons given by these victims for being satisfied with their decision not to report the violence were (1) it had meant no further violence from the perpetrator had been provoked (25 percent), (2) they had been able to handle the situation themselves and did not have to deal with the embarrassment of police invading their privacy (24 percent), and (3) they had avoided the additional stress associated with reporting to police (24 percent).

Even though some victims appeared satisfied with not reporting the incident to police, nearly one in three victims said, in hindsight, they wished they had sought help from the police or another professional service sooner than they did and 14 percent said they wished they had left the relationship earlier.

The final report detailing the results of this research will be available on BOCSAR’s and Women NSW’s websites at the end of June 2013; see www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au and www.women.nsw.gov.au.