Up to one-quarter of young people in Australia have witnessed an incident of physical or domestic violence against their mother or stepmother. These findings come from a survey of 5,000 Australians aged between 12 and 20 from all States and Territories in Australia. Data of this nature have not been available before, and it must be noted that what is included within the definition of domestic violence is crucial to the amount reported.
The rate of witnessing varied considerably depending on the nature of household living arrangements. For example, the witnessing of male to female parental violence ranged from 14 per cent for those young people living with both parents to 41 per cent for those living with “mum and her partner”. Young people of lower socioeconomic status were about one and a half times more likely to be aware of violence towards their mothers or fathers than those from upper socioeconomic households. Indigenous youth were significantly more likely to have experienced physical domestic violence amongst their parents or parents’ partners. In the case of male to female violence, the rate was 42 per cent compared to 23 per cent for all respondents, and for female to male violence the rate was 33 per cent compared to 22 per cent.
The findings in relation to the effect of witnessing domestic violence on both attitudes and experience give support to the “cycle of violence” thesis: witnessing parental domestic violence is the strongest predictor of perpetration of violence in young people’s own intimate relationships. This paper is a contribution to policy development in diverse family and community arrangements.