Who is most at risk of physical and sexual partner violence and coercive control during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Photo of grey table lamp with light on

In this study, we analysed data from a survey of Australian women (n=9,284) to identify women at the highest risk of physical and sexual violence and coercive control during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Logistic regression modelling identified that specific groups of women were more likely than the general population to have experienced physical and sexual violence in the past three months. These were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women aged 18–24, women with a restrictive health condition, pregnant women and women in financial stress. Similar results were identified for coercive control, and the co-occurrence of both physical/sexual violence and coercive control.

These results show that domestic violence during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic was not evenly distributed across the Australian community, but more likely to occur among particular groups.


URLs are correct as at February 2024

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2020. Business impacts of COVID-19, September 2020. ABS cat. no. 5676.0.55.003. Canberra: ABS. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/economy/business-indicators/business-conditions-and-sentiments/sep-2020

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2019. Australian demographic statistics, Jun 2019. ABS cat. no. 3101.0. Canberra: ABS

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2018. Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 3 - non ABS structures, July 2018. ABS cat. no. 1270.0.55.003. Canberra: ABS. https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/allprimarymainfeatures/70219E21845F2467CA2584470025C318?opendocument

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017. Personal safety, Australia. ABS cat. no. 4906.0. Canberra: ABS. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/crime-and-justice/personal-safety-australia/2016

Boxall H, Dowling C & Morgan A 2020. Female perpetrated domestic violence: Prevalence of self-defensive and retaliatory violence. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 584. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. https://www.aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi584

Boxall H, Morgan A & Brown R 2020. The prevalence of domestic violence among women during the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistical Bulletin no. 28. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. https://www.aic.gov.au/publications/sb/sb28

Brownridge D 2006. Partner violence against women with disabilities: Prevalence, risk, and explanations. Violence Against Women 12(9): 805–822. DOI: 10.1177/1077801206292681

Cunneen C 2008. Policing in Indigenous communities. UNSW Faculty of Law Research Series 25. https://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/UNSWLRS/2008/25.html

Cunneen C 2006. Racism, discrimination and the over-representation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system: Some conceptual and explanatory issues. Current Issues in Criminal Justice 3: 329–346

Douglas H & Fitzgerald R 2018. The domestic violence protection order system as entry to the criminal justice system for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy 7(3): 41–57

Finnbogadóttir H, Dykes A & Wann-Hansson C 2014. Prevalence of domestic violence during pregnancy and related risk factors: A cross-sectional study in southern Sweden. BMC Women’s Health 1(14): 63. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6874-14-63

Glass N et al. 2008. Non-fatal strangulation is an important risk factor for homicide of women. The Journal of Emergency Medicine 35(3): 329–335

Hulme S, Morgan A & Boxall H 2019. Domestic violence offenders, prior offending and reoffending in Australia. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 580. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. https://www.aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi580

Krnjacki L, Emerson E, Llewellyn G & Kavanagh A 2016. Prevalence and risk of violence against people with and without disabilities: Findings from an Australian population-based study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 40(1): 16–21. DOI: 10.1111/1753-6405.12498

Kulwicki A, Aswad B, Carmona T & Ballout S 2010. Barriers in the utilization of domestic violence services among Arab immigrant women: Perceptions of professionals, service providers & community leaders. Journal of Family Violence 25(8): 727–735. DOI: 10.1007/s10896-010-9330-8

Maher JM & Segrave M 2018. Family violence risk, migration status and ‘vulnerability’: Hearing the voices of immigrant women. Journal of Gender-Based Violence 2(3): 503–518

Miller P et al. 2016. Alcohol/drug-involved family violence in Australia (ADIVA): Final report. NDLERF monograph no. 68. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. https://www.aic.gov.au/publications/ndlerfmonograph/ndlerfmonograph68

Monckton Smith J 2020. Intimate partner femicide: Using Foucauldian analysis to track an eight stage progression to homicide. Violence Against Women 26(11): 1267–85. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801219863876

Morgan A & Boxall H 2020. Social isolation, time spent at home, financial stress and domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 609. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. https://www.aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi609

Nancarrow H 2019. Unintended consequences of domestic violence law. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Pennay DW, Neiger D, Lavrakas PJ & Borg K 2018. The online panels benchmarking study: A total survey error comparison of findings from probability-based surveys and nonprobability online panel surveys in Australia. Canberra: Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University. https://csrm.cass.anu.edu. au/research/publications/online-panels-benchmarking-study-total-survey-error-comparison-findings

Sasseville N, Maurice P, Montminy L, Hassan G & St-Pierre É 2020. Cumulative contexts of vulnerability to intimate partner violence among women with disabilities, elderly women, and immigrant women: Prevalence, risk factors, explanatory theories, and prevention. Trauma, Violence & Abuse. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1177/1524838020925773

Stark E 2007. Coercive control: The entrapment of women in personal life. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Tolman RM 1999. The validation of the Psychological Maltreatment of Women Inventory. Violence and Victims 14(1): 25–37

Women’s Safety NSW 2020. The impact of COVID-19 on migrant and refugee women experiencing domestic and family violence. Sydney: Women’s Safety NSW. https://www.womenssafetynsw.org.au/impact/publication/ impact-of-covid-19-on-migrant-and-refugee-women-and-children-experiencing-dfv/