The impacts of domestic violence

The impacts of domestic violence are varied, profound, and can be long-lasting. Survivors may continue to need support years after the violence has finished. It also has a range of consequences for families and the ACT community.

The most extreme outcome of domestic or family violence is death. The overrepresentation of women victims in statistics on deaths related to domestic or family violence once again reflects the gendered nature of this issue.[1]

  • National data on homicide from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) tells us that between 2008 and 2010, 89 women were killed by their current or former partner. These deaths were equivalent to 73% of the total intimate partner homicide death toll, equating to nearly one woman every week. [2]

Domestic and family violence also has serious measurable impacts on physical and mental health, the economy, and is a powerful contributing factor to social issues like homelessness.

Physical and mental health impacts

Women who have been exposed to violence have a greater risk of developing a range of health problems including stress, anxiety, depression, pain syndromes, phobias and somatic and medical symptoms (WHO, 2000). They report poorer physical health overall, are more likely to engage in practices that are harmful to their health and experience difficulties in accessing health services (WHO, 2000).

  • Research by VicHealth has found that domestic violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in Victorian women aged 15-44 years. This accounts for more of the disease burden than high-blood pressure, smoking, or obesity.[3]
  • As well as leaving survivors with serious physical injuries and ongoing health conditions like chronic pain, domestic violence has been linked to acquired brain injury and traumatic brain injury.[4]
  • Access Economics estimates that in Australia, nearly 18% of all depression experienced by women and 17% of all anxiety disorders experienced by women are related to domestic and family violence.[5] Other known mental health impacts of domestic and family violence include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), problematic substance use, and other stress- and trauma-related disorders.[6]
  • Women who have experienced domestic or family violence are at much greater risk of attempting suicide than women who have not.[7]
  • Domestic and family violence can have impacts on a woman’s sexual and reproductive health. Acts of sexual violence in a domestic or family context can cause pain and injury, infections, fertility problems, unwanted pregnancy and even miscarriage.[8]

Economic impacts

Domestic and family violence is a huge economic burden for the nation.

  • The National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children projected that domestic violence will cost the Australian economy $9.9 billion in 2021-22 if system responses do not change.[9] This figure includes costs associated with homelessness, loss of employment, and costs to the healthcare system—with domestic violence related healthcare alone projected to cost $445 million in 2021-22.[10]
  • In 2002-03, domestic violence cost Australian businesses $175.2 million, with employee absenteeism, permanent loss of labour, and employee death all contributing factors.[11] Without any effective intervention, this figure has been expected to rise to $456 million in 2021-22.[12]
  • However, the largest proportion of the economic burden of domestic violence is borne by survivors—equal to $4 billion in 2002-03.[13]


Women and children escaping family violence are among those most at risk of homelessness, and domestic violence is the most often cited reason given by women presenting to specialist homelessness services seeking assistance. Women and their children are often forced to leave their homes to escape domestic and family violence, and can experience extensive trauma – they are physically, emotionally and psychologically affected by not only the loss of their homes but also disruption to their social connections, and their children’s schooling and friendships.

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2013 on Specialist homelessness services 2012-13 (Catalogue number HOU 273) provides relevant information for the ACT. In 2012-13, 5,367 ACT people are reported to have sought support from Specialist Homelessness Services in the ACT – the third highest rate behind the Northern Territory and Victoria with – and more than half (55%) were female. Family and domestic violence was reported as the main reason for females presenting to the ACT Specialist Homelessness Services system in 15% of presentations and a supplementary reason in a further 13% of presentations. For young women aged 15-25 sexual assault within the home reported as the largest reason they seek support from homelessness services.

The impacts of sexual violence

The impacts of sexual violence are varied, profound, and can be very long-lasting, and survivors may continue to need support for many years after experiencing sexual violence.

It can have a major effect on the victim’s relationships and social life, and a number of different short- and long-term impacts on the victim’s physical health, including: injury; pain disorders; disturbed sleep; infections; gastrointestinal problems; sexual and reproductive health issues (including STIs); headaches; and some kinds of chronic diseases.

Women who survive sexual violence may be at higher risk of developing mood disorders like depression and anxiety, as well as eating disorders like bulimia.

Anxiety and intense fear are the most common emotional responses – these feelings may be extremely debilitating, and may continue to be felt for years after the experience. Feelings of low self-esteem, self-blame and guilt are other common reactions to experiencing sexual violence.

Women who have experienced sexual violence may constitute the largest population group affected by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The impacts of Indigenous family violence

The effects of family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are very far-reaching, and may continue to be felt for years after the violence has finished. They are compounded by the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors of violence may not have access to culturally appropriate services or supports, may be distrustful of the justice system, and already experience significant socioeconomic disadvantage and marginalisation as a result of their Indigenous status.


[1] Death reviews into homicides related to domestic violence are currently underway in several states and territories. Initial findings seem to suggest that the number of deaths that occur as a result of domestic violence may be significantly higher than recorded figures would indicate. These death reviews will also shed light on gendered aspects of domestic violence homicide which may be obscured by reported statistics in their current form; analysis by the NSW Domestic Violence Review Team, for instance, has found that almost every man killed by a female current or former partner between 2000-2009 had previously been violent towards her.

[2] Andy Chan and Jason Payne, 2013, Homicide in Australia: 2008-09 to 2009-10 National Homicide Monitoring Program Annual Report, Australian Institute of Criminology:

[3] Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, 2004, The health costs of violence: Measuring the burden of disease caused by intimate partner violence:

[4] L. Olle, 2006, ‘Violence-induced disability: the consequences of violence against women and children’, Discussion Paper 5, Domestic Violence and Incest Resource Centre, Melbourne.

[5] p 24, Access Economics, 2004, The cost of domestic violence to the Australian economy: Part 1, Violence, Office for the Status of Women, Canberra.

[6] S Rees et al, 2011, ‘Lifetime prevalence of gender-based violence in women and the relationship with mental disorders and psychosocial function’, JAMA, 306(5): 513-521.

[7] Quinlivan J and Evans S 2001, ‘A prospective cohort study of the impact of domestic violence on young teen pregnancy outcomes,’ Journal of Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology.14(1): 17-23. Quoted in R Braaf and Isobelle Barrett Meyering, 2013, ‘Domestic Violence and Mental Health’, Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse:

[8] See op cit; J Bennice et al, 2003, ‘The relative effects of intimate partner physical and sexual violence on PTSD symptomatology,’ Violence and Victims, 18(1): 87-94; J Campbell and P Alfred, 1989, ‘The dark consequences of marital rape’, American Journal of Nursing, 89(7): 946-949.

[9] National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, 2009, The cost of violence against women and their children, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Canberra.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Access Economics, 2004, The cost of domestic violence to the Australian economy.

[12] National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, 2009, The cost of violence against women and their children.

[13] Access Economics, 2004, The cost of domestic violence to the Australian economy.