Women and girls most at risk in the home

Spouses, partners, parents and family members comprise the majority of perpetrators of violence against girls and women in Australia

In 2013-14 nearly 6,500 Australian women and girls were hospitalised due to assault, according to latest statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

And in cases where the perpetrator was specified, over half were perpetrated by spouses or domestic partners (59%).

Parents and other family members were behind a further 20% of assaults against women and girls, with the remainder perpetrated by an acquaintance or friend.

When the place of occurrence was specified, 69% of assaults took place in the home.

Open wounds (22%), fractures (22%) and superficial injuries (19%) accounted for almost two-thirds of the types of assault injuries sustained by women and girls, with the majority of injuries sustained in the head and neck area (59%).

Rates of assault also varied depending on age, with the highest rate of assault in the 30-34 years age bracket (113 cases per 100,000 of the population).

While women are generally hospitalised due to assault at less than half the rate for men (56 cases per 100,000 females compared to 121 cases per 100,000 males), the patterns of perpetrators and injury are different between the two groups, says AIHW spokesperson Professor James Harrison, an injury epidemiologist and public health physician from Flinders University.

“One of the marked differences based on the information we have of perpetrators is that the cases involving women is a spouse or partner in almost 60% of cases, and in about 20% of cases it’s a family member, usually in the home.

“In male cases it’s much more an acquaintance, or a person or group of people they don’t know, and usually outside of the home in other settings,” Professor Harrison tells AJP.

Snapshot of the figures

  • One-third of hospitalised assault victims (6,293) were women and children
  • 30-34 years was the age group with the highest rate of assault
  • 76% of reports contained information about the perpetrator
  • 59% of perpetrators were spouses or domestic partners (2,843 cases)
  • 61% of injuries by a spouse or partner (1,641 cases) were to the head region
  • 8% of victims were pregnant at the time of assault

Tips for pharmacy staff

Domestic violence—a pattern of abusive behaviour through which a person seeks to control and dominate another person— is very common in Australia.

Domestic abuse can take many forms, including physical, sexual, emotional, social, spiritual and economic. And it happens in all kinds of relationships. It is ongoing behaviour that gradually undermines the victim’s confidence and ability to leave the violent person.

The biggest difficulty for people experiencing domestic abuse is that they’re not believed, says Victorian counselling psychologist Carmel O’Brien.

“It’s important to know that it takes a lot of courage to speak up about domestic violence and it carries a lot of shame—even though it shouldn’t. Usually they’re anxious and might be afraid, and they will need reassurance; someone who will listen and be non-judgmental,” says Ms O’Brien.

Confidentiality is really important, she says.

“In a busy pharmacy it might be difficult to talk about private issues. If you think someone needs to use a private room to chat, and if your pharmacy has one, make use of it.”

Avoid giving advice and talking about your own experience, or asking common but unhelpful questions such as, “Why does he/she (the abuser) do that?”

“It’s very easy to move into rescue mode and try to give advice. However, they won’t want to be told what to do, as they would be coming from a household where they’re being told what to do all the time,” says Ms O’Brien.

Instead, ask open-ended questions including “what can I/we do to help you right now?”, and use empathetic phrases such as “no-one deserves that” and “that sounds very difficult”.

“What’s important is that they know they can go back into your pharmacy and be confident there will be a professional, sympathetic ear waiting for them,” she says.

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