Intimate partner violence

The Health Costs of Violence publication cover

Given the prevalent, serious and preventable nature of intimate partner violence, there is an urgent need for further development of a public health response.

Intimate partner violence is responsible for more ill-health and premature death in Victorian women under the age of 45 than any other of the well-known preventable risk factors, including high blood pressure, obesity and smoking.

This was the finding of a study by Professor Theo Vos and his team with support from VicHealth and the Department of Human Services in 2003, following a review of the causes of poor mental health that indicated violence among women was an especially common phenomenon that had serious mental health impacts.

Mental health is one of VicHealth's priority areas for action. Freedom from discrimination and violence is one factor we have identified as being particularly important for good mental health. Accordingly, we conducted the study on The Health Costs of Violence to determine how we could support primary prevention of violence against women.

The study is the first in the world to estimate the health consequences of intimate partner violence using the ‘burden of disease’ methodology developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO itself released a World Report on Violence and Health in 2002, which aimed ‘to challenge the secrecy, taboos and feelings of inevitability that surround violent behaviour, and to encourage debate that will increase our understanding of this hugely complex phenomenon’.

WHO have also released a technical report based on our document in the September 2006 edition of the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation.


Sometimes referred to as domestic violence, family violence or relationship violence, intimate partner violence refers to violence occurring between people who are, or were formerly, in an intimate relationship. Intimate partner violence can occur on a continuum of economic, psychological and emotional abuse, through to physical and sexual violence. Although men are among the victims of intimate partner violence, evidence suggests that the vast majority of victims are women and that women are more vulnerable to its health impacts.

Key findings

The findings of the study present a serious challenge to society’s views that intimate partner violence is somehow less serious than violence committed in other contexts and is a matter to be resolved in the privacy of the home.
This report not only gives us an insight into the effects of violence on women’s lives – it prompts the hard questions about how we inform, educate and change the behaviour that leads to partner violence.


  • Intimate partner violence has wide ranging and persistent effects on women’s physical and mental health and contributes 8.8% to the total disease burden in Victorian women aged 15 to 44 and 3% in all Victorian women.
  • It is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in Victorian women aged 15 to 44, being responsible for more of the disease burden than many well-known preventable risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking and obesity.
  • Direct health consequences for women exposed to violence include depression, anxiety and phobias, suicide attempts, chronic pain syndromes, psychosomatic disorders, physical injury, gastrointestinal disorders, irritable bowel syndrome and a variety of reproductive consequences.
  • The influence of the abuse can persist long after the abuse has stopped and the more severe it is, the greater its impact on a woman’s physical and mental health.
  • The economic consequences of violence against women are also increasingly recognised with Australian businesses losing at least $500 million per year because of the effects of family violence on their employees.


  • One in five Australian women report being subjected to violence at some stage in their adult lives, increasing their risk of mental health problems, behavioural and learning difficulties.
  • The World Health Organisation estimates prevalence rates of 10-69% in countries around the world.
  • In 2000/2001 the Victoria Police attended 21,616 incidents involving violence between intimate partners; 19,933 children were present during these incidents.
  • As estimated one in four Victorian children has witnessed intimate partner violence, increasing their risk of mental health problems, behavioural and learning difficulties.
  • Between 1989 and 1998, 57% of deaths resulting from homicide or violence were perpetrated by an intimate partner, with women being five times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than men.
  • Compared with male victims, women are three times more likely to be injured as a result of violence, five times more likely to require medical attention or hospitalisation and five times more likely to report fearing for their lives.


  • Cultural, social and economic factors play a part and a significant underlying factor is the unequal distribution of power and resources between men and women.
  • There is broad consensus internationally that intimate partner violence is best addressed in the context of human rights, legal and health frameworks and through the development of multi-level strategies across sectors.