New research finds changes in rates of intimate partner violence in NZ

Tue 30 Mar 2021

Results from a national family violence survey find women report more economic abuse and coercive controlling behaviours from male partners.

Researchers at the University of Auckland have published findings about the prevalence of different types of intimate partner violence (IPV) in Aotearoa New Zealand. This is the first research to track changes in rates of abuse by New Zealand women’s partners over time using population surveys specifically designed to measure violence experience. 

The studies, led by Associate Professor Janet Fanslow in the School of Population Health, compared data from face-to-face surveys of New Zealand women conducted in 2003 and 2019 relating to husbands, boyfriends and current and ex-partners. The research didn’t cover women in lesbian relationships because the surveys lacked enough data. 

The research found that women reported increased lifetime experience of controlling behaviours and double the rates of economic abuse from a male partner. The lifetime rate of physical IPV has not changed and there has been a small reduction in lifetime sexual IPV. 

The findings are summarised in two freely available journal articles published in the BMJ Open:

Change in prevalence of psychological and economic abuse, and controlling behaviours against women by an intimate partner in two cross-sectional studies in New Zealand, 2003 and 2019

Change in prevalence rates of physical and sexual intimate partner violence against women: data from two cross-sectional studies in New Zealand, 2003 and 2019

Key findings include:

  • increased lifetime experience of two or more acts of controlling behaviours from 8.2% in 2003 to 13.4% in 2019 
  • increased lifetime prevalence of economic IPV from 4.5% in 2003 to 8.9% in 2019 
  • decreased experience of two or more acts of psychological IPV in the last 12 months from 8.4% in 2003 to 4.7% in 2019
  • decreased experience of physical IPV in the past 12 months from 5.0% in 2003 to 2.4% in 2019
  • no change in lifetime prevalence of physical IPV between 2003 and 2019 with almost 30% of ever-partnered women aged 18–64 reporting at least one experience of physical violence
  • small decrease in lifetime sexual IPV from 16.9% in 2003 to 13.1% in 2019 

The researchers note that economic abuse and controlling behaviours need to be considered separately from psychological abuse: 

"The increase in reported prevalence of economic abuse and controlling behaviours shows that these experiences should be measured separately and not conflated under the umbrella of psychological abuse. This also has relevance from a policy and practice perspective, as it indicates that controlling behaviours and economic abuse need their own recognition and response."

According to lead researcher, Dr Janet Fanslow, "These two studies do show some positive changes over time. Examples include reductions in the physical violence or psychological abuse that women had experienced from an intimate partner in the previous 12 months.”

Dr Fanslow indicated that this may be the result of New Zealand’s maturing family violence response system. However, given that the proportion of women who reported ever experiencing intimate partner violence had not changed, more work is required to change the attitudes and behaviours of men who use violence.

Dr. Janet Fanslow called for action, saying:

"Increased rates of controlling behaviour and economic abuse, along with New Zealand’s high rates of physical and sexual violence, indicate we urgently need to invest in prevention efforts that address the underlying causes."

The research team included Janet Fanslow, Ladan Hashemi, Zarintaj Malihi, Pauline Gulliver and Tracey McIntosh.

The research was funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The researchers have previously published findings about lifetime experiences of sexual violence finding one in six New Zealand women experience sexual violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime. This rate has not changed since 1938. This research also found that rates of child sexual abuse and non-partner sexual assault seem to have declined slightly but are still high at 1 in 5 for child sexual abuse and 1 in 14 for non-partner sexual assault. 

Find more information about family and sexual violence statistics and how to interpret them on our website.

Related news

The Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence Briefing to the Incoming Minister (2021) noted that less than 1.9% of the government's expenditure on family violence and sexual violence in 2018/19 was for primary prevention.

The Ministry of Justice has published official statistics for the year ending December 2020. This includes a data summary and excel workbooks of Justice Statistics for the last 10 calendar years, including the following:  

  • Offences related to family violence – a subset of offences, but includes more detailed information about the offences (particularly for breach of protection order);
  • Protection Order applications;
  • Family Court applications – this includes substantive applications for the family violence and guardianship case types.

These statistics also include a new category of ‘Family violence programmes’ which includes non-violence programmes for people who have used violence, as well as safety programmes for adults and children, and the strengthening safety service for adults where there has been court intervention (a Protection Order or criminal proceedings).

The World Health Organization (WHO) published the report Global, regional and national prevalence estimates for intimate partner violence against women and global and regional prevalence estimates for non-partner sexual violence against women (2021). The researchers found that, between 15 and 49 years of age, one in three women globally will experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. For women aged 15 years or over, one third had experienced sexual violence by a non-partner. The researchers conducted a systematic review of existing data from surveys and studies conducted between 2000 and 2018 on violence against women. The report includes regional findings that combine the results for Australia and New Zealand together. 

Updated:  A UN Multi-Country Study examined whether the links between economic abuse and food insecurity as a measure of poverty, and how this link is impacted by women’s education, women’s and men’s employment, women’s attitudes towards gender relations, and women’s depressive symptoms. 

Related media

'I can still get to you': Bank payment references used to send thousands of abusive messages, Stuff, 23.05.2021

Study shows poverty accounts for more Māori being victims of crime, NZ Herald, 08.04.2021

A statistical fact that will change the way you think about the gender pay gap, Stuff, 01.04.2021

When women earn more than their male partners, domestic violence risk goes up 35 per cent, Sydney Morning Herald, 30.03.2021

Devastatingly pervasive: 1 in 3 women globally experience violence, WHO News Release, 09.03.2021

Image: Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

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