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“It depends on what the definition of domestic violence is”: How young Australians conceptualise domestic violence and abuse

The 2017 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) found that although young people have a good overall understanding of domestic violence, particularly its physical forms, there were also some “areas of concern” within young people’s understandings. The NCAS raised concerns about young people’s understandings of:

  • the non-physical forms of domestic violence, such as financial and technology-facilitated abuse
  • the high prevalence of violence against women in the community
  • the gendered nature of domestic violence.

To further explore these findings, the current study unpacked how young people define and make sense of domestic violence. In particular, the study examined how young people distinguish domestic violence from other unhealthy relationship behaviours, how common they perceive domestic violence to be and their understanding of the gendered nature of domestic violence.

The mixed-method study involved a short online survey and focus groups with young women (41) and men (39) aged 16 to 18 from across Australia from a range of backgrounds. Fourteen online focus groups, each with four to six participants, were conducted. Seven of the focus groups were with young men and seven were with young women.

The research found:

  • While media representations formed a key reference point for young people’s understandings of domestic violence, the young people knew there was more to the story than these extreme and sensationalised representations of physical violence.
  • The young people conceptualised domestic violence as having “explicit” forms of violence, such as physical violence, and also “subtle” forms, such as emotional abuse.
  • The young people understood that domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour that can begin with toxic and unhealthy relationship behaviours that are controlling or manipulative, non-consensual and cause harm to the other person’s self-worth and mental health.
  • The young people felt that the term “domestic violence and abuse” more accurately reflects the multiple and distinct forms of violence and abuse that can co-occur as a snowballing pattern of behaviour within intimate relationships.
  • For the young people, the idea of consent went beyond sexual consent. Having independence, autonomy and the capacity to make one’s own decisions was seen as integral to a healthy relationship and most behaviours that encroach on a person’s freedom were seen as abusive and wrong.
  • The young people rejected the idea that gender was a driver of domestic violence based on notions of “fairness” and treating all individuals the same. Nonetheless, they reflected on the way gendered “conditioning” by their parents, education and broader society shaped their own understandings and experiences.

This new research demonstrates that young people have a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of domestic violence and abuse, which should be used and built upon to inform relevant, consistent and effective education, policy and primary prevention initiatives aimed at preventing and reducing violence against women.



Publication details

This report addresses work covered in ANROWS’s National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) Research Program.

This work is part of the ANROWS Research reports series. ANROWS Research reports (Horizons) are in-depth reports on empirical research produced under ANROWS’s research program.


Senior Research Officer (NCAS), ANROWS

Director, Research Program (NCAS), ANROWS

Senior Research Officer (NCAS), ANROWS

Lecturer in Social Work, Flinders University

ISBN: 978-1-922645-31-9 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-922645-30-2 (PDF)

109 pp.



Suggested citation

Carlisle, E., Coumarelos, C., Minter, K., & Lohmeyer, B. (2022). “It depends on what the definition of domestic violence is”: How young Australians conceptualise domestic violence and abuse (Research report, 09/2022). ANROWS.

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