Intimate partner violence and women's economic security across the lifecourse

Family violence-related homicides occur at the rate of approximately one per week in Australia and nearly one in six women have experienced violence by a current or previous partner in their lifetime.

Intimate partner violence is a major health, social, justice and economic issue with long-term implications not only for individuals but also for families, communities and society as a whole. The cost to Australia’s economy was estimated at $13.6 billion in 2008-09.

In 2011, Professor Cathy Humphreys and Dr. Lucy Healey from the School of Social Work conducted a pilot study into the impact of intimate partner violence on women’s health and wellbeing over the lifecourse, exploring cumulative economic and health impacts, rather than focussing on experiences at a specific time. The Interdisciplinary Seed Grant provided by the, then emerging, Melbourne Social Equity Institute, provided the basis for an original study of the relations between gender, violence and economic security across the lifecourse, generating insights into potential policy and law reform areas that will be invaluable in shaping the development of a longer-term, interdisciplinary study.

There is limited research that integrates the long-term wellbeing and economic security impacts and because they wanted to explore the impact of structural gender inequities, such as income support, child support, tax and superannuation on women’s financial and economic security.

Seventeen women were interviewed. Each had experienced domestic and family violence from a partner at some stage of their adult life, and was aged between 36 to 68 years. Most were born in Australia (none identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander), with four migrating from English-speaking countries and another from a South Asian country.

“Most experienced violence from the same partner or ex-partner for many years, whilst four had experienced more than one abusive relationship. The women experienced marked financial duress. First, their male partners failed to take responsibility for shared financial matters, spent money to the detriment of their children, manipulated situations by omission or commission to ensure their wife or partner was legally responsible for debts, claimed half of their partner’s superannuation, declared low incomes to the ATO to reduce child support payments, and frequently failed to pay child support,” says Dr Healey.

Particularly pernicious was men’s use of legal processes to threaten women with financial ruin, and prolong and contest child contact orders and property settlements. “Furthermore, the violence affected their ability to work, earn a steady wage, build a career, or study, exacerbated by welfare payment restrictions,” says Dr Healey.

Maintaining a stable home, especially for dependent children, was a major challenge during and after the relationship. Many of the women continued to experience emotional and psychological impacts years after separation with one now living on a disability pension as a result of violence-induced ill-health.

According to both Professor Humphreys and Dr Healey, there is a policy void at both national and state levels when it comes to supporting survivors’ efforts to move beyond the devastating, long-term economic and health impacts of family violence.


Cathy Humphreys [Department of Social Work]

Marion Frere [School of Population and Global Health]

Kelsey Hegarty [General Practice]

Miranda Stewart [Melbourne Law School]

Stuart Ross [School of Social and Political Sciences]

Winsome Roberts [Department of Social Work]