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Understanding discrimination and violence

4 minute read

Not all women experience violence in the same way. Alongside gender inequality women can experience many other forms of oppression and discrimination, such as racism, ageism, ableism and homophobia.

All these forms of discrimination and inequality can play a role in driving or exacerbating violence against women.

Understanding and acknowledging multiple forms of discrimination in reporting

Accurate, safe and respectful reporting on violence against women is the first step, and it is also critically important that reporting is based on an understanding of this wider context.

Respectful reporting does not blame, minimise or excuse violence for any reason – including the culture, sexuality, work choices or disability of either the victim or the perpetrator.

How do different forms of discrimination affect violence?

Power imbalances and the impact of multiple forms of oppression and discrimination mean the dynamics of violence differ across age and demographic groups, and that some women experience disproportionate rates of violence.

  • Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women occurs at higher rates than violence against non-Indigenous women and is more likely to involve severe impacts: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are nearly 11 times more likely to die due to assault than non-Indigenous women, and 32 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence-related assaults.
  • Women with disabilities experience violence or abuse from a wider range of perpetrators than women without a disability, including from intimate partners, family members, carers and support workers in both home and institutional settings. They are more likely to experience additional forms of violence such as forced sterilisation, forced abortion, forced contraception, denial of legal capacity, forced treatment, restrictive practices, seclusion, restraint, indefinite detention, and forced and coerced marriage.
  • Migrant and refugee women can be subjected to forms of violence that relate to their uncertain citizenship where perpetrators threaten them with deportation or withhold access to passports, while they can also be subject to violence from an extended range of perpetrators  including in-laws and siblings.
  • In 2017, young women (15–24 years) had the highest rates of reported sexual assault of any age and sex group, followed by girls aged 10–14 years. Overall, young women are the age group most likely to experience both sexual and physical violence.
  • While older women experience gendered violence at similar rates to other women, they are more likely to experience violence from a wider range of perpetrators including partners, ex-partners, adult children (particularly sons), grandchildren, other relatives, neighbours, and friends. For many older women violence is part of an ongoing pattern of family violence experienced during their lifetimes.

The impacts of discrimination also create additional barriers to reporting violence and accessing support.

The impacts of these different forms of discrimination and oppression

Violence against women experiencing multiple forms of discrimination or oppression is more likely to be condoned. 

  • For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women of colour, experiences of violence can be trivialised as a result of both sexism and racism.
  • Violence against women who breach socially accepted roles or identities, such as sex workers or trans women, is more likely to be denied or downplayed in both community attitudes and institutional responses.
  • Violence against a woman with a disability or an older woman may be excused because her carer is experiencing ‘carer stress’.

Some women are more likely to be impacted by men’s control of decision making which limits their independence. For example, women with disabilities may have less equal access to education and work opportunities, and carers or service providers may not give them adequate control over decisions that affect their lives.

Women who face multiple forms of discrimination and oppression are often stereotyped. For example, older women or women with disability may be considered asexual in ways that make invisible the sexual violence they experience, or dismiss the significance of this violence.

Male peer relations that emphasise aggression, together with forms of masculinity that are based on ideas of male sexual entitlement can have particular impacts on some women. For example, racism and sexism can combine to drive men’s sexual violence against refugees and migrants, particularly women of colour – violence that is both gendered and racialised.

What's next?

The media’s role in preventing violence against women