Violence against women

The two main forms of violence against women in New Zealand are often described as intimate partner violence (sometimes called domestic violence) and sexual violence.  Most victim/survivors of both intimate partner violence and sexual violence are women and most perpetrators are men.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a form of family violence.  Family violence includes IPV, child maltreatment, elder abuse/neglect, violence among siblings, and children’s violence against parents.  IPV involves a pattern of coercion and control that may include physical, sexual and psychological violence, social isolation, and financial abuse.  Most female murder victims are killed by male partners or ex-partners, and women are much more likely than men to be killed as result of IPV.  Separation is the time of greatest danger.  Key risk factors include the perpetrator’s history of violence

There are inextricable links between IPV and child maltreatment.  Children whose mothers are victims of IPV are more vulnerable to witnessing or being direct targets of violence.  Witnessing or experiencing violence as a child sharply increases the risk of victimisation in later life.

Sexual violence is a broad term that covers a continuum of unwanted sexual acts, from unwanted sexual advances to criminal acts such as rape.  Contrary to widespread myths, at least three-quarters of perpetrators know their victims.  Many incidents of sexual violence take place in the context of intimate relationships.  In the case of single women, perpetrators are often friends and acquaintances.

There are both distinctions and overlaps between intimate partner violence and sexual violence.  A critical component of all violence against women is that perpetrators exercise power and control over their victims through fear. It is fear that often distinguishes men’s violence against women from women’s violence against men.  Men’s violence against women also tends to be more severe and to have more serious impacts.

Violence against women is prevalent, but not all women are at equal risk.  A quarter to a third of New Zealand women will experience IPV or sexual violence in their lifetime. The biggest risk factor for being a victim of IPV or sexual violence is being a woman.  The 2009 Crime and Safety Survey showed that women are twice as likely as men to experience IPV at least once in their lifetime.

The 2006 New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey found that Māori women, sole mothers, unemployed women and/or on benefits, single, divorced or separated women  and women living with flatmates are at higher risk than other women of partner violence and sexual victimisation. Women in defacto relationships were also at higher risk than other women of partner violence.  While we do not have these data for 2009 this is a consistent finding over time and internationally.

A history of victimisation is a key predictor of revictimisation in later life.  Some women experience repeated violence across the life course, not necessarily due to revictimisation by the same perpetrator.  A history of sexual victimisation – particularly in childhood or adolescence, but also in adulthood – is a key predictor of sexual violence and other forms of violence in adulthood (Figure 1).  Overall, victim/survivors of childhood sexual abuse are twice as likely as non‑victims to experience intimate partner violence and/or non-partner violence as adults

Figure 1          Association between childhood sexual abuse and violence against women


Source: Fanslow, J., Robinson, E.M., Crengle, S., and Perese, L. (2007) ‘Prevalence of child sexual abuse reported by a cross-sectional sample of New Zealand women.’ Child Abuse & Neglect, 31, 935-945. N=2,855 women in Auckland and Waikato aged 18 to 64 years


  • Martin, J., and Pritchard, R. (2010) Learning from Tragedy: homicide within families in New Zealand 2002‑2006. Wellington: Ministry of Social Development.
  • Families Commission (2009), Family Violence Statistics Report. Wellington: Families Commission.Ministry of Justice (2011) Confrontational Crime in New Zealand: findings from the 2009 New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey. Wellington: Ministry of Justice.
  • Fanslow, J., and Robinson, E. (2004) ‘Violence against women in New Zealand: prevalence and health consequences.’ The New Zealand Medical Journal, 117(1206), 1173-1184.The survey does not include all forms of IPV, such as sexual violence or financial abuse.
  • Fanslow, J., Robinson, E.M., Crengle, S., and Perese, L. (2007) ‘Prevalence of child sexual abuse reported by a cross-sectional sample of New Zealand women.’ Child Abuse & Neglect, 31, 935-945.