Seven in 10 women who have been abused by their partners choose not to leave, study shows

Jane Matts left an abusive relationship and had to start over with no financial stability. Source: SBS News

According to new analysis from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, seven in 10 women who have been abused by their partners choose not to leave. About half said they wanted to leave but were unable, with some saying they couldn’t afford it.

Content warning: This article contains depictions of domestic violence

Domestic Violence survivor, Jane Matts found herself experiencing abuse just a few weeks after her daughter was born.

“I actually had a knife held to my throat, in the kitchen area and he told me how easy it would be to cut my throat,” Ms Matts told SBS News.

“He’d think it was funny, that whole power thing because … I froze.”

For Ms Matts, one of the biggest issues was financial control.

“I had no money … all the money was tied up with him doling it out,” she said.

“I’d go on trips with the kids and I’d get to a certain place and the money from my account would be gone.

“I’d have to ring him and say, ‘could I please have some money so I can buy some petrol to get home.’”

Jane Matts says it is difficult to find stability after leaving an abusive relationship.
Jane Matts says the abuse started shortly after the birth of her daughter.
SBS News

From 2016-2017 more than a quarter of a million women had been abused by their current partner.

One in three temporarily left, but 58 per cent returned because they wanted to work things out.

And 57 per cent returned because they still loved their partner.

Of the 70 per cent who never left, almost half indicated that they wished they could but were unable to, with 25 per cent citing a lack of money as a factor.

Surviving the violence

The new Personal Safety Survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found one in six women have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime.

Will Milne, Director of the National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics, said although one in 17 men have experienced partner violence, “it is at a much lower rate for men than it is for women.”

“When it came to partner violence, we weren’t able to get as much detail as we can for females purely because of prevalence rates,” Mr Milne told SBS News.

“For women aged 25-34 which is the highest age group [experiencing domestic violence], they were experiencing violence at a rate of about 4.5 per cent for all women in that age group.”

Last year, the government committed more than 300 million dollars to curb violence against women but the percentage of those suffering at the hands of a partner has remained relatively stable for the past decade, prompting calls for more action.

Karen Willis from Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia says more "time, money and effort" needs to dedicated to domestic violence prevention.

“Changing people’s behaviours and changing attitudes is not a short term job, it’s a generational process,” Ms Willis told SBS News.

“Offenders will use excuses for their behaviour.”

Ms Willis said financial control is nearly always present in a domestic violence relationship.

“It will often mean, even if the woman works, she will not have any control over her money … so her capacity to put aside some money aside for rent, a bond, moving or buying a new fridge, all of the things you need to do to leave, is actually fairly limited,” she said.

“Anyone who has moved house knows how much that costs, try doing it when you're in fear of your life and where you have support from nobody and you're trying to do it to make sure you're safe.”

Ms Matts said, six years on, she is still struggling.

“The hardest thing is, I don’t have stability,” she said.

“[I’m] trying to find work, I’m enjoying the study I am doing to move me forward.

“The biggest issue is when you’ve taken time out to look after your children, to stabilise your life … I’m still rebuilding, it’s [been] six years for me."

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

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