Three take-aways from the National Community Attitudes Survey

Interpreting and understanding community attitudes.

This week, findings from the 2021 National Community Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women Survey (NCAS) were released. The NCAS measures understanding of, and attitudes towards, violence against women and gender inequality. Run every four years, the NCAS is representative of the Australian population and tracks progress over time.  

The survey results are an important marker in our communities’ understanding of violence against women. For those in primary prevention, the results give us an indication of where we need to better target our efforts, advocacy, and investments to ultimately stop violence against women.  

The survey found that as a community, we are becoming more aware of what violence against women and gender inequality look like. Australians are now more likely to reject certain forms of violence. Attitudes towards sexual violence have improved significantly since the 2013 survey, which could be attributed in part to global movements like #MeToo, and local activism from people like Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame, and Chantel Contos.  

Despite these advances, there are some concerning trends in the data that show us where we need to sharpen our prevention focus. Here are three takeaways from the data released this week. 

Australians don’t recognise that domestic violence is gendered  

Australians have some understanding of the gendered nature of domestic violence: 76% of people recognised that women are more likely to suffer physical harm from domestic violence, and 70% recognised that women are more likely to experience fear as a result of domestic violence. 

However, in response to the question ‘Who is domestic violence mainly committed by?’, 41% of respondents said they believed men and women were equally likely to perpetrate violence. This is despite the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), police, court, and academic data demonstrating that men are overwhelmingly more likely than women to use violence. In fact, data from the ABS shows that 95% of all victims (regardless of gender) experience violence from a male perpetrator.* (see footnote for data source). 

Concerningly, recognition of the gendered nature of violence perpetration has been decreasing since the 2009 NCAS. 

Why does this matter?  

Overwhelmingly, research tells us that violence against women in Australia is perpetrated by men. In fact, most violence against people of all genders is perpetrated by men.  

This does not mean that all men are violent. However, violence occurs where men hold sexist and violence-supportive attitudes, and where these attitudes go unchallenged. Drawing the link between violence-supportive attitudes and violence against women is important in engaging the community in prevention. This is where we, as prevention practitioners, need to find ways to engage Australians in the gendered drivers of violence against women in ways that are meaningful to them in the places where they live, work, learn, and play.  

Australians don’t recognise violence happens in their neighbourhoods 

While most respondents recognised that violence against women is a problem across the country (91%), less than half (47%) believe it is a problem in the suburb or town where they live. This suggests there is an enduring misconception that violence occurs outside one’s social circles, by a few ‘bad eggs’ or only in specific communities.   

The survey also found that certain forms of violence continue to be under-recognised, including emotional abuse and controlling behaviours. Tech-facilitated abuse – like stalking or persistently messaging somebody – was not understood as harmful by a significant number of participants, and issues of consent were similarly misunderstood.  

Why does this matter? 

Addressing violence against women belongs to all of us.  

We know from research that addressing violence against women requires a socio-ecological approach. This means challenging attitudes, practices, and behaviours that discriminate, condone or support violence against women, individually, in our communities, across our workplaces, schools and other institutions, and ultimately across our society. This is incredibly hard to do if many Australians don’t feel connected to the issue because it is happening ‘elsewhere’.  

Men’s attitudes towards violence against women are lagging behind.

The NCAS results show us that women and non-binary people had a higher understanding and rejection of violence against women, and rejection of gender inequality than men. By comparison, men were more likely to hold problematic attitudes about violence against women and gender equality. 

Why does this matter? 

Given the majority of violence against women is perpetrated by men, prevention work will only be successful if men and boys are meaningfully engaged in it. Rigid stereotypes of what it means to ‘be a man’ are just as harmful to men and boys as they are to our entire community. Further, male peer relationships also play a critical role in whether violent attitudes, practices and behaviours are challenged or supported.   

What next?  

The NCAS results show us that we still have a lot of work to do to prevent violence against women.  

The good news is, we have the conceptual frameworks that articulate the gendered drivers of violence against women. More than ever before, we understand the actions that will address these drivers. We can ultimately decrease the prevalence of violence against women by challenging attitudes that condone it, promoting women’s independence and decision-making, rallying against outdated gender stereotypes, and supporting men and boys to build healthy masculinities and supportive relationships. 

As prevention practitioners, we have a role to play in better connecting Australians to the gendered drivers of men’s violence against women. The NCAS data may be concerning, but it is also an opportunity to galvanise our efforts – a marker on a long-term journey.  

In Victoria, we can consider what implications the data has for strengthening the existing prevention system. How we can use it to ensure decision-makers make prevention a priority. How we can use it to inform prevention activities wherever Victorians live, work, learn, and play. How we can use it to influence community conversations to change problematic perceptions. And how can use it to build the evidence base to prevent other, less understood forms of family violence.  

Visit the NCAS website to read the full 2023 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey.  

*Diemer, K. (2015). ABS Personal Safety Survey: Additional analysis on relationship and sex of perpetrator. Documents and working papers, Research on violence against women and children. University of Melbourne.