Violence against women and girls is widespread in New Zealand. Women are more likely than men to suffer abuse from a partner, including repeat victimisation, and are more likely to suffer sexual violence. The impacts of violence are serious, long-lasting, and too often fatal. 

The United Nations, in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” 

The World Health Organisation conducted a 2018 analysis of prevalence data from 2000-2018 across 161 countries and areas and found that worldwide nearly one in three, or 30%, of women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or non-partner sexual violence, or both. 

There are enormous social and economic costs of intimate partner and sexual violence. It has ripple effects right through society, including women experiencing isolation, losing their ability to work, losing wages, being unable to participate in regular activities, and a limited ability to care for themselves and their children.

In the 2014 report, Measuring the Economic Costs of Child Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence to New Zealand, family violence was estimated to cost the country between $4.1 and $7 billion each year. 

Women and girls around the world experience a range of different types of violence every day. UN Women have published a comprehensive list of the types of violence that women and girls experience around the world and have provided resources to support victims.

Below is information on five types of violence that women in Aotearoa New Zealand experience.

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)

One of the most common forms of violence experienced by women globally is domestic violence, also called domestic abuse or intimate partner violence, which is when power and control is used over an intimate partner. Offences of IPV and sexual violence are mostly perpetrated by men against women.

The New Zealand Crime and Victims survey, an annual collection of information on New Zealanders’ experience of crime, found in their most recent report (November 2021 – November 2022) that 24% of New Zealand women have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) offences during their lifetimes.

Globally, it is estimated that between 38 and 40% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners.

The number of people experiencing IPV in their lifetime seems to be increasing, as 2021 University of Auckland research highlighted that controlling behaviour increased between 2003 and 2019 (from 8.2% to 13.4%), and economic abuse doubled in the same time period (from 4.5% to 8.9%).

The lockdown periods and the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic compounded the exposure of women to abusive partners. It also aggravated known risk factors, while restricting women’s access to services. Humanitarian emergencies and movement (or the lack of it) can exacerbate existing violence by intimate partners or others, and may contribute to new forms of violence against women.

Sexual violence

Sexual violence is another form of violence against women; this is any sexual act committed against the will of another person, either when this person does not consent or when consent cannot be given because the person is a child, has a mental disability, or is severely intoxicated or unconscious. 

While figures show that there are high numbers of women in New Zealand experiencing violence, the most recent New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey found that 92% of sexual assault offences went unreported to Police. 

In criminal justice this is called “attrition.” Attrition refers to the rate at which crimes fall out of the justice system in terms of gaps between the number of crimes that are committed, reported, result in charges, and result in convictions.

A 2019 Ministry of Justice study on attrition found there was 23,739 sexual violence victimisations reported in New Zealand between 2014 and 2018. Of these, only 31% resulted in a perpetrator being charged, and 11% resulted in a conviction. 

Sexual harassment

Everyone has the right to live and work, free from harassment and violence. Sexual harassment involves sexualised forms of unwanted or unwelcome behaviour or conduct. Although anyone may be subject to sexual harassment, it is often based on the abuse of power and reported cases are usually committed against women and perpetrated by men. 

Gender, ethnicity, migration status, disability, age, maternity, family responsibilities, sexual orientation, and gender identity may also affect the ways in which women experience violence and harassment.

Sexual harassment can include conduct such as:

  • sexual violence and assault, including rape
  • unwelcome requests for sexual favours and dates
  • inappropriate comments or jokes
  • invasive questions about your personal life
  • unwelcome touching 
  • leaning over, cornering, following, or stalking 
  • unwelcome communications of a sexual nature, including displaying or sharing sexual messages, pictures, and pornographic material.

Workplace sexual harassment can have severe and long-lasting physical, emotional, and economic consequences for victims. The impacts of sexual harassment are not limited to the victims themselves – bystanders and others in the workplace can be adversely affected. 

This type of behaviour in can have a negative impact on victims’ pay, career progression and working conditions, which can exacerbate the gender pay gap, and potentially drive individuals out of the world of work, which adds to the labour force participation gap. 

Organisations should have a code of conduct and policies around appropriate behaviour in the workplace. Worksafe New Zealand has comprehensive advice on how to deal with sexual harassment.

The Human Rights Commission have published a new report, Experiences of Workplace Bullying and Harassment in Aotearoa New Zealand (2022), which found that 38% of women have experienced sexual harassment in the past five years compared to 23% of men. Young women, bisexual workers, and disabled workers are especially likely to experience sexual harassment. 

Digital harm and violence

An increasing form of violence against women is online or digital violence, which is when an act of violence is committed, assisted, or aggravated using information and communication technology (mobile phones, the Internet, social media, and video games) against a woman because of her gender. 

Netsafe, an independent, non-profit online safety charity, has a range of information on their website on the different types of digital harm and violence that can occur, including:

Following the 2020 national COVID-19 lockdown, Netsafe reported an increase in incidence of digital harm, with a particular increase in the unwanted sharing of intimate images, and messages encouraging the recipient to harm themselves. 

Netsafe and Manatū Wāhine researched the impacts of digital harm in 2018. This research revealed that digital harm was a gendered experience, and girls reported personal attacks by their peers as their most harmful online experiences, while boys reported that extreme conversation and “roasting” were most harmful. 

Financial and economic abuse

Another increasing form of abuse against women is financial or economic abuse, which involves making, or attempting to make, a person financially dependent on another person by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding access to money, and/or forbidding attendance at school or employment.

Economic abuse is a subset of psychological abuse under the Family Violence Act 2018.

2021 research from the University of Auckland that compared data from face-to-face surveys of New Zealand women conducted in 2003 and 2019 found that the proportion of women who reported economic abuse over their lifetimes increased from 4.5% in the 2003 study to 8.9% in the 2019 study.

Feeling unsafe? These organisations can help you.

If you or someone you know experiences abuse or violence, you have a right to ask for help, and help is available in many places. Services are confidential, and often free. Te Puna Aonui, the joint venture on family violence and sexual violence, provide links and contact information for a range of support services.