Women report more economic abuse, controlling behaviour by partners

New Zealand women in relationships with men are reporting increased levels of economic abuse and controlling behaviour by those partners, University of Auckland research shows.

Studies led by Associate Professor Janet Fanslow in the School of Population Health compared data from face-to-face surveys of New Zealand women conducted in 2003 and 2019 relating to husbands, boyfriends and current- and ex- partners.

Controlling behaviours included restricting contact with friends or family members, or monitoring a woman’s movements in a way that made her feel controlled or afraid.

In the 2003 study, 8.2 percent of women reported experiencing two or more acts of controlling behaviour by an intimate partner over their lifetimes. In the 2019 study that number increased to 13.4 percent.

``Increased rates of controlling behaviour and economic abuse, along with New Zealand’s high rates of physical and sexual violence, indicate we urgently need to invest in prevention efforts that address the underlying causes,” Dr Fanslow said.

The proportion of women who reported economic abuse over their lifetimes increased to 8.9 percent in the 2019 study, from 4.5 percent in the 2003 study. Economic abuse included behaviours such as refusing access to finances for household expenses, or taking money against a woman’s will.

Dr Fanslow and her colleagues have just published two studies in the journal BMJ Open, one on the prevalence of psychological and economic abuse and controlling behaviours by New Zealand women’s partners, and one on physical and sexual violence by their partners.

``These two studies do show some positive changes over time,” said Dr Fanslow. “Examples include reductions in the physical violence or psychological abuse that women had experienced from an intimate partner in the previous 12 months.”

Dr Fanslow indicated that this may be the result of New Zealand’s maturing family violence response system. However, given that the proportion of women who reported ever experiencing intimate partner violence had not changed, more work was required to change the attitudes or behaviours of men who used violence.

``Population-based studies for measuring the prevalence of violence are the gold-standard in the field,” said Dr Fanslow. ``This is the first time we’ve been able to track changes in rates of abuse by New Zealand women’s partners over time.”

The research didn’t cover women in lesbian relationships because the surveys lacked enough data. The 2003 survey interviewed over 2,000 women and was funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand. The 2019 survey was funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and interviewed nearly 1,000 women.

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