New data shows almost half the women who were victims of a homicide in the last financial year were killed by a former or current intimate partner.

WARNING: This story contains discussion of domestic and family violence.

The latest report by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) shows there were 247 homicide victims in the 2022-23 financial year, up from 218 in 2021-22.

Of those, 75 were women, and 34 — or 49 per cent — of them were killed by a current or former intimate partner.

All of those current or former partners were male.

According to the report, the rate of intimate partner homicide (IPH) involving a female victim increased by 28 per cent between 2021-22 and 2022-23.

The report also said a shift had occurred when it came to the homicide victims of non-Indigenous males.

Historically, the homicide victims of non-Indigenous male offenders have been more often friends or acquaintances, but in 2022-23 it was intimate partners or family members who made up the largest proportion, at 38 per cent.

In recent weeks, there has been heightened national interest in intimate partner violence, particularly towards women.

Eleven more women have been killed as a result of gender-based violence so far in 2024 compared to last year, a rate that has sparked mass rallies across the country and calls to label gender-based violence a national emergency

But while the data shows an increase over those 12 months, it also represents the second-lowest rate recorded since the first report was released, representing 1989-90.

Unclear if increase is a long-term trend

The rate of intimate partner homicides committed by men against women is higher among Indigenous women compared to non-Indigenous women, the report said.(ABC Capricornia: Katrina Beavan)

AIC research manager Samantha Bricknell said intimate partner homicide was “the most common form of homicide” experienced by Australian women, but since 1990 there had been a 66 per cent decrease in IPH where the victim is a woman.

She said it was as yet unclear what was causing the upward trend in the 12 months to June 2023.

“The increase that we’ve seen in 22-23 is a sizeable increase, but what we are seeing in terms of the numbers of victims in 22-23 — and certainly the rate of intimate partner homicide perpetrated against a female — are similar to what we were seeing pre-COVID,” Dr Bricknell said.

“Generally the patterns are much the same. We’ve just had this increase in the number of female victims [of IPH], but similar numbers to what we were seeing two or three years ago.

“So this increase [in numbers] that was seen into this year may well just be a reflection … of a pattern that we’ve seen in pre-COVID years, or may represent another increase in intimate partner homicide which we just haven’t seen over the last three decades.”

Dr Bricknell also said the rate of IPH committed by men against women was higher among First Nations women than non-Indigenous women — 63 per cent for Indigenous women compared to 52 per cent for non-Indigenous women.

“So it is high for both First Nations and non-Indigenous women, but again the intimate partner homicide rate is sizeable for First Nations women,” she said.

Lowest acquaintance homicide rate in 34 years

The rate of acquaintance homicide in the 2022-23 financial year was the lowest since the National Homicide Monitoring Program began. (AAP: Joel Carrett)

The Homicide in Australia 2021-22 report also recorded the lowest rate of acquaintance homicide in 34 years.

In Australia, homicide is classified into three categories based on the relationship between the primary victim and the primary offender.

The three categories are:

  • domestic homicide — where the victim was the intimate partner or relative of the primary offender;
  • acquaintance homicide — where the victim was the friend or acquaintance of the primary offender or was otherwise known to the primary offender;
  • and stranger homicide — when the victim had no known relationship to the primary offender.

Dr Bricknell said usually the rates of domestic and acquaintance homicide were “fairly similar proportionally across the year”, but the 2022-23 report did not follow that trend.

“Acquaintance homicide is mainly experienced by male victims, much less so than female victims, but even within that parameter that decrease was quite considerable,” she said.

“It will be also interesting to see what happens to the acquaintance homicide rate going into 23-24 — is this an anomaly for 22-23? I expect it probably is because it’s very unusual to see that rate go down [as much as it did].

“But again, with the data that comes through some time this year, we’ll see whether that acquaintance homicide rate starts to level back up again.”

Homicide rates decreasing, but next data set could be ‘interesting’

Dr Samantha Bricknell says rates of homicide across Australia have been declining over the last 34 years.

Dr Bricknell said overall homicide rates in Australia had decreased by 52 per cent over the last 34 years.

In the 1989-90 report, New South Wales recorded 104 homicide victims compared to 63 in 2022-23; Victoria’s number went from 79 to 50 in the same period; Queensland from 71 to 49; South Australia from 21 to 12; Tasmania from seven to five; and the Northern Territory from 20 to 11.

Western Australia was the only Australian jurisdiction with higher numbers of homicide victims in 1989-90 than 2022-23, rising from 28 to 39.

The ACT was not recorded on the 1989-90 report, but recorded three homicides in both 1990-91 and 22-23.

“The largest decrease [over the 34 years] was actually seen in Queensland … whereas the other states and territories, while we’re seeing a decrease, that decrease hasn’t been quite as much,” Dr Bricknell said.

She said she was interested to see what the 2023-24 data set would show.

“It will be very interesting to see what those numbers look like [next year]. Certainly we are aware of what numbers are being reported by Counting Dead Women and the Read Heart Campaign,” she said.

“We report on all homicides, not just intimate partner homicide, and if you look at the numbers of all female victims from homicide – it was 59 in 2021-22, up to 75 in 2022-23 – there may well be a similar number in 2023-24, if not an increase.

“What we’ll need to look at is what’s occurring in terms of the different types of homicide. Is it still predominantly intimate partner homicide, which is what the situation is for women in Australia?

“Or are we seeing changes in other types of domestic homicide, or indeed acquaintance or stranger homicide?”

She also said she would be looking at what the data showed in regard to stranger homicide, where a woman was killed by an unknown male.

“Stranger homicide is quite rare for women, it was around 13 per cent of all female victims in Australia in 22-23, but a number of the ones that we’re hearing about [this year] have been perpetrated by strangers,” she said.