This article was originally published by Melbourne Catholic.
On 25 November, the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women will raise public awareness of violence against women in all countries around the world and at all levels of society. Dr Trish Madigan, chair of the Council for Australian Catholic Women, said: ‘We understand that women and girls everywhere experience extensive abuse and their stories need to be brought to light. Violence against women is a serious and widespread problem in Australia, with enormous individual and community impact and terrible social costs.’
In Australia, one woman is killed every week by her domestic partner.
And across Australia, police are called out to a family violence incident on average once every two minutes. Behind closed doors—especially if you happen to be female—Australia remains a very violent and dangerous place.
Statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare over the last decade are stark and troubling.
- One in six Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current partner or former partner, as opposed to one in 19 Australian men.
- One in five Australian women have experienced sexual violence, compared to one in 22 men.
And despite a recent awakening to the ubiquity of abuse over the last few years—think #metoo and #timesup—domestic violence not only shows no signs of abating, but it seems to be on the rise.
Renu Barnes is CatholicCare’s Community Services Manager for the Western Region, and has worked with victims and practitioners of family violence for decades. ‘Over the last 10 years there has been a substantial increase in family violence (FV),’ says Renu. ‘And the number of children reported to child protection in Victoria has more than doubled in the past seven years.’
Renu is careful to point out that there’s no one cause, rather it’s a culmination of systemic issues that contribute towards the escalation of family violence.
‘Family violence can be attributed to the increase in alcohol and drugs related issues, in particular the certain drugs such as ICE. There is also a big drinking culture in Australia and many FV cases have been triggered due to the influence of alcohol and drugs; mental health; cultural norms. There’s also intergenerational family violence prevalent in many cultures, where women who have endured FV for many years are fearful to disclose this, and believe it is “normal”.’
‘One of the main components within FV is gender inequality which is one of the root causes of domestic violence. Various theories argue that partner violence is at least in part owing to structures that grant men the right to control female behaviour and limit women’s power in both public and private life.’
However, decades of research also shows that many other factors are involved. Recent research links poker machines and gambling to increases in family violence in Australia, as well as exposure to family violence in childhood.
Whatever the cause, the societal effects of violence against women reach all levels of society. A study commissioned by the Commonwealth in 2009 revealed domestic violence and sexual assault perpetrated against women costs the nation $13.6 billion each year.
In 2010, the Australian Government instigated the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (2010‐2022) which brings together the efforts of governments across the nation to make a sustained reduction in the levels of violence against women.
‘Family violence has been a major issue in Victoria,’ says Renu. ‘The Royal Commission into Family Violence and the government’s Roadmap to Reform (The VAGO report) recommended that Victoria introduce Support and Safety Hubs, which DHHS began setting up in 2017.’
‘The aim of the hubs is to connect people directly to services and provide a coordinated response to a range of different needs. Victoria is making a significant investment, with $448 million committed over four years from 2017/18 to establish 17 Support and Safety Hubs State-wide by 2021. The hubs are known as The Orange Door and exist already in Bayside, Gippsland, Grampians, Central Highlands, Geelong, and Heidelberg.’
Alongside initiatives at a state and national level are the teams of people working with victims and perpetrators of violence.
‘The CatholicCare Integrated Family Services team have excellent skills and knowledge in identifying and supporting women experiencing family violence,’ says Renu. ‘They also work alongside with the person who has instigated FV. If it is the male partner they refer them to Men’s Behaviour Change program that works mainly with men who have perpetrated FV, and are willing to make changes to their behaviour and educate themselves.’
‘My team are strong advocates for their clients and often accompany the women to court to obtain Intervention Orders. They encourage and empower them to get their life back to some normality.’
The scourge of family violence won’t go away immediately, but change will come with a nation-wide shift in mindset where sexism is challenged and domestic violence is not tolerated. This, combined with adequate government funding for agencies, and programs championing healthy relationships in schools are some tools will be a start to ending family violence.