‘We have to believe we can change this situation now’ on violence


Additionally, the Personal Safety Survey estimates over 370,000 women are subjected to violence from men each year, which means nearly four million women will suffer sexual or physical violence while we still and wait for gender equality to ride in on a white horse and save them.

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Leaving everything in the lap of the gender inequality gods is a convenient way of passing the buck on taking real action to reduce violence against women. It’s also utterly incompatible with what is reported about the culture in the government’s own party room.

Added to growing despair about the suggestion violence against women will remain “static” until gender roles change, in NSW, Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Monday abandoned one of her key priorities to lower domestic violence reoffending rates by 25 per cent by 2021, after the conclusion reached last year by the state’s Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research that the 2021 target was beyond reach.

Walkley award winning journalist Jess Hill, in her ground-breaking book on domestic abuse, See What You Made Me Do, released in June, is uncompromising in her rejection of idea that reducing violence is something for which we can or should wait decades.

“We have to believe we can change this situation now, in the same way we believed we could change smoking and drink-driving rates. We can’t just kick it to the next generation because in the meantime that next generation is growing up in this massive societal dysfunction. We’re actually creating more damage by waiting for a utopia to arrive while we passively accept the situation as it is.”

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Hayley Foster, Director of Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service NSW, appeared on ABC’s The Drum on Monday night to discuss how the fourth stage of the National Plan is failing women subjected to violence. She was very clear that awareness raising programs and funding 1800RESPECT (which, incidentally was only funded properly after it was taken from domestic violence specialists and given to Medibank) are completely useless if we don’t make it possible for women and their children to escape violence.

She and other domestic abuse experts and frontline workers have spent years explaining to government that the chronic lack of long-term secure housing and crisis accommodation are significant barriers to escaping violence.

It appears no one was listening.

According to the government’s announcement entitled Our Investment In Women’s Safety, the funding of the fourth stage of the National Plan will “provide up to 450 safe places for people affected by violence, assisting up to 6,500 people a year.”

Data from the Personal Safety Survey estimates that at least 88,000 people have experienced violence from their current partner in the last 12 months. Of those, roughly 17,000 say the violence was occurring all or most of the time (this figure had a high standard of error so it could be as low as 10,000 or it could be over 20,000). Nearly 70,000 people reported experiencing violence from a previous partner in the last 12 months.

The Personal Safety Survey data are approximations, not facts, but considered in combination with the data that police attend a family violence incident every two minutes in Australia (around 264,000 per year), it’s pretty clear that assistance for only 6,500 per year is not even close to enough.

The new stage of the National Plan is also going ahead with providing $10 million for couples counselling (around half of which will be provided by faith based organisations) despite deep misgivings expressed by family violence experts  As Hayley Foster told me: “The experiences of women, many of whom are referred to these services through faith based associations, and the evidence which has shown that the use of these services (coupes counselling and disputes resolution) tends to increase the length of time a woman and her children stay in abusive relationships leading to increased risk of harm and poorer outcomes.”

All of this adds up to a so-called plan that has no real plan to end men’s violence against women and children. All the dead Australian women, all the women and children who live with violence, or try in vain to escape it, deserve so much better than this. And there is no reasonable explanation for why we can’t give it to them.

Jane Gilmore’s book Fixed It, on violence and the representation of women in media, will be released on September 3.

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