Your home is meant to be your sanctuary. But for thousands of families across Australia, it's an anxious place where you tread on eggshells, watch what you say and feel constantly on edge, because of how your partner may react.
The statistics on domestic violence in Australia are tragic: More than one woman per week dies at the hands of her partner, with countless more women, men and children injured and living in fear.
It seems that the government, together with private support groups, is taking a stand and committing to offering real support for families suffering through these unthinkable situations. Five of the latest programs include:
Changes to the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act passed through the Queensland parliament in recent weeks have made “ouster conditions” a mandatory consideration for all domestic violence cases.
This Australian-first mandatory requirement will mean that perpetrators, instead of victims, will be forced to leave their family homes in the event of abuse or violence. Victims of domestic violence, both men and women, often have low financial resources and need to remain close to friends and family for support, so these changes may allow them to retain some fraction of normality in an incredibly stressful and terrifying situation.
Ouster conditions are not new, but they originally had to be applied for. According to Minister for Women and Communities Shannon Fentiman, “Only about 28 per cent of cases in the last three years included them.” Mandatory consideration for ouster conditions, along with on-going support and counselling, is a very important step towards empowering victims of domestic violence.
One in 5 women experiencing domestic violence will first report it to their GP, making doctors a crucial part of a person’s escape from an abusive life. The Australian Medical Association (NSW) is hoping to improve access to services for people who are experiencing domestic violence with a new campaign called Share Your Story. It aims to educate doctors on referral pathways to social workers, emergency accommodation services and legal support. For doctors outside of NSW, Federal AMA has produced a national version of the GP Toolkit.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently announced a $100 million package to help tackle domestic violence levels in Australia, describing the disturbingly high levels of abuse as a “national disgrace” and “un-Australian.”
The package includes provisions for:
While this is a good start, it’s not enough. Campaigners have unanimously agreed that more funding needs to be provided, with a report by domestic violence campaigner Fair Agenda showing that more than $300 million is needed to fill the gaps.
For instance, over 2,800 women fleeing domestic violence are turned away from crisis accommodation every year, according to Fair Agenda, but there was nothing in the government’s package to address this much-needed accommodation issue. At a state level, Queensland is establishing two new 72-hour crisis centres in Brisbane and Townsville, which will give women and children a safe place to stay when fleeing from abusive partners or ex-partners.
Part of the federal government's $100 million package included $15 million for legal aid, which means women will be able to access legal assistance from 12 new domestic violence units and also from hospitals in five locations. Queensland’s Palaszczuk government is providing an additional $100,000 specifically to allow access to free legal counsel for those experiencing or fleeing an abusive situation. The additional funding will allow the Women’s Legal Service helpline services to be expanded to cater for more women and in a greater capacity.
The Not Now, Not Ever report, released by a task force headed by former Attorney General Dame Quentin Bryce, highlights the skyrocketing numbers of domestic and family violence in Australia.
The Queensland government has backed all 140 of the task force's recommendations — 121 government recommendations and 19 non-government recommendations — including harsher penalties for perpetrators, additional education for schools and young people, additional shelters and a national awareness campaign.
Of course, there will always be more we can do to help victims and survivors of domestic violence, but the Queensland and federal governments' commitment to the issue is a sign that we’re heading in the right direction.
1-800-RESPECT (1-800-737-732) is a 24-hour phone service offering support to people experiencing domestic violence. More here.
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