A ROYAL Commission into Family Violence has found Victoria is leading policy development and reform, but the state’s response needs transformation.
The comprehensive report makes 227 recommendations after commissioners spent 13 months hearing from more than 220 survivors and many expert witnesses.
The majority of personal accounts were from female survivors who had experienced physical, sexual, emotional and/or financial abuse by their male partners, sometimes over years or decades. Many also spoke of abuse suffered as children at the hands of family members.
Some were from those who had lost loved ones to family violence. The commission noted that involvement with survivors was especially influential.
“These personal accounts were fundamental to helping the commission reflect on measures that are needed to reduce the risk of family violence and to respond to the needs of those affected. They also helped us to critically assess current approaches and practices,’’ the commissioners noted.
In summarising, the commissioners wrote they “heard from women whose capacity to live full and productive lives has been shattered as a result of the sustained abuse they have experienced in their relationships and families’’.
“Women who, with the support of other family, friends, peers and support services, have become empowered to lead fulfilling, violence-free lives showed us there can be hope for the future.’’
The commission also heard from men, some of whom had experienced family violence, including as children, or were close to people who had; some had perpetrated family violence and some spoke of their experience of court proceedings. The commission also met with those who work with victims and perpetrators of family violence, including police officers, specialist family violence workers, those in the legal system, people working in crisis accommodation facilities, youth workers, counsellors, people working on the front line in child protection and family services, medical professionals and teachers.
“Despite the very great pressures they work under and the complexity of that work, all came with huge optimism and vigour and a commitment to the people they assist and to the task of ending family violence,’’ the report states.
Following the 13-month inquiry, commissioners found Victoria had strong foundations on which to build future responses to family violence and acknowledged the work already being done across the state.
But, they said there was much work to do and ending family violence required a shift in attitudes of individuals and community that allowed violence to be excused, justified or condoned.
They noted the need to implement primary prevention strategies to dismantle harmful attitudes towards women and promote gender equality.
“'If we are to prevent family violence we must change the attitudes and social conditions that give rise to it,’’ the commissioners wrote. “Solving family violence calls for sustained human effort and shared commitment to building a culture of non-violence and gender equality.’’
To create a culture of non-violence and gender equality, the commissioners called for “ordinary Victorians’’ to come together to change attitudes and behaviours. They also called for the focus to be on perpetrators, noting “efforts to hold perpetrators to account are grossly inadequate’’ and victims were too often left to carry the burden of managing risk. “Victims should not be held responsible to manage their own or their chidren’s safety,’’ commissioner Marcia Neave said. “There is not enough focus on helping victims recover from the effects of violence and rebuild their lives.’’
The commissioners also noted inadequate investment in measures designed to prevent and respond to family violence, saying the capacity of specialist family violence services should be increased, so they could move from managing demand to meeting demand.
They noted the safety of victims was undermined by inadequate methods for sharing information between agencies about perpetrator risk; the different forms and manifestations of family violence were insufficiently recognised and responses were not tailored to the circumstances of victims; key personnel, such as health services and schools, were not equipped to recognise family violence and often when told, did not know what to do and the lack of targeted resources to meet specific needs of children and young people who experienced family violence.
“We know children and young people are the silent victims of family violence - children carry the effects all their lives,’’ Ms Neave said.
Among the recommendations, the commissioners called for:
- Support and Safety Hubs throughout Victoria;
- New laws to ensure privacy considerations do not trump victims’ safety—with a Central Information Point to funnel information about perpetrators;
- Immediate funding boost to services that support victims and families, additional resources for Aboriginal community initiatives and a dedicated funding stream for preventing family violence;
- A ‘blitz’ to rehouse women and children forced to leave their homes, supported by expanded individual funding packages;
- An expanded investigative capacity for police and mobile technology, including a trial of body-worn cameras;
- More specialist family violence courts that can deal with criminal, civil and family law matters at the same time;
- Stronger perpetrator programs and increased monitoring by agencies;
- Family violence training for all key workforces;
- Investment in future generations through expanded respectful relationships education;
- An independent Family Violence Agency to hold government to account.