CENTRAL Victorian support services say the findings of a Royal Commission into Family Violence provide a ‘watershed moment’ for the community’s response to the issue.
The report put forward 227 recommendations – saying while Victoria had made significant progress on the issue during the past 15 years, the state was not responding adequately to the scale and impact of the harm caused by family violence.
Centre for Non Violence chief executive Margaret Augerinos said the recommendations put forward by commissioner Marcia Neave and deputy commissioners Patricia Faulkner and Tony Nicholson “represented a step forward into Victoria developing a world class and world leading response to victim/survivors of family violence and in the prevention of violence’’.
“We acknowledge the importance of the commission recognising violence against women and children is deeply rooted in power imbalances that are reinforced by gender norms and stereotypes,’’ she said.
“We are pleased the report highlights the importance of listening to women and children, and ensuring that any system response is focused on, reflects, and meets the needs and experience of victim/survivors and holds perpetrators to account.’’
The commission noted much of the good work in Victoria had been driven by and built on decades of grassroots work and advocacy by the women’s movement.
Among their recommendations was an immediate injection of funds for services supporting victims of family violence, with commissioner Marcia Neave noting the capacity of specialist family violence services should be increased so they could move from managing demand to meeting demand.
“The Centre for Non-Violence has long recognised and advocated the terrible harm caused to victim/survivors of family violence, and in particular, the impacts on children and young people and agrees with the commission that we must prioritise investment in service expansion regarding counselling and support for victim/survivors of violence, and in particular, children and young people,’’ Ms Augerinos said.
The commissioners further recommended specialist family violence courts be operating across the state within five years.
“Local services including Centre for Non-Violence and the Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre have highlighted for many years the inadequate and unsafe court facilities across our region,’’ Ms Augerinos said.
“We are pleased the commission has stated that specialist family violence courts should be established within five years, and that court security needs to be improved.’’
The Centre for Non Violence also noted the commission’s focus on the importance of violence prevention to effect social change.
“Organisations and community groups across our region have been leading the way in innovative awareness raising and prevention programs,’’ Ms Augerinos said.
“We note a number of new service and program proposals such as the establishment of Safety and Support Hubs, piloting restorative justice approaches, and legislative reform.
“Whilst the commission did note the importance of increasing responses to people in rural and remote communities, including Aboriginal communities, we hope that funding announcements enable the Centre for Non-Violence to work collaboratively with other service providers in those areas to improve responses to victim/survivors and perpetrators.’’
Ms Augerinos welcomed comments from state premier, Daniel Andrews, that any funding directed towards the prevention of family violence was “not a cost, but a profound investment’’ and said he demonstrated the importance of strong leadership on this issue.
“We are heartened by the statement of the commission there is currently “inadequate investment to prevent and respond to family violence” and agree wholeheartedly that the capacity of specialist family violence services should be increased so that we can ‘move from managing demand to meeting demand’.’’ she said.
Ms Augerinos said CNV appreciated the commission recognised the work of the specialist women’s family violence sector, and that any reform and development needed to be built on the strengths of the system, specialist services and be done in partnership.
Annie North women’s refuge chief executive officer, Julie Oberin, was encouraged by the emphasis on the need to achieve “true transformative gender equality both at the formal level but also in the private every day setting to truly begin to challenge and change this epidemic of violence against women and their children is critical’’.
“The Royal Commission report also talks about the intersection of other stressors such as poverty, financial hardship, alcohol misuse and mental health issues with gender inequality and how they often make the violence and abuse more complex and more serious,’’ she said.
Ms Oberin said the advice of women’s services had often fallen on deaf ears or “only been marginally picked up in a non-systemic way”.
“I particularly welcomed the premier’s statement that governments had failed by allowing this broken system to continue because they never invested the resources or design into it as a serious issue and that it now stopped here,’’ she said.
Ms Oberin was encouraged to see recommendations for the establishment of specialist family violence courts and the need for magistrates to understand the nature of domestic violence.
“The Attorney General should consider their skills in this area when appointing magistrates,’’ she said.
Ms Oberin said it was also important to acknowledge the commission’s recommendation for child protection workers and social workers to have family violence training and education.
“I have long argued for this given the known overlap between family violence and child abuse,’’ she said.
Ms Oberin has also long argued the need for rapid re-housing of victims of family violence who were in crisis or transitional housing.
“The longer these families have to wait in uncertainty and in limbo the worse the impact it has on them,’’ she said.
“Allowing them to access safe and affordable housing as soon as possible will enable specialist support workers to continue their support with those families under better conditions for the family.’’
Ms Oberin said police officers working in the family violence field should be recognised and their chosen career paths valued, and she was encouraged to see recommendations about the need to focus on prevention, early intervention and recommendations to immediately strengthen the front line specialist family violence services and focus on prioritising the needs of regional, rural and remote communities.
Changes which recognised the economic impact violence had on women survivors were also welcomed, along with a focus on disadvantaged groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from CALD backgrounds, older women, women with disabilities and those from LGBTI communities.
Ms Oberin said recommendation 165, which recommended “faith leaders and communities establish processes for examining the ways in which they currently respond to family violence in their communities and whether any of their practices operate as deterrents to the prevention or reporting of, or recovery from, family violence or are used by perpetrators to excuse or condone abusive behaviour’’ was also encouraging.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au In an emergency, call 000.