For at least the past five years, Central Goldfields Shire has experienced the highest rate of reported family incidents of any municipality in central Victoria.
Data from the Crime Statistics Agency shows the rate of family incidents in Central Goldfields Shire was also among the highest in the state in 2017-18, and well above the overall state average.
But there has been a concerted push within the community to address family violence, with the Maryborough Rotary Club a leader in the effort with its #SayNO2familyviolence campaign.
The initiative aims to open up conversation in the community about the issue, ensure those experiencing it know of support available to them, facilitate partnerships within the community, and enact early intervention strategies.
Community alliance Go Goldfields also has a family violence action plan, which has four pillars: respect and equality for women, community empowerment to take action, offenders being held to account, and service providers being able to meet the community’s needs.
Another initiative is the Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre’s Tipping the Scales project, which aims to provide people with timely legal advice and engage them with appropriate supports, with a focus on family violence and child protection matters.
Yesterday, the three organisations partnered to continue their work against family violence with a forum in Maryborough.
Keynote speaker Mary Barry, the former chief executive officer of national violence prevention organisation Our Watch, invited services, agencies and the broader community to work on primary prevention strategies.
Primary prevention a long-term approach that aims to stop violence before it starts by addressing the root causes of family violence, of which the victims are mostly women and the perpetrators men.
Ms Barry explained that while there was no single cause of violence against women, research showed disrespect for women, low support for gender equality, and adherence to rigid gender roles were drivers.
Factors such as alcohol, drugs and economic disadvantage could exacerbate the problem, she said, but were not the cause.
“The reality is that gender inequality is at the core of the problem, and gender equality is at the heart of the solution,” she said.
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While violence against women was deeply embedded within society, its cultures and its norms, Ms Barry said it was possible to achieve change, drawing comparisons with the “seismic change” in attitudes and behaviours regarding smoking, sun exposure and drink-driving.
Ms Barry said the community needed to grow gender equality and respect for women in all aspects of everyday life.
She said this required simultaneous action where people lived, learnt, worked and socialised: schools, workplaces, community groups, clubs, and sporting organisations.
Ms Barry said individuals could play a part, too.
“This can be as simple as calling out sexist or derogatory comments when you hear them at home, in social situations, or at work,” she said.
“You can refrain from buying into the old adage that ‘boys will be boys’ as an excuse for disrespectful behaviour towards girls and women, whether in the home, at a social setting, on the street, or in the workplace.”
She said employees could encourage their employers to implement workplace respect or accreditation programs, while employers could make that decision to do so.
Ms Barry encouraged parents and grandparents to think about the way they spoke to their male and female children and grandchildren, and model behaviours that supported gender equality.
Ms Barry applauded the work of the local community, telling the Bendigo Advertiser that what had been done was “amazing”.
“Communities such as yours, with a shared ethos and interest, can have a powerful influence on the behaviour of individuals, through the culture they establish,” she told the forum.
The Royal Commission into Family Violence reports that community-led action is essential for cultural change.
Ms Barry acknowledged that family violence was a complex issue and it was challenging for people to acknowledge it occurred.
“For people living in smaller regional and rural communities, it becomes even more challenging and difficult to admit that family violence happens to people we know, love, and care about, particularly when both the perpetrators and the victims can be known by everyone, including the police, the court staff, and the relevant family violence services.
“Intertwined with this of course can be a fear that the victim’s or the perpetrator’s circumstances will become more widely known in their community, and could result in ostracism.”
But when it came to primary prevention, she said, the approach did not differ in such communities.
“The messages are exactly the same, and the way you roll out primary prevention is the same,” Ms Barry said.
Family violence is not a scourge limited to communities like Maryborough and its surrounds.
“When it comes to violence against women, we are a country in crisis,” Ms Barry said.
At least one woman, on average, is killed by a former or current partner each week. Police are called to a family violence incident every two minutes, women are three times more likely than men to experience violence at the hands of their partner, and one in four women have or will experience violence from a partner.
“In Australia today, the biggest risk factor for experiencing sexual assault, domestic or family violence, is being a woman,” Ms Barry said.