21 women have been killed in Australia by a domestic partner in the last 21 weeks.
We have been talking about domestic violence for multiple years now, and the government continues to fund organisations, so why is nothing changing?
4 days ago, a woman in Western Sydney was fatally stabbed by her husband in a suspected domestic violence attack. This is an all too common news headline in Australia with domestic violence cases dominating media attention. However, the difference with this attack was the nature of the couple’s relationship.
The woman who was murdered took out an apprehended violence order against the perpetrator less than a month ago. An apprehended violence order, otherwise known as an AVO, aims to protect individuals from violence by another person by limiting the interaction between the two people. However, the legal system wasn’t able to respond in time. The AVO had not been processed, and the couple was still living together. Did the system fail the victim?
AVO’s have been moderately effective in cases of domestic violence with a study finding a significant decrease in intimidation and harassment after an AVO had been issued. Although, this starkly contrasts with an increasing number of breached AVO’s over the past decade, with a 5.6% increase between 2014-2018. The statistics almost cancel themselves out, and we are left right back at the start.
So, where do we look? Are domestic violence prevention and education services doing enough?
They are doing the best they can with what they are provided. Multiple organisations are working to eliminate domestic violence in Australia, and all of them are doing an admirable job. In fact, there are over 50 organisations in Australia who are focusing on preventing domestic violence in the future. Friends with dignity work to support victims and encourage people to speak out. The benevolent society works with families and creates programs to address domestic violence. And, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia also work to provide telephone and online crisis counselling for anyone. All of these organisations are working tirelessly, committed to their cause.
So, if it is not a problem with the organisations, what about men?
This area is highly controversial. Should we blame men for domestic violence? It seems logical, men are more often than not committing the crimes. However, I’m not going to sit here and agree with all the commentary regarding this aspect. The use of absolutes such as, “all men are responsible for domestic violence”, blatantly neglects the multi-faceted nature of relationships. Although the consequence may be the same, the origin, beliefs and actions could be vastly different. Men who commit acts of domestic violence are not innocent. They should be severely punished, and I don’t argue for anything less than that. More extensive education for men in their younger years, especially in school could be part of a solution, but I don’t believe it entirely dissolves the problem.
Well, what are we left with? The government. Does the solution lie in their hands?
The government has been relatively proactive in the area of domestic violence. The Australian government set up the ‘Stop It At The Start’ campaign, which aimed to break the cycle of violence by encouraging adults to reflect on their attitudes and have conversations about respect with young people. The campaign consisted of extensive advertisement material and resources which effectively portrayed the aim of the campaign.
Moreover, the government pledged $150 million to bolster support services due to the current pandemic and the possibility of increased instances of domestic violence. However, a Senate inquiry formed after the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children has catastrophically failed in its task. The committee formed to undertake the inquiry took no submissions and held no public hearings. How can you inquire into something if you take no submissions? The chairperson of the committee, Labor’s Kim Carr, stated that it was the wrong committee for the task and he shouldn’t have been asked to do it. This is absurd. Could you have at least given it a fair go Senator?
After looking at the different organisations, the role of men and the government, is there now a clearer view of who is to blame? Personally, I don’t think so. Every group and individual working in this area isn’t doing anything inherently wrong, but still, no progress is being made. What we need is collaboration between all these different groups and individuals.
The government needs to personally work with different organisations and charities and listen to their submissions and ideas. They are working on the front line and hearing the countless stories of domestic abuse each and every day. The government must continue to invest in education for men and families in general. The concept of respect must be embedded within individuals, and any form of family violence is unacceptable as it teaches young children that certain acts are ok when they are far from ok. Both of these recommendations could be part of a permanent institution created by the government which seeks to support organisations and educate citizens.
My last recommendation is a legal body, either by the government or police force that works solely on AVO’s and other less extreme restriction mechanisms. Currently, the process for applying for an AVO involves an application, going to court, and then a period after court. In the case of the woman in Western Sydney, this process is too long. This legal body could speed up the AVO application process and allow for the specific tracking of certain relationships to monitor progress.
There is no place for domestic violence in Australia. My words and thoughts hold no weight against the professionals who support and work with victims of domestic violence every day. Their words are powerful, and they have hundreds of ideas on ways to improve the system. Australian government now is the time to listen, then it’s time to act.