Domestic violence training for hospital workers, GPs and police is welcome. But where will these front line staff actually refer women to when they need crisis accommodation, given the current shortage? Catherine Gander writes.
To hear the Prime Minister take leadership and make this tragic issue facing Australian women and children a priority for governments was heartening. It is a call that Australia has been waiting for.
The package announced by the Prime Minister along with the Minister for Women aims to make women safer on the streets, at home and online. The initiatives announced are strong steps in the right direction.
However, something vital is missing.
On the positive side, the package focuses on shifting culture and changing attitudes towards women to reduce and prevent domestic violence in the long-term. Given that 25 per cent of young men still don’t think it is serious if a man hits their girlfriend after they have had a few drinks, we have a long way to go.
The package includes an expansion to the Safe at Home Programs, which support women and children to remain in their home and the perpetrator to be removed instead. This increased investment to assist more women who choose to remain in their homes is central to shifting the accountability for violence onto the perpetrator, and gives more women the option of not leaving their homes and their communities.
The Safe at Home Program provides specialist workers as well as security upgrades to homes that could be as simple as changing the locks or, in high-risk circumstances, installing surveillance cameras and panic buttons. As Rosie Batty said, it is about giving women the choice. It will not be the right solution for all women. That choice can mean the right for women to not have to uproot from their lives, and for their children to be able to remain at their schools, with their friends and in their neighbourhood.
But what is missing from the announcement is investment for those women who do need to leave, and who will need a women’s refuge, shelter or safe house.
This investment is required to give women the choice to leave, or to have somewhere safe to go while the security upgrades and legal interventions are made to enable them to return home safely.
It is about women having the choice not to remain in a violent home because all the specialist women’s domestic violence refuges are full. It is about the choice to stay in a safe place when women don’t want to return to their homes because they don’t feel safe there, or the memories of the violence are too traumatic for them and their children.
In Australia last year, 2,800 women who chose to go to a women’s domestic violence refuge could not be accommodated, and this figure does not include accompanying children.
Currently women’s refuges are included in Australia’s federal and state-funded homelessness programs. This has seen women’s refuges subsumed into the homelessness agenda, where they have not been recognised or adequately supported for the complex homicide prevention work they are required to provide. And in turn, the specialist needs of women and children trying to escape domestic violence have slowly morphed into a welfare response to homelessness — where the outcomes are focussed on saving tenancies, not lives.