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The surprising way we could reduce domestic violence... instantly.

Is urban planning the key to reducing domestic violence in Australia?

Warning: This post deals with domestic violence and may be triggering for some readers.

UPDATE:

Reforms proposed by the NSW government would ultimately see the demise of many specialist women’s refuges in parts of the state that have high rates of domestic violence.

The proposed reforms will result in the closures of 40 women’s shelters, some of which are located in areas where domestic violence is between 10 and 20 times higher than the average for NSW.

The reforms will affect disctricts including Bourke, Walgett and Wilcannia, Fairfax reports.

The shelters will be replaced with generic services, which Sydney University academic Lesley Laing believes will hinder the safety and security of women in need.

“How can that sense of safety and security be established in a generic service?” Dr Laing asked, speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“These services do everything to help a woman build a safe life. They provide legal assistance, financial assistance … all the things that women need.”

Mamamia previously reported…

It’s critical that we continue to work to raise awareness of the frighteningly high rates of violence against women in Australia.

But all too often, what’s missing in the discussion about violence against women, particularly in their own homes, are practical solutions. Which is why we think the unusual idea proposed by one urban planning expert is so amazing.

University of Melbourne urban planning professor Carolyn Whitzman posed this very interesting question in a post on The Conversation last week: What if we could reduce domestic violence simply by implementing better urban planning?

As she points out, rural areas and outer suburbs have higher rates of domestic violence in every Australian state –  indeed, the murders of Luke Batty, Fiona Warzywoda and Andrea Pickett, and the recent killing of young sisters Savannah and Indianna all took place in the outer suburbs.

This is not because domestic violence is limited to any particular socio-economic, geographic or cultural group; we know that’s simply not true. Rather, Professor Whitzman explains, outer suburbs concentrate certain types of risk:

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“Women who are pregnant or have young children are most at risk from male partners and often find it most difficult to escape violence. And while housing stress is no excuse for violence, it does exacerbate family tensions and lack of affordable housing makes it more difficult for women to get away from abusers.”

But despite the high concentration of risk factors in these urban fringe areas, Professor Whitzman writes, outer suburbs are critically lacking in the very support services most needed by families at risk of domestic violence, like free legal, medical and housing services. This problem, Professor Whitzman writes, is exacerbated both by very high rates of growth in outer suburbs and by reported federal funding cuts to essential services.

As she reflects, a recent Public Interest Law Clearing House report revealed legal aid shortages in many places, including Mornington, the Melbourne area where Luke Batty was killed.

Luke Batty. The little boy who was tragically killed by his father earlier this year.

Federal funding under a homelessness prevention initiative is also due to run out in June and womens’ refuge managers have voiced their concern about the lack of funding available for housing abused women.

Refuge manager Phyllis Mason of Sydney told the ABC‘s Elizabeth Jackson last week that she was concerned about the NSW government’s recent “shake-up” of the way funding is provided to homeless services.

“We have probably one of the very few refuges around that has a room that will accommodate a mum plus six kids so between that and the four other rooms, most of the time we’re full, five families,” she said.

In Victoria, Annette Gillespie, CEO of the Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service, has also called for better funding to help stop what she calls “the greatest social epidemic of our time”.

“What is needed is a review of the safe housing that is available and a response in funding to match demand,” she told Fairfax reporter John Elder this week.

The recommendations made this week by the National Commission of Audit – which if carried out would hit multiple government programs, including family benefits, housing and health services – further compounds these concerns.

Planning our cities better will not stop domestic violence. But, as Professor Whitzman writes:

“If local schools and health services identify violence and risks of further violence; if legal aid, specialised court services and counselling…  can be provided conveniently and compassionately; if emergency housing and housing assistance allow women who have pressed charges to stay at home with additional security or move to a secure location without overly disrupting their children’s lives, then there is a better chance that domestic violence will not lead to further tragedy.”

What other practical solutions do you think could help reduce domestic violence in Australia?

If you need help escaping domestic violence, you can call 1800 RESPECT 24 hours a day.

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