Zero tolerance of domestic and family violence should be entrenched as a part of our national identity.

Last week saw children across Australia returning to school after the long summer break.

For most of those young people, the summer holidays were a time to relax, celebrate special times with their families and enjoy those long summer days.

But for some of our young people, returning to school doesn’t represent the end of a glorious summer. Sadly, for some it’s a huge relief to escape a violent, challenging home environment.

For those young people, summer holidays represent violent outbursts. Days and nights spent wandering the streets because home is not a safe place to be. Searching for a friend’s sofa to sleep on because they dare not go home.

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“Sadly, for some it’s a huge relief to escape a violent, challenging home environment.” (Image: iStock)

Domestic and family violence (DFV) doesn’t simply impact women – it impacts hundreds of thousands of children a year too. The most recent Children’s Rights Report reveals one in 12 people have experienced physical abuse by a family member as a child, one in every 28 people had also experienced sexual abuse as a child and a further 23 per cent of children have witnessed violence against their mother.

Over the ten year period to 30 June 2012 there were 654 intimate partners killed (largely female) and 239 children killed in domestic and family violence homicides.

Whatever the form and frequency of violence, no child should have to endure it. Just imagine the ripple effect that has on a young person’s life.

Violence in the home is the biggest cause of children and young people becoming homeless. It contributes to poor education, mental health issues and impacts their capacity to form healthy relationships.

“Violence in the home is the biggest cause of children and young people becoming homeless.”

In some of our programs over 90% of the young people have experienced domestic and family violence, with intergenerational cycles of abuse leading to out of home care, the juvenile justice system and homelessness.


Sadly, agencies like Mission Australia see and deal with the after effects of DFV on children on a daily basis. One young person I met recently – call her Meg – grew up in a violent household and would feel physically ill on the bus trip home from school each day because she never knew what would happen when she got home. After some respite at school during the day, would the afternoon at home be a continuation of the violence and verbal abuse of that morning? Meg left home at 16 because it was safer to live on the streets, moving in and out of youth services, couch-surfing and share houses. She now struggles with depression and severe mental health issues.

Yes, we can help change lives and put damaged lives back on track. We were able to help Meg with counselling, mental health support and a safe, stable place to live. But wouldn’t it be so much better if the violence didn’t occur in the first place?

Let’s be thankful once again that 2015 saw a new focus on domestic violence. Rosie Batty, as Australian of the Year, deserves all of our praise for the wonderful, enthusiastic job she did in raising the profile of the issue through her own uniquely sad experience.

At last, Governments around Australia have been sitting up and listening. The Federal Government has committed $100 million in additional funding to provide a safety net for women and children at high risk of experiencing violence in addition to investment in the second action plan. State and territory governments have made commendable commitments to new programs.

Zero tolerance of DFV should now be entrenched as an enduring part of our national identity. From 2016, here in Australia, we must not tolerate violent or controlling behaviours in our homes, we must act to prevent it and help those who experience it.

Let’s not allow 2015 to have been a blip. Let 2016 be the first year of our new national character and of our ongoing conversation and commitment.

We need to continue the conversation.

This commitment means efforts to reduce DFV need to be drastically expanded and this needs more funds which are invested in the right way. We need high quality education in schools, greater investment in early intervention, safe and affordable housing, coordinated service delivery and significant efforts to boost gender equality.

This is a Federal election year. I hope that DFV is a major focus of each party’s election commitments and policy debate, especially during those intense campaigning months.

Let them argue, let them fight over it. But let it stay up there. We owe it to Rosie Batty and others who love children affected by DFV – and of course to the children of Australia themselves – to not let this momentum slow down.

Let’s hope one day, all our children return to school in January, happy, refreshed and with that wonderful gift of innocence which should be a right of childhood.

Catherine Yeomans, CEO Mission Australia