Federal government launches ‘world-leading’ bid to end violence against women and children within a generation | Domestic violence

Federal government launches ‘world-leading’ bid to end violence against women and children within a generation | Domestic violence

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The federal government is setting an ambitious goal to end violence against women and children within one generation, with the release of a new national plan on family violence calling for better crisis housing and assisting men to develop “healthy masculinities”.

The new plan calls for reforms to how media, schools, justice systems, tech companies, the health sector and perpetrators themselves act, with the new National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children giving dozens of suggestions to improve violence prevention and response.

“Violence against women and children is not inevitable,” the report said. “By addressing the social, cultural, political and economic factors that drive this gendered violence, we can end it in one generation.”

Commonwealth, state and territory governments have all endorsed the plan, which does not contain specific funding requirements or commitments but is rather a broader blueprint for change.

One-third of women have experienced physical violence, and one in five experienced sexual violence. Intimate partner violence is the main preventable cause of illness and death in women aged 18 to 44, with one woman killed by a partner every 10 days on average. The report states violence against women and children costs the economy $26bn a year.

The Covid pandemic saw offending increase, with two-thirds of women experiencing violence saying the violence started or escalated after the pandemic began.

“Too many of us are being re-traumatised trying to engage with systems that are meant to ‘protect’ us but fail,” a statement from members of the Independent Collective of Survivors said, which was included in the report. “Systems that create barriers to access and have costs beyond our means because services are not designed for the realities of our lives.

“Systems that wait until the worst has happened before they respond, then blame us for not reporting or leaving.”

The national plan includes two separate five-year action plans, with a standalone action plan for First Nations women to be developed. It sets out multiple of areas for improvement across state and federal jurisdictions, with major focus on boosting housing, and engaging men and boys in prevention processes.

“Current rates of family, domestic and sexual violence are unacceptable,” said the social services minister, Amanda Rishworth. “We want to make these changes now so the next generation of women and children can live in a society free from violence.

“We need sustained and collective action across society.”

The plan calls for better support for men and boys to develop healthy masculinities and positive relationships with peers, challenging homophobic or transphobic views, helping men build skills to be good fathers, and encouraging people – especially men – to better challenge sexism and harassment as bystanders .

There are also suggestions for more funding for men’s behaviour change programs and perpetrator interventions, including addressing the “underlying trauma of participants” in those programs. Other recommendations include addressing community attitudes that excuse or downplay violence, and attitudes that place the onus on victims to end or leave the violence themselves.

Separately, the plan calls for improved housing support for those escaping violence, increasing accommodation stock and better helping people with low literacy levels or language barriers navigate rental markets.

The director of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, Kate Fitz-Gibbon, called the plan “world leading”.

“It sets the ambition to create whole-of-system responses that not only support victim-survivors to survive, but to thrive beyond their experience of violence,” she said.

“This national plan represents a much-needed decade-long commitment to eliminate the national crisis of domestic, family and sexual violence.”

Legal and policing changes include recommendations to minimise the number of times a victim-survivor must share their experience; building LGBTQ+-specific violence response services; better training for police, lawyers and judges about family violence; and promoting greater consistency across states in laws, justice responses and support.

More immediate government suggestions include boosting paid domestic violence leave, and cheaper public transport and childcare to benefit parents fleeing violence, with gender inequality identified as a major driver of violence.

The federal minister for women and finance, Katy Gallagher, said the government was focusing more broadly on addressing gender inequality through reforms to childcare and paid parental leave.

“No amount of violence is acceptable and it is crucial that we talk honestly about some of the factors that contribute to violence against women and children, and what we will do to address some of the underlying causes,” she said.

In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. International helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org.

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Jorge Oliveira

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