The statistics regarding family violence are simply staggering.
“The Lookout” – a forum for Victorian family violence workers and other professionals – notes there were 76,529 ‘family incidents’ recorded by Victorian Police for the year ending March 2016. That was a 10% rise on the previous year – and those are only the cases police attended.
It’s a simple fact that family violence is largely hidden in our society. Victims feel shame or feel that they have no-where to turn. There is worry about stigma, so people hide what is happening from friends and work colleagues.
Even within the justice system, if it gets to that point, victims can be confronted with the question “why didn’t you just leave?” or “why didn’t you just get out of there?” – as if the victim running away from their home is somehow the answer. Those kinds of queries and worry about stigma are exactly why specific Family Violence courts were created.
Just like Victoria’s Drug Court, Family Violence Courts are a forum with greater flexibility and understanding of the issues confronting victims.
One of the key tools is the ability to mandate behavioural change programs. Like so many of the most difficult social problems confronting our society, simply locking people away does not solve the problem.
We must ensure that victims are safe, that perpetrators are kept away, but we cannot ignore the fact that nothing in society as a whole will change unless we change the attitudes and behaviour driving that violence.
The specialist family violence courts in Ballarat and Heidelberg have been very successful and that has led to Frankston and Moorabbin also being given the jurisdiction to make counselling orders. But the problem of family violence is not just limited to those areas.
Of the 2,337 applicants who accessed a support worker from the Specialist Family Violence Courts in the year to 2015, 44% live in the North and West Metropolitan regions.
The Dropping Off the Edge Report 2015 found that complex and entrenched disadvantage continues to be experienced in specific locations across the state, with the North and West Metropolitan Regions highlighted as some of the most disadvantaged.
Those figures show that situations of domestic crisis are at the heart of so many issues we are dealing with.
This really struck me, given that I am on the juvenile justice inquiry, the drug law reform inquiry and the MSIC inquiry. All those inquiries have shown that a background of family violence is so often a precursor to drug addiction or juvenile crimes.
We know that more than 78% of women who are victims of domestic violence say their children see or hear that violence. But the Royal Commission heard housing unavailability acts as a “dangerous deterrent” to leaving violent relationships.
It’s a horrifying equation. Children are growing up in violent households, affecting their education and life opportunities. Mothers stay, because there are few other options. The economic and psychological impact drives offending or drug abuse and brings children into contact with the criminal justice system, cementing a cycle that has been repeated by generation after generation.
That’s not an excuse – it’s a demonstration of how interconnected these issues are – and it explains why we are continuing to see increases in family violence callouts each year. Things will not change until disadvantage as a whole is tackled.
More can be done and more must be done to address family violence. The challenge now is to change the focus so family violence is not just seen within the prism of the criminal justice system, but as a wider societal issue.