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To all members of NSW Parliament,

As organisations and services working for the wellbeing of residents in New South Wales, we express our strong concern about the harm that current abortion laws are causing.

We believe that a woman has the right to feel safe and in control of her life, that she knows what is best for her health, her body, and her family, and that she should have the freedom to decide whether and when she has children.

NSW’s current abortion laws are archaic, cruel, and degrading, and deny a woman the right to make decisions about her healthcare. We are very concerned that they increase the distress, delay and financial burden faced by a woman who needs abortion care and that they disproportionately harm women living in rural and remote areas, who already have limited access to healthcare.

A woman who needs to end her pregnancy shouldn’t have to travel hundreds of kilometres from home, or cross state borders, to access this healthcare. And a qualified health practitioner should be free to provide the best care possible, without fear of criminal charges.  

50 Queensland parliamentarians, from all sides of politics, voted to modernise the state’s abortion laws in line with Law Reform Commission recommendations. NSW now has the most archaic abortion laws in the nation - laws created in 1900 that treat pregnant people like second class citizens when it comes to accessing abortion care. The attitudes of 1900 should not deny a woman the healthcare she needs in 2018.

It’s time that NSW’s abortion laws are made fit for today’s world, and that abortion is finally recognised as a health matter – as it is in Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT, Northern Territory and now Queensland.

We call on you to support decriminalising abortion in NSW, and to vote for new health laws that promote the autonomy, dignity and wellbeing of people who need to end a pregnancy by providing for safe, legal and compassionate access to abortion care.

We applaud the recent leadership of the NSW MPs who championed, and supported, the introduction of safe access zones at reproductive healthcare clinics in NSW. Their dedication to patient dignity and privacy is the kind of representation NSW deserves, and expects.

We now call on all members of NSW Parliament to commit to reforming NSW’s abortion laws to improve access to this basic healthcare, and recognise the right of people who are pregnant to make decisions about their own bodies and futures.

Sincerely,

Amnesty International Australia

Australian College of Nursing

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights

Australian Medical Students Association

Australian Women’s Health Network

Australian Women Lawyers

Community Legal Centres NSW

Domestic Violence NSW

Fair Agenda

Family Planning NSW

Human Rights Law Centre

Kingsford Legal Centre

Marie Stopes Australia

National Council of Single Mothers and their Children

National Foundation for Australian Women

NSW Council for Civil Liberties

Our Bodies Our Choices

Penrith Women’s Health Centre

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia

Public Health Association of Australia

Public Interest Advocacy Centre Ltd

Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia

Rationalist Association of NSW Inc

Rationalist Society of Australia

Reproductive Choice Australia

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

The Private Clinic

Women’s Abortion Action Campaign

Women’s Electoral Lobby

Women’s Health NSW

Women Lawyers Association NSW

Women’s Legal Service NSW

YWCA Australia

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Join the campaign for safe and legal access to abortion care at http://fairagenda.org/decriminalise_abortion

Written by Renee Carr
11 December 2018

They limit access to healthcare

In South Australia, abortion care must be provided in a ‘prescribed hospital’, which doesn’t account for medical abortions. The impact of this restriction is most acutely experienced by women living in regional areas who often face delays and financial barriers to abortion care access.

Medical abortions are available up until nine weeks pregnancy. For many people who can’t, or don’t want to undergo a surgical procedure, a medical abortion is a non-invasive alternative. Unfortunately, a medical abortion must still be performed in a ‘prescribed hospital’. People in regional areas are sometimes forced to travel hundreds of kilometres just to take a tablet. In some instances, it could mean they experience the commencement of the abortion as they’re on their way home.

They disproportionately harm women in rural areas

Current laws state that a person must be a South Australian resident for to months prior to accessing abortion care. This makes access impossible for people living in neighbouring regions, such as Broken Hill, Mildura, Alice Springs, and even Darwin, who rely on providers in Adelaide since abortion care isn’t available in their areas.

They undermine a woman’s right to self-determination and bodily autonomy

Abortion is the only healthcare procedure in South Australia that requires examination and certification by two doctors. In order for a person to access abortion care, two doctors must agree that they meet a set of criteria, which was developed nearly 50 years ago.

The current laws deny a woman’s right to self-determination and bodily autonomy. The decision to terminate a pregnancy should be made by the person who is pregnant.

They include arbitrary restrictions on when a person can terminate a pregnancy

Ninety per cent of women in South Australia who have an abortion, do so within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Yet there are rare and complex circumstances, such as domestic violence or a foetal anomaly, which could mean a woman needs to terminate her pregnancy at a later stage.

South Australia’s laws currently impose a limit on the stage of pregnancy at which an abortion can be performed. The limit is set at 24 weeks pregnancy, which is completely arbitrary and out of step with medical evidence.

This information is based on series of fact sheets developed by the team at SAAAC. You can view the original source here and follow them on Facebook here.

Written by Alycia Gawthorne
04 December 2018

This election domestic violence experts have called on all parties to commit to the full funding and implementation of the Royal Commission into Family Violence’s 227 recommendations. They say it's the best blueprint we have of what’s required to keep women and children safe; to address this complex, deeply embedded and prolific violence; and that it will save lives.

So far, 90 of the Royal Commission’s recommendations are complete or underway, but 137 will need to be implemented by whichever party forms government after this Saturday. That’s 137 recommendations we can’t leave up to chance.

So, have the major parties committed to fully implement all the Royal Commission's recommendations?

Labor 

Yes. Labor has committed to implementing all 227 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.[1]

Click here to see more information from Labor on their family violence policies.

Coalition (Liberal and National Party)

The Coalition has *not* committed to implement all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.[2]

When asked about the party’s position on the Royal Commission’s recommendations, Liberal Party spokesperson Georgie Crozier said there might be a “financial imposte”, and she would look for “efficiencies that could be realised”, and that she would “work through the detail” if elected.[3]

The Coalition has instead announced they will: introduce mandatory minimum jail sentences to family violence offenders; introduce laws to allow attending police to issue an immediate intervention order in cases of family violence, introduce a new standalone non-fatal strangulation offence in family violence cases; and pilot a Family Violence Disclosure Scheme.[4]

Domestic violence experts have implored the Coalition to reconsider their stance, and commit to implementing all the Royal Commission recommendations, and raised concerns about some of the other announcements, with Domestic Violence Victoria stating that “there is no evidence mandatory sentences or increased police powers before they’re properly prepared will make a difference to keeping women and children safe from family violence”.[5]

Click here to see more information from the Coalition on their family violence policies.

Greens

Yes. The Greens support implementing all 227 of the Royal Commission into Family Violence's recommendations.[6] Read more about Greens policies on family violence.

Click here to see more information from The Greens on their family violence policies.

This election domestic violence experts have emphasised the vital importance of all parties committing to the Royal Commission’s recommendations, stating: “The Royal Commission into Family Violence laid out a long term plan for us. They spent months understanding all the complexities involved and we need to stick to the plan. We can’t keep going with this “new government, new approach” response."[7]

It’s said that 1 in 10 people decide who they're voting for on election day. So it's critical as many people as possible know where the parties stand on the issues that matter to them.

Can you help make sure your friends and family have this information before they head to the ballot box? Forward this email to everyone you know who cares about tackling family violence.

While significant progress has been made in the two years since the Royal Commission made its recommendations - experts say will take 10 more years to realise. If you care about improving women’s safety and freedom from family violence, we urge you to consider this issue when deciding how to cast your vote this Saturday.

 

-References and further information-

  1. ‘Responding to the Family violence crisis’, Victorian branch Australian Labor Party platform 2018, p 83.
  2. Victorian election: what the parties are promising, The Guardian, 19 November 2018.
  3. ‘We’ve only just started’: How the parties stack up on family violence, The Age, 4 November 2018.
  4. Liberal Victoria media releases: prevention of family violence
  5. Concern about Opposition’s policy for mandatory sentencing for family violence offenders, Domestic Violence Victoria media release, 17 October 2018.
  6. ‘Ending family violence', The Greens.
  7. Concern about Opposition’s policy for mandatory sentencing for family violence offenders, Domestic Violence Victoria media release, 17 October 2018.
Written by Renee Carr
22 November 2018

Last week we stood in the gallery of Queensland Parliament, watching as 50 MPs cast the votes that made history, and decriminalised abortion in Queensland.

That majority vote was the culmination of more than 2.5 years of campaigning by the Fair Agenda community and our partners, building on decades of work by pro-choice activists in Queensland. And it was only possible because thousands of Fair Agenda members relentlessly took dedicated action over the course of years. 

This is one of the biggest campaign victories in Fair Agenda’s history. And, if we want to also win desperately needed change in NSW (where abortion also remains a criminal offence), we’re going to have to do all this, and more, again.

Here’s how Fair Agenda members helped make this historic change possible:

Back in May 2016, when independent Queensland MP Rob Pyne introduced new health laws to decriminalise abortion, thousands of Fair Agenda members came together to show huge public support for change. Together we drove local actions in MP’s electorates: meeting with key undecided MPs...

Flooding MPs with constituent emails, and delivering testimonies to MPs in their electorate offices...

Fair agenda members deliver testimonies

And, in the lead up to the expected vote Fair Agenda and partners amplified the voices of medical experts in online and newspaper adverts.

Courier Mail advert

Together we made headlines, and made sure every single MP received polling showing that an overwhelming majority of Queenslanders support decriminalisation.

Courier Mail coverage of polling

Then, in February 2017, when it was revealed that the proposed legislation wouldn’t have enough votes to pass the parliament, and abortion reform was instead referred to the Law Reform Commission - we got ready to make abortion access an issue at the looming election.

To make that happen - we knew voters would need to know their candidates' views on abortion reform. So, Fair Agenda launched a pro-choice candidate pledge – and asked all major party candidates to declare that if elected, they would back compassionate abortion reform.

And, within days of the election being called, we secured pro-choice pledges from almost 100 candidates -- putting this issue in the election headlines by day 6 of the election campaign!

Brisbane Times coverage of polling

Fair Agenda members then chipped in to fund strategic polling - to prove to candidates that it was in their interests to be upfront about where they stand on abortion. That polling put this issue in the headlines yet again - showing candidates across the country what was at stake if they refused to be upfront about their position!

Throughout our election campaign, Fair Agenda secured commitments from 154 candidates that they would support strong and evidence-based pro-choice reforms if elected. Then we launched a powerful online tool that allowed Queensland voters to quickly and easily find out their local candidates' stance on decriminalising abortion.

Fair Agenda volunteers then took to the streets of Brisbane in the blood red cloaks and white bonnets of the Handmaid’s Tale, to let voters know where they could find out their candidates' stances on this issue.

Handmaids with placards

Together we put abortion decriminalisation on the state election agenda – and helped ensure eight pro-choice candidates won key marginal seats, and that four anti-choice candidates lost theirs!

Then, when the Law Reform Commission started considering its recommendations on new abortion laws, the Fair Agenda community got ready to do everything possible to convince undecided MPs to vote in support of new laws.

Together we mobilised, campaigned and lobbied like never before. On the day proposed laws were announced, we turned out for a snap rally, and stood alongside service providers and legal experts to show media and MPs that these laws had our support.

We worked with our pro-choice partners to amplify the voices of affected people, and of medical experts who could speak to the harm the laws were having on Queenslanders. 

Carol Portman Caroline de Costa

We had one objective: to demonstrate widespread public support for safe, legal and compassionate abortion care and persuade MPs to vote accordingly.

We commissioned hard-hitting polling across the state, and in the seats of key undecided MPs, and demonstrated broad scale community and expert support in an open letter that we then placed as a full page advert in the local paper distributed to key undecided MPs.

Advert in Gold Coast Bulletin

And then, just days before the vote, Fair Agenda teamed up with Young Queenslanders for the Right to Choose to organise the biggest pro-choice rally Brisbane has ever seen (and in torrential rain, no less) - joining more than a thousand Queenslanders to march to Speakers Corner and send parliamentarians a message they couldn't ignore.

March Together for Choice

In the end, after years of work by Fair Agenda and parters, the laws passed 50-41 with three LNP MPs, Tim Nicholls, Steve Minnikin and Jann Stuckey, breaking party ranks to support the bill.

When the final vote was read aloud, the gallery erupted in cheers (and tears). 

It was an incredible win - and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of thousands of Fair Agenda members who volunteered, donated, made calls and emails, and showed up to marches. It's a testament to the growing power and potential of our community. 

But we know the fight for reproductive autonomy isn't over. In fact, the Fair Agenda community will need to do this, and more, all over again if we're going to help win safe and legal access to abortion care in NSW. 

Can you chip in to our pro-choice fighting fund and help the Fair Agenda community keep up the fight for compassionate reproductive healthcare?

With your help, we can help share the momentum and lessons our community learnt during our joint campaigning in Queensland, in NSW - and work with partners in NSW to make the call for change so loud politicians can’t ignore it.

We know that the momentum is already building - just this morning NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley announced that he backs decriminalisation, and if elected, will task the Law Reform Commission with putting forward a model for the NSW parliament to consider. This wouldn’t be possible without the long, hard work being done by local NSW groups; combined with the momentum Fair Agenda and partners built for safe, legal and compassionate access to abortion care over recent years and weeks in Queensland.

Written by Stacey Batterham
24 October 2018
What's happening?

As you may have seen, last month the Queensland Government announced new legislation to reform the state’s abortion laws.

The proposed laws are really promising, and are almost exactly what Fair Agenda and other groups have been advocating for. 
 
They will provide women with the legal right to access abortion care up until 22 weeks in pregnancy; and then after 22 weeks with the support of two doctors who agree it's appropriate in all the circumstances. (This is almost exactly the same as the rules in Victoria; except there a woman retains decision-making control until 24 weeks). 
 
Importantly, the proposed laws also provide patients with a right to referral for unbiased advice (which is important if their doctor is religious and refuses to give advice on abortion), and includes safe access zone provisions that will protect patients and staff from the harassment that has been happening outside abortion clinics.

These are really positive laws; so Fair Agenda members have been hard at work doing everything we can to ensure they're passed by the parliament.
 
Here's what Fair Agenda has been able to do so far
 
First, we organised snap rally outside parliament the day after the Law Reform Commission announced these changes to the law. We coordinated experts and community members to show support, and secured positive coverage in key media outlets (you can see the Courier Mail coverage here).
Second, we commissioned and released polling showing that 71 per cent of Queensland voters support the decriminalisation of abortion, and public sentiment on other key provisions within the proposed new laws, and have supported Fair Agenda members to send the results to their local MPs.

Third, the team have collected powerful personal stories from Queenslanders who have been impacted by the current laws - which we're currently releasing in a series of powerful online videos, you can see one of them here
 
Here's what we're working on next
 
#1. The proposed laws are really strong; but before they can be put to a vote, they'll have to survive a committee process. We know that anti-choice groups are working hard to flood the committee with negative feedback; and are trying to build support for amendments to water down the legislation.

So we've been supporting community members and expert organisations to make submissions, and ensure pro-choice voices are heard in this process. If you're interested, you can see the how-to guide we developed here.

#2. We're also shoring up votes to ensure enough MPs support these changes when they're brought to a vote. Sources have told us the vote will be close, so we’re prioritising 11 target MPs to get the legislation over the line.

#3. We are also contacting each and every state MP to ask them how they plan to vote on the legislation — and we'll use the results to help focus member attention, and drive media coverage around the issue.

And, of course, we'll be working to respond to anything the anti-choice groups throw at us. 
 
There's still a lot of work ahead before we can win this - but we're closer than ever, and we wouldn't be in this position without the support of Fair Agenda members. If you'd like to chip in to make the next steps possible, click here.
Written by Renee Carr
06 September 2018

Scott Morrison has just been named leader of the Liberal Party, and therefore the next Prime Minister.

So, what is his track record on women's issues? Here are some lowlights:

  • Earlier this year, when asked about the gendered impact of the proposed income tax cuts (which analysis showed would benefit men more than women, at a rate of two to one). Then Treasurer Morrison dismissed concerns of journalists, saying: “The tax system does not discriminate on gender. You don’t get pink forms and blue forms to fill out your tax return. That’s not how it works.” Read more here.

  • In May this year, when asked why Party leaders didn't intervene to protect Jane Prentice, one of the few female Assistant Ministers in the Government's ranks from losing her pre-selection to a young male councillor, then Treasurer Morrison said, "I couldn't see why. It's a matter for the LNP. That's how these things work." Read more here.

  • In August last year, following the announcement of a plebiscite on marriage equality, then Treasurer Scott Morrison said "I am voting no, it is OK to say no and people should know that... it[s] important that we have given the Australians an opportunity to have their say.' Read more here.

  • In 2015 as Social Services Minister, Morrison responded to questions about his Government's plan to cut working parents' time to care for their newborns, saying cuts to paid parental leave are "certainly a First World issue". His comment was made in response to concerns raised by the Human Rights Commission that the policy could breach international human rights obligations. Read more here.

  • In 2015 as the Social Services Minister, Morrison introduced cashless debit cards, a system that a bipartisan human rights committee said would discriminate against women and First Nations people. Peak Aboriginal health groups have since called the cards a reminder that those using them are second and third class citizens; and said they have detrimental impacts on both the mental and physical health and wellbeing of those subjected to them. Read more here.

  • In 2014 as Immigration Minister, Morrison used his position to intervene, express personal concerns, and "restrict options" for the decision-making of a woman seeking asylum about terminating her pregnancy. This was despite advice from staff that he should leave the case to the medical staff. Read more here.

We deserve leaders who will fight for a fair, equal and safe future for all women. But change doesn’t just happen.

Join the fight for a fair and equal future: fairagenda.org/join

Written by Alycia Gawthorne
24 August 2018

To the Members of NSW Parliament, 

We write to express our concern about the harassment and intimidation of patients seeking abortions at NSW clinics. As experts in our respective fields, we urge you to vote in support of the Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill 2018, which would create 150 metre safe access zones around abortion clinics in NSW. 

All people should be able to access the healthcare they need safely, with dignity and in privacy.

Yet patients and healthcare workers across NSW are being harassed and intimidated as they enter reproductive healthcare facilities. There are reports of people being jostled, yelled at, and even filmed outside abortion clinics. This is unacceptable by any modern standard.

Reproductive healthcare decisions are personal medical decisions. Women must be able to access health professionals who are qualified, trained and equipped to provide the support and information they need to make the best decision about their bodies.

No person should have to fear a gauntlet of harassment and intimidation just to see their doctor about a personal medical decision.

Many women who have endured sexual assault rely on reproductive health services for care. Being abused, jostled, or recorded as they walk towards a clinic poses a risk of additional trauma, and could mean that they are unable to access vital healthcare when they need it.

This is about safe and equitable access to reproductive healthcare.

We strongly support the introduction of 150 metre ‘safe access zones’ around health services that provide abortions in NSW. Similar safe access zones are already successfully operating in in Victoria, the ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania.

We urge you to protect patients’ rights to privacy, safety and dignity by voting in favour of this Bill.

Signed,

Fair Agenda

Human Rights Law Centre

NSW Council for Civil Liberties

New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation NSW

Public Health Association Australia

Women’s Electoral Lobby

National Foundation for Australian Women

Women’s Legal Service NSW

Community Legal Centres NSW

NSW Rape Crisis Centre

Domestic Violence NSW

Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service NSW Inc

NCOSS

No To Violence

Kingsford Legal Centre

Family Planning NSW 

Marie Stopes

Written by Renee Carr
17 May 2018

This year’s federal budget is not only disappointing, but potentially dangerous for women affected by family violence, according to domestic violence and women’s groups.

Fair Agenda, Domestic Violence NSW, National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum, No to Violence, the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) and the National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) have jointly expressed despair that the Government has, once again, allocated inadequate resources to the services women rely on to escape abuse.

“It’s great the Turnbull Government is talking about providing women with real choice and access to opportunity. But women won’t have real choice and opportunity if they don’t have the chance to escape abuse and to live free from violence.” Says Renee Carr, Executive Director of Fair Agenda.

“We’re bitterly disappointed that there appears to be just $18.2 million of funding announced for domestic violence focused services tonight. That’s a fraction of what’s needed to ensure that every woman who needs crisis support, a safe and affordable place to live, or community legal support to get ongoing protection and navigate lengthy court processes, can access specialist services that are safe and understand their needs. Tonight’s announcement also does nothing to address the number of men perpetrating family violence.” Says Moo Baulch, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW.

“Last year the Victorian Government announced a $1.9 billion package to address domestic violence in the state. We need the same level of commitment and leadership from the Turnbull Government in its areas of responsibility.“ she added.

“The Treasurer declared in his budget speech that one of the five things the Turnbull Government must do with this budget is ‘keep Australians safe’, but made no mention of tackling domestic violence; and appears to have announced very little that will help the huge numbers of women and children who remain unsafe and under threat in their homes.” Ms Carr said.

“There is no new money for frontline domestic and family violence services and no mention of specialist support or affordable safe housing for families escaping domestic and family violence. In the year of #MeToo and the context of the Turnbull Government’s repeated commitments to prioritising the elimination of violence against women the silence from the Treasurer tonight is deafening.” Added Ms Baulch.

The most recent AIHW data shows requests for assistance for domestic and family violence rose in 2016-17, with 14,000 more requests for assistance by specialist homelessness services than the previous year.

“The Turnbull Government’s decision to inadequately resource family violence services is a choice that will leave thousands of families without the support they need to stay out of hospital, to make it in to work or their place of study, to be healthy and happy parents, and know they’ll be returning to somewhere safe and affordable at the end of their day. “ added Ms Carr.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience family violence at vastly disproportionate rates. The women who rely on our service are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised and 10 times more likely to die of a violent assault.” Said Antoinette Braybrook, Convenor of the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum.

“Yet our services nationally remain chronically underfunded. Our women deserve to have access to culturally safe services like Family Violence Prevention Legal Services.” She added.

“Community Legal Centres are a vital part of the legal framework in responding to and addressing family violence. Every day women visit Community Legal Centres to get information about their rights, to escape abuse, to keep their children safe, or to keep a roof over their heads.” said Amanda Alford, Acting CEO of the National Association of Community Legal Centres.

“Yet every year our centres are forced to turn away hundreds of thousands of people. That means women aren’t getting the legal help they so desperately need. Tonight’s budget appears to have failed to invest in these vital frontline services.” she added.

“When it comes to men who use family violence, the ‘the lock them up and throw away the key’ approach is futile, costs the taxpayer millions, and is a short-term fix for recidivism.” said Jacqui Watt, CEO of No to Violence, the peak body for groups working with men to end family violence.

“We need community-based responses; for example more funding into men’s intake referral services, Men’s Behaviour Change Programs, and case management. We would have liked to have seen a greater commitment from the Federal Government, and disappointingly, we haven’t.” she added.

“In this year’s budget the Turnbull Government has prioritised cutting corporate tax. Women’s safety and freedom from violence should have been an equivalent priority. If it had been, we’d have seen the Federal Government matching the Victorian Government’s recent commitment to frontline services so that victim-survivors can get the support they need to be safe.” Ms Baulch added.

A 2011 national survey showed that 48% of respondents who experienced domestic and family violence said the violence had affected their ability to get to work. 10% needed to take time off work. Further, women who experience domestic and family violence are more likely to have a disrupted work history, and to have to change jobs at short notice.

Fair Agenda, Domestic Violence NSW, National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum, No to Violence, NACLC and NFAW are jointly calling on the Turnbull Government to ensure women affected by domestic and family violence also have genuine choice and opportunity; by adequately funding the services needed to address a leading contributor to their injury, illness and death.

They are calling for the Federal Government to match the Victorian Government’s recent $1.9 billion funding commitment to domestic violence prevention and response.

 

Click here to take action: join the call for all Governments to fully fund the services women rely on to escape violence.

Written by Renee Carr
08 May 2018
2018 budget guide

Finding a way to escape your abuser is generally difficult and dangerous; in fact, the period when a woman tries to escape her abuser is a time she’s facing increased danger. That’s why it’s so important that everyone who reaches out for support to escape domestic violence can access it; and that we invest in the programs Australia needs to stop violence in the future.

The most recent national Personal Safety Survey (2016) showed rates of partner violence against women are at 1.7% (rising from 1.5% in 2005).

According to the latest data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the number of requests for assistance because of domestic and family violence is also rising: with specialist homelessness services receiving 14,000 more requests for assistance for clients escaping domestic and family violence in 2016-17 than in the previous year.

 

1. Specialist family and domestic violence services

To escape abuse and danger, it’s critical that women and children are able to connect to integrated, 24-hour, specialist, accessible and culturally-safe supports - particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse communities and women with a disability. But right now, the federal government aren’t providing specialist services with the resources they need.

Specialist women’s services are the critical pillar of any response to domestic and family violence. They provide a unique, specialist understanding of the nature and dynamics of family and domestic violence; assessment and management of risk, and provide safe spaces for women and children who have experienced family violence to begin considering their options to recover from trauma and abuse. The Federal Government are responsible for contributing a significant amount of the funding specialist homelessness services rely on.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows the number of people experiencing family violence who have reached out to specialist homelessness services for help has increased from 105,619 in 2015-16, to 114,757 in 2016-17. There has been a 33% increase since 2011-12.

Every day there are an average of 261 requests for specialist homelessness services that has to be left unassisted. In 2016-17, the majority of those requests were from women (66%, or 172 women unassisted every day). There is no data on how many of those are reaching out because they’re affected by domestic violence.

 

2. Community Legal Centres

For those trying to escape a violent abuser, access to free legal advice and assistance is critical. In order to escape her abuser, a woman will often need legal help to find out what her rights and options are under family law; how she'll be able to access shared funds or property; and untangle debts and loans that might have been put in her name by her abuser.

Community Legal Centres provide critical support in all these areas - but they don’t have the funding they need to provide that support to everyone who needs it. In 2015-2016 centres were forced to turn away over 170,000 people, including people experiencing family violence.

In 2014 the Productivity Commission recommended that an immediate injection of at least $120 million per year of additional federal funding was required by the legal assistance sector to meet demand. This would mean at least $14.4 million additional funding per year for Community Legal Centres.

In recent years the Federal Government provided $23.4 million in pilot funding under the Women’s Safety Package to establish 18 new domestic violence units and health justice partnerships across Australia. These vital units have helped thousands of people experiencing family violence. The units and partnerships are being evaluated this year. To ensure the ongoing operation of those units and national roll-out beyond the existing 18 units, there is an urgent need for ongoing and increased funding.

 

Family Violence Prevention Legal Services

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised for family violence than non-Aboriginal women and 10 times more likely to die from violent assault.

Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS) are a critical specialist service that provides holistic, culturally safe legal and non-legal assistance, casework, counselling and court support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people affected by family violence.

Right now, this service is only funded to service approximately half of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

The existing FVPLS services are not funded to help all the women reaching out to them for help. Some FVPLS report that up to 30-40% women contacting their service have to be turned away because there isn’t sufficient capacity to support them.

FVPLS funding levels are currently frozen at 2013-14 levels until 2020. For FVPLSs, the absence of CPI increases over 2013-14 to 2020 period results in a cumulative loss of approximately $9.7 million to the services.

In additional, the 14 Family Violence Prevention Legal Services need $2 million of additional funding each to ensure national service provisions (a total of $28 million annually). And the national FVPLS Forum needs $4.5 million to build capacity across all of these services.

 

3. Men’s family violence intervention programs

Working with men who use violent and controlling behaviour is critical to minimise and prevent family violence.

Men’s specialist family violence practitioners engage violent men to work toward the safety and wellbeing of their partner and children, and toward real, meaningful change.

Men’s specialist family violence experts are calling for further investment in national Minimum Standards [National Outcome Standards for Perpetrator Interventions, NOSPI] and accreditation to ensure all agencies engaging with men are delivering programs in line with best practice; integrating perpetrator accountability across the justice and social service system.

Australia’s largest peak body representing organisations and individuals working to end men’s use of family violence, No to Violence, is calling for more Federal funding investment in: men’s intake referral services, community-based Men’s Behaviour Change Programs, case management, and bi-partisan support/ investment in the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence recommendations.

Experts in the field are also calling for greater investment in workforce development & training, and diverse perpetrator intervention programs.

 

Other related service areas to keep an eye on

Women’s Health Services

Women’s Health Services play a critical role in both preventing violence from occurring and supporting women who are experiencing violence – including by referral to appropriate crisis support and accommodation assistance.

Primary health services, such as women’s health centres and GPs, are one of the key accessible pathways to safety for many women – with 1 in 5 women affected by family violence first disclose this to their GP.

 

Housing

Women and children who have been pushed out of their own homes by domestic and family violence often have to navigate lengthy and fragmented processes to access safe and affordable housing (both rental and purchase) – moving between accommodations that lack security of tenure and safety.

The lack of affordable and available housing in Australia limits exit pathways from crisis services for women and children leaving situations of family violence. Access to safe, affordable, long term housing is a critical issue for the vast majority of women and families escaping violence.

 

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Written by Renee Carr
08 May 2018
Joint call

Leading advocates on university sexual violence End Rape on Campus Australia, Fair Agenda, National Union of Students and The Hunting Ground Australia Project have today expressed concern about revelations in Al Jazeera’s documentary Australia: Rape on Campus, saying it is further evidence that universities aren’t doing enough to provide safe learning environments and that the Australian Government needs to urgently intervene to ensure student safety.

The four groups have backed the concerns of the international students interviewed in the documentary about inadequate information and support provided to international students regarding sexual violence.

“Data released by the Australian Human Rights Commission last August showed that sexual violence is a huge issue in university contexts, and we know from the Commission’s report that international students face additional challenges that can make them more vulnerable.  

“What we hear from international students is that they may not understand what behaviour is the result of cultural differences, or when someone is acting predatorily towards them; they may not understand their legal rights to pursue charges; and they often don’t have the social supports around them that are so vital to recovering from trauma and violence,” said Sharna Bremner, End Rape on Campus Australia.

“I’ve been working with international students for the past seven years. Unfortunately the experiences of the students in the documentary are all too familiar. Students just aren’t given the information they need on this issue.” said Ms Bremner.

“I’ve supported students who are scared that they could be charged if they reported to police; others who’ve been threatened by the perpetrators that if they report they will have their visa cancelled; and students who have reported, but were told there was nothing the university could do.” she added. 

“International students in Australia need to be supported with targeted information, including orientation programs covering sexual violence and Australian cultural behaviours, and specific support services that recognise and address their particular vulnerabilities,” said Ms Maria Dimopoulos, the independent Chair of the Harmony Alliance: Migrant and Refugee Women for Change.

“Universities are aggressively recruiting students to come here from overseas; but they’re not doing what it takes to make sure they’re safe once they get here.” Kate Crossin, National Women’s Officer, National Union of Students.

“Universities should be aware of the additional vulnerabilities and challenges faced by international students. They should be ensuring international students are receiving adequate information, specialised prevention training, and that international students are involved in and represented in university responses to sexual violence,” added Ms Crossin.

“The ongoing revelations about sexual violence and appalling behaviour in our universities demonstrate that this is a systemic and ingrained problem.” said Renee Carr, Executive Director of Fair Agenda. 

“We can’t keep relying on the bravery of individual survivors to come forward and speak out in order to drive overdue change. This documentary demonstrates, again, the urgency for the Federal Government to step in and ensure the safety of Australian and international students at our universities.” said Ms Carr.

The four groups reiterated their joint call for the Federal Government to establish an independent expert led Taskforce to investigate and hold universities to account on the systemic issue of sexual violence.

“Students, survivors and advocates have been speaking out about sexual violence for decades. Universities said they would act on sexual violence in response to last year’s national student survey results, but we know many are still dragging their feet on implementing substantive change. And revelations from students attending this year’s O’Week show that universities still aren’t adequately addressing major risks.”said Allison Henry, Campaign Director of The Hunting Ground Australia Project.

”The Federal Government is happy to promote record-breaking numbers of international students[1] and provides universities with at least $17 billion of Australian taxpayer funding annually[2] – it’s past time that the Government held universities accountable on this ongoing, systemic issue of student wellbeing and safety,” Ms Henry added. 

Remesha Abeyratne, former UNSW SRC International students officer added: "Sexual violence on campus is never just about "sex". It is about the assailant that is still walking on campus-amongst the victims and their peers, the victims who live in perpetual fear and the emotional and physical scars that were left by the encounter."

"In addition to these elements, International students, who bring in the third largest income to Australia, are left to face a spectrum of challenges on their own due to the lack of information on the matter. There is very real fear towards the authorities. For instance, they fear that bringing charges against their assailant would result in deportation. And if it is not the fear of the law, the difficulties in having to communicate to the authorities as to what had happened have silenced many international students. To communicate the violation of your rights is difficult, but imagine having to do so in a language that is completely alien to your tongue?" she said.

Concerned community members can join the campaign for action at: https://www.fairagenda.org/taskforce

 

Facts about sexual violence against international students

The Change the Course report from the Australian Human Rights Commission found: 

  • 5.1% of international students were sexually assaulted in 2015 and/or 2016, and 1.4% experienced this in a university setting (p.51)
  • 33% of international students who were sexually assaulted indicated they did not know who to report their sexual assault to (p.130)
  • International students who were sexually assaulted were more likely (31%) than domestic students (19%) to indicate that they felt too embarrassed or ashamed to report it (p.130)
  • International students are almost half as likely as domestic students (5% compared to 9%) to report their experience of sexual assault to the university (p.136)

[1] See https://www.senatorbirmingham.com.au/international-education-continues-record-breaking-run/

[2] See https://www.senatorbirmingham.com.au/sustainability-and-excellence-in-higher-education/

Written by Renee Carr
27 April 2018
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