Fair Agenda Blog

Key family violence experts are issuing a joint warning that the impacts of COVID-19 on women’s safety are only just beginning to be felt, and will compound the risks women face from abusive partners or family members for months and potentially years after isolation measures are lifted. 

Australia’s expert body, Australian Women Against Violence Alliance, backed by campaigning group Fair Agenda are advising that: 

Everything we know about the behaviour of abusers suggests that both the immediate and the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to increased danger for those experiencing abuse in their home. Beyond the additional risks created by isolation measures trapping many victim-survivors with abusers, the transition out of these measures will also compound safety risks over the months and potentially years of this recovery period.

Decades of evidence about perpetrator behaviour shows that governments must now plan for: 

  • Risk of escalating abuse in the home as isolation measures begin to lift, and some perpetrators using violence in response to the loss of control they have been able to exert in the home during lockdown;
  • Surges in contact with services from victim-survivors who haven’t had the ability to safely reach out for help while they were trapped in constant proximity with their abuser; 
  • Escalation of surveillance, harassment and threats by separated abusive partners as they  are able to travel to victim-survivors’ residences again;
  • Increased numbers of women requiring crisis accommodation and case management support, as windows of opportunity for them to escape open for the first time in weeks;
  • Increase in the use of violence by perpetrators when their dominance in the household is threatened by job loss or financial insecurity; and
  • Greater barriers to escape for women whose financial security is undermined by job loss or financial insecurity.

All the evidence we have about compounding risk factors for violence tells us that we’re going to see more people affected by violence for the first time; and more who were already dealing with abuse facing escalated violence. Without further action from governments; our communities will not only see unfathomable health and economic impacts - but also an escalation of the family violence crisis already devastating our communities. 

There are women around the country reaching out for help to escape their abuser and seek a safer future. They’re doing all they can on their own - but they need support for the next steps. Right now, governments’ decisions are leaving thousands of women on their own with an abuser who is determined to isolate and control them, and dealing with a legal system that might actually increase risks to their safety. 

Governments need to: fund specialist women’s and family violence services to ensure everyone can access the service support they need for their safety; ensure the legal system makes the safety of victim-survivors and their children a priority; and assist those at particular risk due to visa status or disability to access essential support. 

 

Quotes that can be attributed to spokespeople:

“We were already in the midst of a family violence crisis. Now the COVID-19 pandemic is adding the kind of pressure, stressors and upheaval that history shows is likely to exacerbate the violence and control that abusers are using and put more women at risk.” - Dr Merrindahl Andrew, AWAVA

“We know abusers are obsessed with building power and control over their target, and that they tend to escalate their abuse when that control is threatened. It’s why victim-survivors are most at risk when they try to escape.” - Renata Field, Domestic Violence NSW

“The first wave of impacts are already being seen - with many women trapped at home with an abuser who is now in a position to exert even more control over their lives. In the first few weeks of lockdown, we’ve seen some women reaching out for help for the first time; while others were completely cut off from the services they previously relied on for their safety.” - Kedy Kristal, Policy Officer, WA Council for Women’s Domestic and Family Violence Services

“For some, the lifting of restrictions may be the first opportunity they have to escape the house without their partner stopping them. For others, the increased opportunities for movement may mean that a separated partner starts bringing their bottled up frustration and anger back to their house, and threatening, harassing or assaulting them.” - Dr Merrindahl Andrew, AWAVA

“We know that men who perceive their role as one of dominance in their household, or feel entitled to wield control over their partner, are likely to respond to job loss or heightened financial insecurity by deciding to increase their abusive behaviour.” - Julie Oberin, Chair of WESNET, the Women’s Services Network

“For women experiencing abuse who have just lost their jobs, that financial insecurity might be the final straw that makes it impossible to escape.” - Susie Smith, Co-Chair of Embolden, South Australia’s peak body of domestic, family and sexual violence services

“The risks of this crisis and the recovery period are only just beginning to emerge - and the governments’ current response falls well short of what is needed. There are still major gaps for women’s safety that need to be a top priority for the National Cabinet and COAG.” - Renee Carr, Fair Agenda

“There are women around the country reaching out for help to escape their abuser and to build safer futures. They’re doing all they can on their own - they need support for the next steps. And right now, governments are leaving thousands of women on their own with abusers who are determined to isolate and control them.” - Renee Carr, Fair Agenda

“Recent commitments from the Morrison Government aren’t enough to meet the scale of this challenge, and the risks women are facing. Without further action, too many women will be left on their own to manage increasing risks to their safety.”  - Renee Carr, Fair Agenda

“There are still many areas where resourcing decisions from governments are leaving women at risk. Both safe at home programs and refuges and other crisis accommodation aren’t resourced to help everyone reaching out to them - leaving those who need their help facing impossible situations. The services that should be there to intervene and hold perpetrators to account aren’t resourced to do that work at the scale needed.” - Renee Carr, Fair Agenda

Join the campaign at: https://www.fairagenda.org/familyviolence_pandemic

 

Background

What experts say is needed

In response to Hannah Clarke's murder and the COVIF-19 pandemic, domestic violence experts have advised governments that urgent action is needed in these areas: 

Proper funding of the specialist services women rely on for their safety

The time a woman tries to escape her abuser, or reaches out for help, can be incredibly dangerous. It’s vital she can access the help she needs, when she needs it. 

Even once the latest funding commitments are distributed, services still won’t be resourced to assist everyone who needs it. Experts have expressed particular concern about: 

  • There will still be a significant number of women who will not be able to access safe at home programs. This means they’re left to make the impossible choice between fleeing and hoping they can access homelessness services, or staying trapped at home with their abuser. Without safe at home programs which assist survivors with security for the home, protection orders and support; many women and children will remain trapped in abusive situations in perpetuity.  
  • Crisis accommodation services will still be beyond their capacity to provide physical shelter to those fleeing unsafe homes; and without the specialist staff who are needed to provide the immediate safety management assistance to those facing such significant safety risks
  • Services that intervene with men at risk of using violence to change their behaviour expect a huge surge in demand for behaviour change programs as isolation measures lift, and warn that without additional investment in capacity, the waiting lists for intervention with men at risk of using violence will be unacceptably long, and won’t be available everywhere it’s needed.
  • Family Violence Prevention Legal Services - the key specialist and culturally safe service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victim/survivors of family violence - particularly women and their children - are already unable to meet demand, and bracing for a massive increase in demand as restrictions start to lift. 
  • Community legal services warn that they’re still unable to meet existing unmet need; far less the further surge in demand expected as the next wave impacts are felt. These are the kinds of services women affected by domestic violence rely on to help them protect their children, to navigate the family law system, and to deal with financial abuse.

 

Ensuring the legal system prioritises safety

Even before the COVID19 pandemic, systemic failures in the justice system meant that many women and children facing violence were not getting adequate protection; and dealing with a legal system that sometimes increases risks to their safety.  

Police and courts need to have women’s and children’s safety at the top of their agenda during this time of increased risk. 

Governments need to improve AVO standards to hold perpetrators accountable and interrupt escalating violence. Too often those orders are not enforced, or don’t account for the dynamics and patterns of abuse being used, and so don’t provide the protection that’s needed for a woman or child’s safety. 

While progress has been made with the urgent COVID-19 family law list enabling faster resolution of high risk parenting cases, the family law system  still operates to force children into care arrangements with parents who are violent and abusive. The legislated requirement that the starting point for decisions about parenting arrangements is a presumption of shared parental responsibility must be removed so that courts can more freely consider what is in the best interests of the child in each individual circumstance with a focus on safety first.  

 

Ensure every woman subject to violence is able to access the support she needs to be safe

Economic insecurity can be an insurmountable barrier to escaping escalating violence, and loss of income due to COVID-19 will increase the barriers faced by many women trying to escape a  violent perpetrator. As costs rise and access to many services becomes more difficult, experts have urged the Government to ensure that people with a disability and those on temporary visas aren’t left behind and in danger.

This crisis is making everything harder for all victim-survivors to access support, and to be safe. Unlike those relying on most other forms of income support, people living with a disability haven’t received an increase in their payment. And those on temporary visas face existing barriers to accessing services, income and basic healthcare due to strict eligibility criteria. The risks they face are likely to be compounded by perpetrators withholding and blocking access to healthcare and finances; and they face increased uncertainty about their migration status if they are to reach out for help. Women in these situations urgently need access to income support available to others - as well as housing, health services, interpreters and legal assistance.

 

Maintaining access to contraception and abortion care 

The increase in abuse and violence is expected to include sexual violence and reproductive coercion. It’s known that forced pregnancy is often used by abusers in an attempt to tie their partner to them, and make it more difficult for them to escape and re-establish a separate life.

Experts are highlighting the importance of ensuring those who need contraception and abortion care are still able to access it. That means ensuring clinics and delivery avenues for medical abortion care remain operational, and that clients can access care.

 

Explaining expected impacts

Risk of escalating abuse as stay at home measures lift

We know that abusers are obsessed with building power and control over their family members, and that they tend to escalate their abuse when that control is threatened. It’s why the most dangerous time for victim-survivors is when they try to escape. 

As the restrictions on movement that have afforded many abusers greater ability to monitor, harass and intimidate their partner lift, many will respond to that (as to the loss of other types of control) by deciding to escalate their use of control, abuse and violence.

 

Escalation of threats from separated partners 

For those living separate from their abuser - the movement restrictions have prevented some of the physical harassment and stalking abusers often conduct in the wake of someone escaping. 

Reports show that abusers have been using online mechanisms and technology to harass and threaten partners during this time. Many will have spent those weeks stewing, and can be expected to use the lifting of movement restrictions as an opportunity to return to their ex-partner’s home to harass, intimidate or harm them. 

 

Anticipated wave of women attempting to escape 

For those who have experienced escalating violence and abuse during the lock-down period, the easing of restrictions may be their first chance to escape and find a safer place to stay. The time that a woman tries to escape is known to be the most dangerous, because abusers tend to respond to that loss of control by escalating their use violence - sometimes to lethal levels. 

Refuges are not sufficiently funded to provide appropriate  physical space - or the case management and therapeutic services needed to manage the risks  for every person who has just escaped an abuser who may be intent on stalking, surveilling and harassing them.

Job losses likely to exacerbate abusive behaviour

Those who perceive their role as one of dominance in their household or who feel entitled to have control over their partner, job losses and heightened financial insecurity are likely to exacerbate abusive behaviour.

Evidence from Australia and international contexts shows that situations of heightened stress and panic, increased financial pressures, and disruption to usual personal and social roles can all compound and exacerbate the underlying inequalities and beliefs that lead to violence against women. 

 

Job losses for victim-survivors will increase barriers to escape
Financial insecurity is a key barrier for women working to escape an abuser and build a safer future. For many, access to the money they need to relocate and live separately from their abuser are vital preconditions to escape, and their ability to remain living separately to their abuser. Many will be dealing with financial abuse that may preclude them from accessing any previous assets, and current income will be the determinant of their ability to relocate and put food on the table. Even before COVID-19, domestic and family violence was the leading cause of homelessness; now with job losses, the risks of victims/survivors facing homelessness are even greater. 

The barriers to building safer futures are even higher for women on temporary visas - who may be facing job loss with none of the income support that is available to many others. 

For women with disabilities the increased costs and difficulties of accessing basics like groceries may increase their reliance on the person who is abusing them. The Government’s failure to increase the disability support payment in line with other supports like JobSeeker mean women who are experiencing abuse from their carer are facing insurmountable barriers to escape.

Join the campaign at: https://www.fairagenda.org/familyviolence_pandemic

Written by Renee Carr
12 May 2020

While requiring people to stay at home is an important measure for limiting the spread of COVID-19, domestic violence experts are warning that during home isolation men's use of violence against their partners and children is likely to intensify, putting many people's lives at risk.

Outside of pandemics, we know that abusers use isolation, coercion and surveillance against their partners, and work to cut them off from other relationships so they can fully control them. Those existing patterns of abuse will be compounded as victim-survivors are forced to stay in a confined space with their abuser. And many women will find it harder to access support services from home.

Experts have laid out key interventions that the Morrison Government needs to implement for women’s safety (here). But so far their response has left massive holes in that safety net.

Join the campaign fighting for governments act for women's safety here.

Here are the changes the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance are calling for, and how Government responses compare to what’s needed:

1. Reinstate the funding cuts from domestic violence services

A new phone can be a lifeline when a woman is escaping an abuser. It can help her stay safe, stay connected to support systems and service, and prevent further abuse. 

The Morrison Government was set to end funding of the WESNET program that distributes smartphones to hundreds of victim-survivors of domestic and sexual violence each month. But the Government has recently announced funding that will allow this work to continue until the end of the year. The funding announced isn’t the long-term commitment that a vital service like this needs, but it will mean that they can maintain their work supporting victim-survivors throughout this pandemic.

What’s more, the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum is due to have their vital work cut from June. These cuts need to be reversed urgently so these services can focus on delivering services to women whose safety and lives are at risk.

Current policy: The Morrison Government has committed funding that will allow Safe Phones to continue their work this year, but not in the long-term. They still have not committed the funding needed to maintain the National Family Violence prevention Legal Services Forum, despite the urgent need to maintain their capacity.

2. Make sure people know where they can access service support, by ensuring service access numbers are promoted to the community throughout the crisis 

People who need help need to know where to get it. In the past, public communications have been critical to reaching women and enabling them to connect with services. 

Current policy: The Morrison Government has indicated they plan to roll out a new public communication campaign to ensure people know where they can seek help. While further information is needed on what shape this will take, at first glance this seems like a positive commitment.

BUT (and it’s a big but) we can only improve women’s safety if those at risk are able to access a safe phone to make that contact, and if their request for help is able to be met by services. A public communication campaign that isn’t accompanied by adequate funding to the specialist services that help women be safe will leave many women in danger - when we know the time a woman tries to reach out for help is often a time of greatest danger.

3. Resource specialist hotlines to respond to requests for support

Experts have urged the government to increase federal funding to boost the capacity of domestic violence helplines 1800 RESPECT and the Men’s Referral Service, and other entry points for assistance like Kids Helpline, Mensline and Safety Net Australia. Experts have advised that online help and secure chat is likely to become more and more important as abusers intensify their surveillance and control.

Current policy: The Morrison Government has announced a funding package of $150 million spread across six service areas. They’ve indicated that this package will include some additional funding for 1800 RESPECT and Mensline, but detail has not been made available on how much funding will be provided (and whether it will include funding for the Men’s Referral Service, as the specialist service best able to intervene with men using or considering using violence).

BUT funding for these hotlines will only improve women’s safety if it’s marched with an increase in the specialist services they refer to, to provide the ongoing help victim-survivors need to be safe.

4. Ensure women can access the specialist service support they need

Women at risk in their home need to be able to access specialist services that can assist them with things like: case management; individualised support with safety planning; legal assistance to navigate courts and legal processes; and therapeutic support for themselves and their children as they deal with the trauma caused by their abuser. Such support must be available to those remaining in their homes and as well as those who have had to move to refuges or temporary accommodation for their own safety.

Current policy: The Morrison Government’s funding package includes funding to State and Territory Governments that can be used for safer housing and emergency accommodation,  counselling and outreach, crisis support and helplines, men’s behaviour change programs and other perpetrator interventions, assisting frontline services to manage the demand and explore new technology-based service delivery methods, and responding to the unique challenges in regional, rural and remote locations.  We do not yet know how the State and Territory Government will spend the money. So far we are not seeing the Morrison Government commit to resourcing services at the scale needed to ensure women at risk can access the support they need.

 

5. Resource safe at home programs so that women and children who can safely stay in their home are supported to do so

Even before this crisis, in NSW alone, every day 63 women weren’t able to access the service support they need to be safe in their home. Without that support, women are forced to make an impossible choice between staying trapped with their abuser; or fleeing into temporary and unreliable crisis accommodation, or homelessness.This is an impossible choice made even more dangerous in the context of the COVID-19 lock down.

Current policy: The Morrison government has announced that their most recent funding package will include “Support programs for women and children experiencing violence to protect themselves to stay in their homes, or a home of their choice, when it is safe to do so” but it is not clear how this will be delivered. Given the overall funding is $150 million spread across six areas, the funding to safe at home programs will fall well short of the $180 million of federal funding that experts have said is needed to demand in this one service area.

6. Ensure refuges are resourced to support victim-survivors who can’t safely stay at home 

As men’s violence against their partners and children intensifies, experts are warning that the need for physical refuge will increase. Already there are more women needing physical refuge than spaces to house them. The physical capacity of refuges needs to be increased, along with the staffing to support women who are in crisis.

Current policy: The Morrison Government has a capital works grant program in place (Safe Places), but it requires matched funding, and is tied just to the physical building, with no funding for other services support for the women who are at such high risk they need to be sheltered. New funding to State and Territory Governments can be used for “safer housing and emergency accommodation” but it is not clear if this will increase the physical capacity of refuges. 

7. Ensure every woman subjected to violence is able to access the support she needs to be safe, regardless of her visa status or disability

Financial abuse is often a tactic used to trap women in abusive relationships, and cut off their avenues to leave and establish a safer future. Economic insecurity can be an insurmountable barrier to escaping escalating violence.

Many women with a disability are reliant on others for assistance with their care; and this makes them more vulnerable to violence, abuse and control, including in some cases from those who are supposed to be their carer.

As COVID-19 limits access to support workers, and increases the costs and difficulties of accessing basic resources like groceries and medications; financial resources are more important than ever, and linked with the victim-survivor’s reliance on the person who is abusing them, and whether they can access alternate avenues for their basic needs.

As costs rise and access to many services becomes more difficult,  experts have urged the Government to ensure the increases that have been extended to other support payments are also applied to the disability support payment. 

This crisis makes everything harder for all victim-survivors to access support, and to be safe. Those on temporary visas already find it hard to access services, income and basic healthcare due to strict eligibility criteria, and women in this situation who are facing violence are often already socially isolated by their abuser. Loss of income due to COVID-19 is creating increased barriers for women trying to leave violent relationships during this difficult time. The risks they face are likely to  be compounded by perpetrators withholding and blocking access to healthcare and finances; and they face increased uncertainty about their migration status if they are to reach out for help. Experts have outlined that women in this situation urgently need access to income, housing, health services, interpreters and legal assistance.

Current policy: In response to the pandemic, the Morrison Government has increased the rate of Newstart, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit. But they have not extended that same dignity to people living on the disability support payment; and people on temporary visas are still not eligible for income support as a general rule, with many also ineligible for Medicare.

8. Ensure the legal system prioritises safety 

Even before the COVID19 pandemic, many women and children facing violence were not getting proper protection against their abusers from police and courts. 

These systemic failures, like the failure to properly resource courts and support services with public money have caused a lack of accountability for perpetrators. This has devastating results - like children being used as a way to hurt partners. These systemic failures can also lead men to continue and escalate their violence, in some cases murdering their partner and children. 

Police and courts need to step up to prioritise women’s and children’s safety during this time of increased risk. The safety of women and children must be at the top of the agenda for the legal system.

Protection orders during this time must prioritise the safety of women and children, particularly as they are being put in place for longer periods than usual during this crisis. The legal system must be particularly vigilant regarding custody orders and their enforcement or adjustment during the pandemic. Where perpetrators currently in custody are being released back into the community, protective measures must be put in place for victim-survivors; and the Departments of Corrections needs to make sure infection controls are in place to prevent people passing on COVID-19 contracted in prison.

Given pre-existing issues with police mis-identification of perpetrators and victims, and the disproportionate focus on policing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and communities of colour - consultation with culturally safe services during this time (and at all times) will be key. 

The trauma of colonisation and oppression is directly linked to the complexity and prevalence of family violence that exists in First Nations communities today. The justice system must work in true partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and Aboriginal Legal Services to provide culturally safe services to First Nations people.

As the Government evolves its legal responses to this crisis, experts are calling for the management of safety risks to victim-survivors to be made a priority, and for resources and public money not be diverted from this area. In addition they are calling for policing approaches to be developed in consultation with culturally safe specialist family violence services. 

Current policy: The Morrison Government is yet to make any commitments in this area. 

9. Maintain access to contraception and abortion care 

Experts are warning that the current physical distancing measures will increase men’s use of violence and abuse - and that will include sexual violence and reproductive coercion. 

We know that forced pregnancy can be used by abusers in an attempt to tie their partner to them, and make it more difficult for them to escape and re-establish a separate life.

Experts are calling for women who need abortion care during this pandemic to be able to access it - like all other essential healthcare. That means ensuring clinics and delivery avenues for medical abortion care remain operational, and that clients can access care. 

Current policy: so far the Morrison Government have not provided any public guidance on what, if any, non-COVID related services will remain open, including abortion-care.

10. Guarantee additional resourcing for specialist family violence workers - so services can pay the required wage to their workers, and keep serving women’s safety needs 

To address historic underpayment of workers in the community services industry, a court order has been put in place requiring an incremental increase in their remuneration - including for workers in specialist domestic and family violence and sexual violence services. To meet those obligations, Governments must factor this mandatory increase in the cost of delivering services into all government funding commitments. 

Current policy: The Morrison Government have made no commitments in this area so far.

 

Join the campaign fighting for governments act for women's safety here.

Written by Renee Carr
02 April 2020

Dear Women’s Safety Ministers,

As specialists with years of experience working with and for women and children subjected to violence, we know that long-term, major reforms are needed over the coming months and years to achieve lasting improvements to safety and justice.

We also know there are key changes your governments can make immediately that will dramatically improve the safety of many women and children within weeks.

As well as committing to comprehensive reform to prevent all forms of violence against women, we urge you to action these five desperately needed changes at your meeting on Friday: 

  1. Fully fund the specialist services that improve women’s safety, and hold men who use violence to account, including:
    • The safety planning, risk assessment and wrap-around individual support provided by specialist women’s services, 
    • The safe at home programs and emergency accommodation services provided by specialist homelessness providers working specifically with victim-survivors of violence,
    • The legal assistance and representation provided by specialist women’s legal services, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, community legal centres, Aboriginal legal services, and Legal Aid,
    • The perpetrator intervention, men’s behaviour change programs and fathering programs provided by accredited men’s behaviour change experts,
    • The specialist and culturally-safe services that are best able to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women from migrant and refugee backgrounds,
    • The disability advocacy and domestic violence services needed to support women with disabilities to overcome the barriers to achieving safety after violence from a partner, carer or in an institutional setting,
    • The safe phones program, which has been found be effective in delivering victims/survivors greater technology safety, 
    • LGBTIQ+ services and LGBTIQ+-specific resources, programs and targeted community education campaigns,
    • Supporting community-based services to lead the conversations needed to change the attitudes and behaviours that enable violence, including empowering bystanders.
  2. Remove the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility and emphasis on shared parenting in the Family Law Act 1975, to ensure a child’s safety and wellbeing are the key considerations, so that courts are determining the best parenting arrangement for their needs and circumstances.
  3. Initiate a standard screening, risk assessment and referral process nationally, to ensure public health, social and community services are trained to identify key safety risks early for people experiencing violence in their relationships, and able to refer them to the services that can help them achieve safety and recover.
  4. Agree to institute improved AVO standards to make clear what is expected of police, magistrates and courts to hold perpetrators accountable, and ensure women and children subjected to domestic and family violence are able to rely on these orders to achieve safety and justice.
  5. Ensure victims/survivors seeking help can access free translating and interpreting services, so that regardless of their disability, cultural or language background, or geographical location, any woman reaching out for help to build a safer future is able to access the assistance she needs. 

As with all initiatives for improved community safety and wellbeing, these urgent steps must be taken in a way that responds to the factors that shape people’s experiences of violence and encounters with institutions. These can include: the ongoing impacts of colonisation, race, class, sexual orientation and gender identity, ethnicity, nationality, religion, dis/ability and age, as well as the community attitudes, geographical isolation and the poor connectivity experienced by women in remote, rural and regional areas.

Further to these five immediate interventions, we note that the national alliance tasked with bringing together organisations to develop solutions, Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA), has presented comprehensive advice on the major long-term reforms needed including the Blueprint for Reform for women on temporary visas experiencing violence, and that Women’s Legal Services Australia has mapped out the steps required for Safety First in Family Law. These solutions will require meaningful and sustained investment. AWAVA, its members and allies stand ready to work with governments to design and implement these reforms together.

This national crisis cannot be solved overnight. But actioning these five changes will bring immediate and substantial improvement to the safety of many women and children currently at risk, and will save lives. We urge you to do your part.

Signed, 

  1. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance
  2. Embolden - Alliance for Women's Freedom, Equity and Respect (South Australian peak body for women’s domestic and family violence services)
  3. Women’s Legal Services Queensland
  4. Women’s Legal Services Tasmania
  5. Ruby Gaea Darwin Centre Against Sexual Violence
  6. Sexual Assault Support Service Tasmania 
  7. Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Women's Legal Service North Queensland Inc.
  8. Emma House Domestic Violence service 
  9. Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services WA 
  10. North Queensland Women's Legal Service
  11. Equality Rights Alliance
  12. WESNET - The Women’s Services Network 
  13. Annie North Inc
  14. Domestic Violence NSW
  15. Women’s Legal Service NSW
  16. economic Security4Women
  17. Limestone Coast Family Violence Action Group
  18. National Rural Women’s Coalition
  19. CASA Forum – Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault
  20. Ending Violence Against Women Queensland
  21. Seras Women’s Shelter Inc.
  22. Mackay Women’s Services
  23. Association of Women Educators
  24. National Council of Single Mothers & their Children
  25. YWCA Canberra
  26. Women’s Safety NSW
  27. Mitcham Family Violence Education and Support Service
  28. Centre for Non-Violence
  29. Eastern Region Domestic Violence Services Network Inc – Koolkuna
  30. Communicare Women’s Support Services
  31. Carnarvon Family Support Services 
  32. WRISC Family Violence Support Inc
  33. Women’s Centre Far North Queensland
  34. Migrant Women's Support Program of Women’s Safety Services SA
  35. Lucy Saw Centre Association Inc
  36. Penrith Women's Health Centre
  37. Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health
  38. Macleod Accommodation Support Service Inc.
  39. inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence
  40. North Shore Women's Benevolent Association Limited
  41. Mid Coast Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
  42. safe steps Family Violence Response Centre
  43. Darwin Aboriginal & Islander Women's Shelter
  44. Harmony Alliance - Migrant and Refugee Women for Change
  45. Accountability Matters Project
  46. DVConnect
  47. Domestic Violence Action Centre Toowoomba 
  48. Gold Coast Domestic Violence Prevention Centre
  49. Domestic Violence Crisis Service Canberra
  50. Immigrant Women’s Support Service
  51. Sonshine Sanctuary Association
  52. Beryl Women Inc.
  53. Edon Place and Centre for Women & Co
  54. Lou’s Place
  55. Cairns Regional Domestic Violence Service
  56. Women's Information, Support and Housing in the North
  57. Settlement Services International
  58. Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health
  59. Northern Territory Council of Social Service
  60. Domestic Violence Victoria
  61. Project Respect
  62. Melaleuca Refugee Centre
  63. Dawn House Inc
  64. Western Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
  65. Bramwell House (Salvation Army)
  66. Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria 
  67. WASH House Inc.
  68. Immigrant Women's Speakout Association Inc.
  69. Immigration Advice and Rights Centre
  70. Australian Women's health Network
  71. Centre Against Sexual Assault Central Victoria
  72. Open Support
  73. Women's Legal Service (South Australia)
  74. Family Violence Prevention Legal Services National Forum
  75. Women’s Legal Services Australia
  76. No To Violence
  77. Take It Seriously
  78. YWCA Australia
  79. Refugee Advice & Casework Service (Aus) Inc.
  80. Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia
  81. Salvation Army National Family Violence Stream
  82. Economic Justice Australia
  83. Eastern Domestic Violence Service
  84. West Connect Domestic Violence Services

--

You can get involved in the campaign for full funding of the services women rely on to escape abuse at: https://www.fairagenda.org/family_violence_services

You can send a message to your representative in the Morrison Government about funding services here: https://fair-agenda.good.do/asaferfuture/

Written by Renee Carr
05 March 2020

You can read Fair Agenda's full analysis and recommendations on the Government's Second Exposure draft of this legislation in our submission here.

 

There are 6 headline points:

1. This Bill will impact access to healthcare

The proposed Bill would allow doctors, nurses, midwives, psychologists and pharmacists to prioritise their religious beliefs over their patient’s health needs. 

The Bill would mean that prospective employers would be unable to ask any prospective employees whether any religious objections will make them unable or unwilling to do the job; and make it harder for health sector employers and professional bodies to prevent obstruction of treatment on religious grounds.

Fair Agenda are very concerned that this would mean that women and other community members will find it harder to access non-judgement healthcare – particularly in the areas of sexual health, family planning, fertility, mental health and transgender health services. We envisage that the Bill will particularly impact access to: contraceptives, the morning-after pill, fertility treatment and abortion care. As well as access to procedures such as voluntary assisted dying, pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis, and medical treatment for intersex or transgender patients.

2. What consequences?

Proposed provisions relating to ‘statements of belief’ will give a license for people of faith to make a wide range of potentially harmful and offensive statements; and could in turn contribute to hostile, unsafe and non-inclusive workplaces, schools and other public spaces.

The Bill will make it difficult for employers to protect their staff and clients, even if they try to put in place policies to ensure equality.

We are extremely concerned that the provisions relating to ‘statements of belief’ will open avenues for attacks on women, people with disabilities, LGBTIQ+ people and members of minority faith communities, and undermine protections that allow us all to work and study together with equal dignity.

3. Two people get to decide?

The Bill lowers the bar on what is considered a religious doctrine, tenet, belief or teaching, to a new "religion of two" test. It means this Bill likely to provide special protection to much more extreme and unorthodox beliefs.

Requiring just two people to establish that a religious requirement exists and deserves protection is unacceptable. 

In practice, this rule would make it near impossible for a person who has been harmed to argue that conduct of a religious body is not in accordance with the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion.

4. It may enable discrimination by government funded services

The Bill would allow for religious hospitals, aged care facilities and accommodation providers to discriminate in employment and partnerships on the basis of the “religion of two test”.

Fair Agenda are concerned that the Bill may allow providers of government funded services – including homelessness and domestic violence services - to discriminate against individuals with different or no religious beliefs in receipt of those services.

Charities and other religious organisations play an important role in providing services to vulnerable members of the community, including women seeking safety from abusive partners.

5. A right to sue?

The Bill would expressly empower corporations to sue providers of goods, services, facilities, accommodation, clubs and sporting bodies based on their association with religious individuals.

These provisions would silence the ability of many ordinary Australians to boycott in protest, or to conduct business in line with their values.

6. The Government need to add protection against religious vilification

Religious vilification and hate crimes are a real threat to members of minority faith communities, and the women within them. For example, recent analysis of hate crimes showed Muslim women and girls were the most common targets of nearly 350 Islamaphobic incidents reported over a two-year period.

We share the concerns noted by Democracy in Colour in their submission regarding the first Exposure Draft of this legislation, that when religious vilification is allowed to go unchecked and becomes normalised, it lays the groundwork for more violent attacks against minority communities.

Reform in this area should ensure that members of religious groups, particularly minority faith groups that are disproportionately targeted by hate speech, are protected.

Don't like the sound of that? Make sure you're part of the campaign to stop this licence to discriminate becoming law: https://www.fairagenda.org/religious_discrimination

You can read Fair Agenda's full analysis, recommendations -- and some hypotheticals outlining how these laws could impact women in our communities here.

Written by Renee Carr
31 January 2020

As peak and practitioner bodies charged with preventing and responding to violence against women and children we do not accept the legitimacy of the Government’s new select committee inquiry into Family Law. We are alarmed that it is proceeding against the unanimous advice of experts in the domestic and family violence sector.

This Inquiry is not only unnecessary, it is dangerous. We know what is needed to improve the system. The decision to further delay implementing these urgently needed changes is absolutely unconscionable. Women’s and children’s lives are on the line. They cannot wait another year for action.

The use of domestic and family violence is having a devastating impact in our communities - 8 women are hospitalised at the hands of a current or ex-partner every day, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women 32 times more likely to be hospitalised than non-Indigenous women. Right now many of the people trying to escape this violence and abuse are forced through the family law system.

This system is consistently failing them. It is manifestly unfit for purpose - it is failing to identify harm, actively discouraging people from disclosing violence, and forcing children into contact with abusive parents. In many cases it is facilitating further violence and harm. This situation is so dire that more than one in three children post-separation report feeling “not at all safe” in their care arrangements.

Cases before the courts are often complex, and every case is different. Our government needs to ensure the court has all the information and expertise it requires to determine what’s best for a child’s safety and wellbeing, particularly in the context of family violence and child abuse.

Immediate action is required to stop putting victim-survivors of violence and abuse at risk, starting with:
1. Making sure courts identify safety risks that should be considered in any court decision, by implementing consistent screening and risk assessment process to protect children and parents at risk of violence;

2. Ensuring the courts have access to all relevant information by establishing a national information sharing framework to ensure information from state jurisdictions can be considered where relevant, and the courts are supported to make informed decisions that prioritise child safety and wellbeing;

3. Ensuring victim-survivors of family violence are supported and don’t have to go through the court process alone - by providing social and legal supports for all parties to family law matters involving family violence or child abuse;

4. Prioritising matters where people are at high-risk - by creating a specialist case management stream for family violence matters involving children and parents at serious risk of harm, and

5. Requiring those who influence court proceedings to have competency in identifying and responding to domestic and family violence in diverse family contexts - by implementing an accreditation framework for all court officials and family law practitioners and professionals, starting with court report writers and supervised contact centre workers.

Beyond these initial urgent safety changes, the system needs comprehensive reform in accordance with expert advice including the domestic and family violence sector.

We emphasise that the achievement of any substantive improvement in the safety of the family law system will require the Federal Government ending the under- resourcing which puts victims of family violence and child abuse at unacceptable risk.

Peak and practitioner bodies stand ready to co-design and help implement reforms that are focused on improving the safety of the system. But we refuse to be complicit in the harm created by this new inquiry.

Given the nature of this inquiry, the manner in which it has been set up, and the composition and expressed positions of those leading it, we are aware that many victims/survivors do not feel safe to participate.

We remain extremely concerned that any victim-survivors who do wish to ensure their experiences are considered by this process will be unable to do so safely. In any inquiry like this where victim-survivors’ testimonies must be central, essential safeguards and supports must be put in place to make the process safe for them to participate.

Such safeguards should include domestic and family violence and cultural competency training for committee members, options to give evidence anonymously and remotely including via audio visual link, provision of all Inquiry materials in the full range of accessible formats, including Easy English, funded access to counselling and legal services, and media protocols around reporting.

Finally, we note that as representatives of the organisations working on the frontline responding to women and children impacted by domestic and family violence, our primary objective will always be the safety of those who rely on our services. Some organisations in our sector will engage with the inquiry under the principle of minimising harm for victim-survivors and ensuring evidence is circulated to counter misinformation. For many organisations their focus will be on responding to the unprecedented levels of demand for safety support, and therefore they will not be in a position to divert vital resources to this dangerous
inquiry.

Signed,

Domestic Violence NSW
Domestic Violence Victoria
Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria
Women’s Community Health Network WA
WESNET - The Women’s Services Network
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance
Harmony Alliance: Migrant and Refugee Women for Change
Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA)
National Council of Single Mothers and their Children
National Child Protection Alliance
Women's Legal Services Australia
Women's Safety NSW
Coalition of Women’s Domestic Violence Services of SA
Women's Council for Domestic & Family Violence Services - WA
Women’s Health NSW
No to Violence
Doctors Against Violence Towards Women - Public Page
National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum
National Association of Community Legal Centres Australia
People with Disability Australia
In Touch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence
Carrie’s Place Domestic Violence and Homelessness Services
West Connect Domestic Violence Services
Wirrawee Gunyah
Wilmah 
Jessie Street
Penrith Women’s Refuge
North Coast Women’s Domesticin Violence Court Advocacy Service
Yarredi Services Inc
Women's Community Shelters
Northern Rivers Women and Children's Services Inc
Penrith Women's Health Centre
Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Warrina Domestic and Family Violence Specialist Services
Central Coast Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Women’s Centre for Health and Wellbeing Albury Wodonga
Central West Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Linking Communities Network Ltd
Parramatta Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Women’s Centre for Health Matters ACT
Sydney Women’s Counselling Centre
Hunter Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Sisters Inside Inc
Marie Stopes International Australia
Association of Women Educators
Women's Legal Service Queensland
Women's Legal Service NSW
NSW Older Women’s Network
Sexual Assault Support Service (Tas)
CASA Forum - Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault
safe steps Family Violence Response Centre
Project Respect
Sera’s Women’s Shelter 
Women’s Centre Far North Queensland
Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health
Emma House Domestic Violence Services
Engender Equality
Mitcham Family Violence Education and Support Service
Jenny’s Place Inc
Nova for Women and Children
Newcastle Staying Home Leaving Violence
Annie North Women’s Refuge
Port Stephens Family and Neighbourhood Services
99 Steps - CALD specific DFV service in Logan/Beenleigh
Women’s Information, Support & Housing in the North 
Women’s Information and Referral Exchange 
Centre Against Violence
Eastern Domestic Violence Service 
Safe Futures Foundation
Bethany Community Support
Emerge Women & Children’s Support Network
Northern Specialist Family Violence Service, Berry Street.
Leichhardt Women’s community health centre
Women’s Health & Resources Foundation
Kara House Inc.
WRISC Family Violence Support Inc.
Centre for Non-Violence
WAYSS Housing and Support Services
Georgina Martina Inc.
Northern Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services
Blue Mountains Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services
South Coast Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services
Mallee Sexual Assault Unit Inc. 
Mallee Domestic Violence Services
Western Specialist Family Violence Service, Berry Street
Southern Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Far South Coast Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Mid Coast Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
South Eastern Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Macarthur Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Women’s Health West
Orana House Inc
Cairns Regional Domestic Violence Service
North Queensland Domestic Violence Resource Service 
Lucy Saw Centre
Macarthur Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
North West Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service 
YWCA Canberra
Elizabeth Morgan House
Starick 
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand
Good Samaritan Inn
Quantum Support Services Inc
Salvation Army Family and Domestic Violence Services Western Australia
The Salvation Army Australia

Written by Stacey Batterham
24 October 2019
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9    15  16  Next →