Fair Agenda Blog

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

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 and provides universities with at least $17 billion of Australian taxpayer funding annually – it’s past time that the Government held universities accountable on this ongoing, systemic issue of student wellbeing and safety,” Ms Henry added.


Fast facts
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)

Written by Renee Carr
27 April 2018
Handmaids

Last year TV series The Handmaid's Tale made international headlines for its haunting depiction of a dystopian future America where women are denied control over their bodies and reproductive health. The show now has a huge international following - and its costumes have become iconic in the global protest for abortion rights.

In just a few weeks, the second series will premiere in Australia. Can you organise a house party screening to raise funds for pro-choice campaigns in Australia?

Right now abortion is still in the Criminal Code in both Queensland and NSW. It means women are frequently refused assistance at public hospitals, and that people face additional distress, danger and financial burden when they need to terminate their pregnancy.

In coming months there will be critical opportunities to secure changes to the law in Queensland. But there are extreme anti-choice forces who are working hard to stop that from happening.

That's why your help is so important. It's going to take a huge effort to secure this desperately needed progress.

Can you help raise funds to fight for Queenslanders' reproductive rights by organising a screening The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 premiere at your house, inviting some friends around to watch with you, and asking those who come along to make a donation to support campaigns for the right to choose?

Sign up here to register a screening.

We’ll provide you with a short host pack – including information about the state of reproductive rights in Australia, key battles on the horizon, and what Fair Agenda is fundraising for. 

The Handmaid’s Tale will be released on SBS On Demand on Thursday 26th April, and the first episode will be available to screen on SBS Demand for two weeks.

Any questions? Please contact us via info@fairagenda.org

Content Warning: The series includes distressing content including depictions of sexual violence and torture.

Written by Renee Carr
12 April 2018
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