What domestic violence experts say is needed for women's safety

In response to Hannah Clarke's murder and the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic violence experts Australian Women Against Violence Alliance 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.


Add your support to the campaign: https://www.fairagenda.org/familyviolence_pandemic