The deaths of eight women in 10 days, the majority involving an alleged perpetrator known to the victim, has been cause for despair and outrage this month.
“People are saying, ‘What is going on? Is the violence getting worse?,” Jacqui Watt, No To Violence chief executive, commented in Wodonga today.
“That’s hard to answer, because there’s a lot of factors involved, but it’s certainly not getting better.”
As front-line workers grapple with increasing demand, No To Violence as the peak advocacy body is building a push for more funding.
Family violence policies will be keenly watched in upcoming state and federal elections – but of particular concern to Ms Watt is the progress of recommendations made by the Victorian Royal Commission.
The current Labor government committed to full implementation in 2016, but Ms Watt said the opposition’s position was unclear.
“At the moment, there is not bipartisan support for the 227 recommendations,” she said.
“A lot of current funding is committed until June 2019, but what happens beyond that is a big question for our political parties.”
A report on pressure points in the sector will be put to the government within the fortnight, and Ms Watt was in Wodonga to gather feedback from North East representatives.
“Overwhelming demand” is being experienced by many services, including Gateway Health, whose Men’s Behaviour Change Program receives 25 to 30 referrals a week.
Case manager Kerrin Hall, who was joined by her colleague Greg Turner, said facilitators should be funded full-time, with waiting lists to participate in the program often being five to six weeks.
“The rates of violence are scarily increasing in this area and surrounding districts,” she said.
“It’s difficult to engage with a lot of the men, especially the high-risk men.
“There’s also a need to fund after-hours weekend work, as there are a lot of men who drive trucks and the like, and can’t come between Monday and Friday.”
In line with one of the Royal Commission recommendations, the behaviour change program was extended from 14 weeks to 20 earlier this year.
The rates of violence are scarily increasing in this area and surrounding districtsGateway Health Men's Behaviour Change case manager Kerrin Hall
Ms Watt said it was integral that services be resourced properly by the government to meet the commission’s aims.
“It’s easy for us as a peak body say ‘Make them (the behaviour change programs) longer’ .... 12 to 14 weeks is not enough,” she said.
“But I recognise that a longer program is also going to put more pressure on places like Gateway Health.
“We need certainty from the new government early in the piece, we don’t want certainty next May or June – contracts are up in June.”
While still acknowledging the pressures, Mr Tuner said the program was having an impact.
“We’re blessed we work in an agency that has a wide range of different services, which gives us capacity to refer internally,” he said.
“Understanding the individual needs of the people we work with is much more possible through the role of case managers than was previously the case.”
Also represented on the round-table was Wodonga Council, Upper Hume Primary Care Partnership, and Goulburn and Ovens Murray Integrated Family Violence Network.
North East Support and Action for Youth’s Claire Anderson said there was a gap in services for young people, particularly those who use violence against their mothers.
Improving collaboration between government departments and the community sector, cross-border issues and a need for the NSW government to better fund responses to violence – to be more in line with Victoria – were also discussed by the group.
“We know it’s highly varied across states and that makes women and children unsafe,” Ms Watt said.
“We’re working on a federally funded initiative where states come together to be included in the fourth national action plan for women’s and children’s safety.
“The shift will be intergenerational – research that came out last week found 37 per cent of young men interviewed think they have a right to know where their partner is at all times.
“The stuff about control is still there in the younger generations.”
Listening to the group’s comments, Ms Watt agreed the increasing dialogue around family violence had brought out a viewpoint defending or excusing behaviours.
“A big question with that, is how much is backlash and how much is predisposed beliefs?” she said.
“We hear, ‘Not all men’, but what we say is, ‘Yes all men’ – not all men are abusers – but ‘Yes all men can do something’.”
No To Violence is an advocacy body, but also provides training and runs the Men’s Referral Service.
Calls to the telephone counselling service, which operates in NSW and Victoria, have almost tripled in the last five years.
“In the great majority of calls, initially the caller is in victim-mode – it’s the system that has done it, or she has made him do it,” Ms Watt said.
“Our counsellors work hard to empathise and heal him, but also try and shift this narrative.
“We haven’t got all the answers, but we do have a body of experience.”
- Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491. 1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732. Centre Against Violence: 03 5722 2203.