On Monday Prime Minister Scott Morrison finally joined us, as he told parliament “we must reflect on how and where the system failed Hannah and her children, as it has failed so many others”, and committed to raise the family violence crisis at the upcoming COAG meeting.
But the COAG meeting is weeks away. Governments shouldn’t be waiting that long to act, when there’s a crystal clear intervention they should be making right now — and that’s properly funding the services women and children rely on to be safe from abuse.
Despite repeated calls from survivors, service experts and our communities – most governments continue to make funding decisions that mean many women and children are left without access to the services they desperately need to guarantee their safety, and that men using violence aren’t held accountable.
A recent example: in the wake of the devastating murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children, the Morrison Government announced $2.4 million for men’s behaviour change programs. An important area of investment — but far short of the $88.2 million experts state is needed to fill gaps in service provision and ensure minimum standards in case management.
At the same time, some vital domestic and family violence services are having to fight the Morrison Government to even keep critical services running – like the WESNET program putting safe phones in the hands of 600 women a month; and the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum that provides the national voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women affected by family violence.
Decisions like this put women in danger.
The time a woman reaches out for help, or tries to escape her abuser, can be the most dangerous. It’s the time when services and support are most critical – and can be life saving.
To secure her safety, she may need access to a range of specialist support services, things like: a refuge or other crisis accommodation where she can be physically safe and hidden; a specialist who understands the patterns of abuse, control and violence she’s facing and can help assess and manage her risks; or legal assistance that can help her navigate the courts.
We need to ensure that every person fleeing violence from a current or former partner is able to access the service they need, when they need it, where they need it.
There are specialists desperately trying to do that work. But many are under resourced and under funded, meaning that they cannot provide the levels of support they want to, and that women fleeing violence need.
Every day, specialist homelessness services are forced to turn away 150 women – including women trying to get refuge from violence. Every year, legal assistance services are forced to turn away 170,000 people – including women seeking support to escape violence. And right now in the greater Sydney area alone, tens of thousands of women have no access to culturally safe family violence prevention legal services.
Governments must do better.
To combat this national crisis, we need all levels of government to fix all facets of the systems that are letting so many women and children down.
We need to address gender inequality, and the norms, attitudes and entitlement which lie at the heart of men’s control and abuse of their partners. We need better responses from the police and the courts.
These are things COAG should have on their agenda, and commit to act on urgently; in addition to long-term planning. And these decisions about how to address this national crisis must be made in partnership with the experts – victim-survivors who have faced this broken system; and the service specialists who work with them on the frontline – who know how this system actually works, and what needs to change to really make women and children safer.
We cannot leave women on their own to escape an abuser who is determined to stalk, track, harass, and intimidate her.
Every single pathway to a safer future relies on the foundation of access to the specialist services that help victim-survivors get safe.
State and federal governments are making decisions about their budget priorities right now, and you can bet they’ll be planning to announce some centrepiece commitments within weeks.
They need to include urgent and significant commitments to specialist domestic and family violence services.
Any government that cares about women and children’s safety must properly fund the services they rely on to be safe.
If you or someone you know is affected by domestic or family abuse you can contact 1800 RESPECT for 24/7 support on 1800 737 732 or at www.1800respect.org.au
Men can access counselling, information and referral for their use of violence by calling Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491