The National Women’s Safety Alliance (NWSA) has set out 20 actions for the next government to undertake, as a new survey run by the Alliance revealed that nine out of ten domestic, family and sexual violence frontline services say there has been an increase in demand for their services since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
According to the survey, 44 per cent of services said they had extended their waitlists to cope with the increase, while one in five said they were forced to reduce their services due to inadequate resources.
Services that were surveyed in the study, which make up part of the NWSA federal election policy statement In One Generation, were asked to select the most important priorities from a list of 20 actions proposed in the statement that would make the greatest difference to improve women’s safety.
The priorities identified included: offering more affordable housing for people fleeing violence, extending more funding – and over a longer period – to frontline services from the federal government through the National Partnership agreement, providing experts to teach respectful relationships in schools, establishing independent advisors to help victim-survivors through the legal system and training more people in the community to identify violence and respond compassionately.
National Women’s Safety Alliance CEO, Dr Renee Hamilton said the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened violence against women.
“Right now, calls are going unanswered, services are reduced, and already long waitlists are getting longer,” Dr Hamilton said.
“Whoever wins government after 21 May must hit the reset button and drive action towards a new goal: to end gender-based violence in one generation.”
“Getting to this goal in one generation is not out of reach. Gender-based violence is preventable – we know what drives it, it’s gender inequality.”
Dr Hamilton pointed to the In One Generation statement as one which offers practical solutions. It was developed with the domestic, family and sexual violence sector, as well as people with lived experience, experts, community leaders and employers.
“These 20 actions – taken together – will bring us closer to preventing gender-based violence, intervening early before violence escalates and providing better support to those affected,” she said.
The release of the election statement and survey results coincides with National Domestic Violence Remembrance Day, which takes place yearly on the first Wednesday of May to remember those who have lost their lives to domestic and family violence.
In the last decade alone, NSW saw a 70 per cent rise in sexual assaults.
The National Women’s Safety Alliance, which was established in August 2021, remains the largest coalition of over 120 organisations who gather to advise government on national policy to end gender-based violence.
“Since the beginning of this year alone, 18 women have been killed by their current or ex-partner,” Dr Hamilton said. “We need to meet the scale of this crisis now.”
Full Stop Australia, a counselling, training and advocacy group for people impacted by sexual, domestic and family violence, received their last funding increase more than ten years ago. That, despite reporting a 26 per cent increase in calls for help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hayley Foster, Full Stop Australia’s head of phone and online counselling service, called the situation “pretty dire”, adding that it has not been addressed during the election campaign thus far.
“One in three calls that come through to us, we can’t even pick up,” Foster told the Herald. “It’s the absolute worst thing when someone calls our service because we’ve told them to and then they get a voicemail. It’s a really terrible message.”
In March, the Coalition’s budget announcement included a $1.3 billion package across 17 initiatives for women’s safety, including $340 million to extend programs that provide cash grants to women fleeing violent relationships and emergency accommodation, as well as $127.8 million for national counselling services.