Family violence is not a comfortable topic to talk about. But when you look at the statistics of how many women have experienced family or intimate partner violence – 1 in 4 Australian women since 15, according to the 2016 Personal Safety Survey – we cannot help think about how many people are perpetrating this violence. Could it be people you know, are they at your workplace or even in your social circles?
Often when we think about family violence perpetrators, we have images of Darth Vader-esque shaded out newsreels of men who have committed highly publicised atrocities, like Rowan Baxter or Luay Sako. In truth, perpetrators are much more common. You have probably met some. They are often incredibly charming, someone that you would never have thought them capable of using family violence. But they are there.
In Victoria, the 2016 release of the final report of the Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended 227 ways to improve the systemic response to family violence.
The primary focus of the initial response to the Royal Commission has been rightfully focused on better responding to the needs of victim-survivors. As with all big reform, it takes time, but the Victorian investment is often the envy of other jurisdictions’ family violence sectors.
Of the Royal Commission’s recommendations, a number related to the system that works directly with perpetrators. It considered the need to build the evidence base around what works, expand opportunities for integration with other systems (like alcohol and drug services, mental health), and forming a ‘web of accountability’ around perpetrators.
Victim survivors for too long have experienced the burden of family violence at all stages. Not only do they experience violence and abuse, but they often have to escape the violence. The system is weighted to the victim having to take responsibility; when in fact, this burden should shift to the perpetrator wherever safe to do so.
The next stage of reforming the family violence system must focus on shifting this burden away from victim-survivors to perpetrators, with victim-survivor safety at the centre.
The current sector that works with perpetrators is filled with dedicated people seeking to make these changes, who are dedicated to building practice and increasing efficacy.
The services are critical to monitoring risk around their clients, both through direct interaction and contact with the perpetrator’s partners, ex-partners and spouses to make sure they are safe. The system is based on keeping the victim-survivors safe.
However, addressing men’s use of family violence is not easy. Reflecting that this area has not had much investment in the past and has not been a major research focus, we are still needing to build our practice further.
‘Not all men’ are the same. Different programs are needed to support change. We need to be able to intervene earlier. We need to make sure there are culturally appropriate services. We need to make sure that, where safe to do so, victim-survivors can stay at home and perpetrators are housed and supported to change their behaviour. We need to make sure there is a range of programs in prisons which aim to reduce re-offending.
There remains much to do to shift to the burden of family violence from victim-survivors to the perpetrators and it begins with funding to ensure that men who use violence are held to account, and supported to change their abusive and violence behaviour.
Although this a journey we are at the beginning of, it is essential for improving the safety and wellbeing of victim-survivors of family violence.