Domestic Violence: ‘It’s about the government putting their money where their mouth is.’

Image via gettyimages.com.au
Young woman sleeping at bus shelter. Via gettyimages.com.au

Domestic violence is the number one reason for homelessness in Australia. This is the answer to the common question: ‘why don’t they just leave?’

The lack of affordable housing in NSW is stopping women from leaving violent homes, and increasing the risk of homelessness. Especially in light of the most recent Australian statistics:

  • Police are called to a report of domestic violence every two minutes.
  • A woman is hospitalised every three minutes because of these attacks.
  • Almost 50% of the murders in NSW this year were committed by domestic partners.
  • In only the first five months of 2015, 42 women have been killed in a domestic dispute, according to ‘Counting Dead Women’ by Destroy the Joint.

Yet Anglicare’s 2015 review has found that less than 0.1% of the rental properties in Australia are affordable for people on the minimum wage or government handouts:

“Affordable housing is the number one issue detracting from people’s capacity to move forward and change their circumstance.”

So for many victims of home abuse, leaving just isn’t an option. For those who do, the financial realities can force them to return. Especially the 61% who have children in their care. Unsurprisingly, a victim will return to their perpetrator seven times on average, before they leave for good.

To make matters worse, there used to be around 70 community centres in NSW for these women to find refuge in. Now there are 28. Across Australia over 80 were closed in 2014. The problem is set to explode with 239,846 more victims predicted in 2015.

Inner Sydney has only three women’s only shelters left. A city whose population is estimated to top 5 million by next year, and has had 442-798 cases of domestic assault in 2014.

Incidents of Domestic Assault, 2014. Sourced from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

Last week a women’s shelter in Hornsby claimed that they had already had to turn away at least 70 women from their doors because of a crucial lack of beds.

Last month a Broken Hill refuge centre reportedly turned away a woman who couldn’t pay for her own board.

Moo Baulch, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW, admits “…it’s really hard – it’s hard to get people into refuges, there are just not many beds.”

She thinks the problem is funding. The government needs to solve the accommodation problem.

Baulch calls for “$100 million to be invested in the specialist domestic and family violence service sector…we need to think about how we’re going to deal with the accommodation and the affordable housing crisis in NSW.”

“It’s not that we don’t have the solutions or answers… it’s about the government putting their money where their mouth is.”

So far, the government has been focusing on the “low hanging fruit” of domestic violence issues, says Baulch.

They’ve been focused on streamlining the specialist services, under the federal governments 2014 scheme, Going Home, Staying Home. The program was actually aimed at curbing homelessness, but the response from women’s agencies has been negative. No Shelter, a collective that fights against gendered violence, began a Facebook awareness campaign, Save Our Services (SOS) that has over 5,000 supporters.

The scheme has involved some independent, specialist and single-sex, women’s refuges being handed over to religious agencies. The most prominent being Elise, the oldest women’s refuge in Sydney. Elsie was the birth child of prominent feminist and spokesperson, Anne Summers, and had become a symbol of 1970s feminism. Its site was taken over by the St. Vincent De Paul Society late last year.

The handover has caused concern about loss of specialised help for women traumatised by physical, emotional and spiritual abuse.

Dr. Michael Flood, a senior lecturer in Sociology at Wollongong University, researches sociological violence against women. He says the NSW governments changes could result in a “loss of expertise.”

“It’s shifted funding between domestic violence services around NSW, going from women’s and feminist agencies to generic community agencies.”

Last week, Rosie Batty made a more prominent criticism of the reforms. The 2015 Australian of the Year told the National Press Conference that politicians have already fallen short of their goals to actively fight domestic violence in Australia. She pointed out that the 2015 Budget gave far more funding to anti-terrorism than what she calls ‘family terrorism.’

Three days earlier she’d tweeted:

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.54.03 pm

Read the article here.

Eleanor (not her real name) says it took five years of traumatic court hearings for her to receive little compensation and no apology from her perpetrator.

Along with the closing of shelters, the federal government also cut $6 million from community legal centres in 2014, and $15 million from legal aid centres. This means a huge proportion of victims will have to fund their own legal representation, if they have the funds.

And for women like Eleanor, the battle isn’t over with the legal system.

“These women are often leaving with a poor rental record because their partner damaged the home, so that follows them around from place to place,” said Sunanda Creagh, the fact-check editor of The Conversation on ABC’s  The Drum.

For victims of domestic violence, there is little chance of escape without a commitment from federal and state governments to an increase in funding for domestic violence.

The first areas to address are the accommodation and legal services available to women who need to leave a dangerous situation. Without such assistance, the number of assaults and even deaths will undoubtedly continue to rise.

Sadly, the 2015 budget only saw funding given to awareness campaigns, and short-term solutions. The self-titled ‘Minister for Women,’ Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced $16.7 million over the next three years to and Awareness Campaign to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.

This is not enough. In 2014, 1800RESPECT, the national 24/7 crisis help-line for sexual assault and domestic violence responded to 54,853 calls. Because of underfunding, 18,631 calls where not answered.

But Moo Baulch believes that “you could significantly change things, within 10 years in NSW, with not too much money…”

“We know that domestic violence costs the state $5.3 billion dollars a year – in the police, the health, people turning up in the accident and emergency department, and loss of wages….it costs a fortune.”

The $100 million that Baulch says is needed in specialist services looks small in comparison. It’s a matter of where you put the money.

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If you are experiencing family violence or need help please call 1800-RESPECT.

Rebekah J. Harris, BA(Hons.), USyd. Rebekah is currently studying her Masters of Media Practice at Sydney University, and believes Australia’s discussion of the growing number of domestic violence victims has been long overdue.  Twitter: @rebekahjfh

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