Outrage over funding for couples counselling in domestic violence package
30 July 2019 at 8:31 am
The Senate has passed a motion criticising the government’s plan to fund couples counselling for abuse perpetrators and their victims.
Greens deputy leader Larissa Waters said it was an important motion that went to the heart of expert advice from frontline domestic and family violence service providers.
“Frontline services desperately need more funding. However, to allocate funding for mandatory or even optional, but forced, couples counselling in incidences of violence in a relationship where other services are struggling for funding is against the advice of these expert bodies,” Waters said.
The latest debate in the Senate comes days after women’s safety groups were left dumbfounded following the Morrison government’s confirmation it would go ahead with the funding.
The funding is part of a $10 million domestic violence package to expand specialist family violence services which include counselling and dispute resolution for individuals or couples.
Anti-domestic violence and women’s organisations have said couples counselling where domestic violence was a factor put women in even more danger, and hindered their chances of escaping the relationship.
Rachael Natoli, CEO of the Lokahi Foundation and a survivor of domestic violence, told Pro Bono News women in abusive situations were often coerced into attending counselling sessions, and they did not achieve any positive outcomes.
“You’re not going to be honest about the fact that you’re in an abusive relationship with the counselor because the consequences that you’re going to suffer are too great a risk,” Natoli said.
“Because while you are probably safe during the session, there is no one that can protect you when you leave. You have to go home with the perpetrator.”
But Federal Minister for Social Services Anne Ruston said the motion was misleading.
She argued the expanded family violence services package was focused on providing additional services for children who witness or experience violence.
“Specialist family violence services do not force survivors to undergo counselling with perpetrators, and all funded services must be delivered in accordance with the National Outcome Standards for Perpetrator Interventions,” Minister Ruston said.
She said the government would not fund activities that did not demonstrate strong safety practices.
Hayley Foster, the CEO of Women’s Safety NSW, told Pro Bono News the idea that this plan was informed by “the experts” was wrong.
“The government said that it was under the advice of the experts, but we’re the experts… and we didn’t advise them to do this,” she said.
“We are now asking them what the rationale behind this is and why they are making this decision.”
Only invited organisations are able to apply for the funding, and nearly half of those organisations are religious based.
Foster said no information on how or why these particular organisations were selected had been shared with expert organisations, and the fact that so many of them were religious based raised questions.
There is also no requirement that the relationship service has experience delivering specialist domestic violence services.
“Many of the women who have shared their experiences have been referred to couples counseling through religious associations, and despite the abuse they had experienced they had been supported to stay committed to the relationship and to make it work,” Foster said.
“We really want the government to reassure us that as a secular institution, they are supporting women to be able to escape violent relationships.”
Waters also attacked this aspect of the government’s plan, calling for trained experts to be providing services, not faith based organisations.
The motion calls on the government to ensure all government funded counselling services for family violence are delivered by expert family violence service providers and to adequately fund frontline domestic violence and crisis housing services, including the provision of safe and specific family violence support services for Aboriginal, culturally and linguistically diverse, and LGBTIQ communities.
A change.org petition calling on Ruston and the Morrison government to rethink the funding package has also now received more than 4,000 signatures.
Natoli said raising awareness, like with the petition, was the best way to effect change.
“We need to speak to people who are advocates, who are survivors, on why it is not going to work,” she said.
“Governments need to listen. They need to take that on board and say, ‘you know what? We’ve made a mistake here. Let’s let’s sit down and let’s work out how we can stop this before it causes damage.”
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