Addressing economic insecurity is key to preventing family violence
21 September 2020 at 5:59 pm
If we don’t link our response to family violence with the economic insecurity that women face, we are failing to provide an environment where women can leave violent relationships and remain safe, writes Stella Avramopoulos.
Family violence is one of the most complex and devastating social problems that exists in our society. Greater resources and new approaches are desperately needed and the current Federal Inquiry into Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence is a crucial opportunity to develop and commit to new initiatives.
The reality of this violence is inexcusable: police are called to a family violence incident somewhere in Australia every two minutes and one woman per week is killed by a current or former partner. There is also growing evidence that the impacts of the pandemic have worsened both the rates and the severity of the violence.
Research tells us that men’s violence against women and children intensifies in times of crisis and disaster, and that post-disaster recovery efforts typically deepen inequalities for women. The response to COVID-19 must centre on women and girls and attend to their heightened risk of violence.
Change is possible if we engineer it.
Based on our many decades of work with victim survivors of family and domestic violence, Good Shepherd has called on the current federal inquiry to recognise that economic insecurity is a key driver of this violence and that economic equality must be at the centre of addressing this problem.
Our work building financial inclusion and offering financial hardship support has provided clear evidence that financial hardship is one of the leading causes of disadvantage and that debt acquired through financial abuse is a rapidly increasing problem.
We must link our response to family violence with the economic insecurity that women face through insecure work, poor rates of accumulated superannuation and financial abuse – failing to do so means that we are failing to provide an environment where women can leave violent relationships and remain safe.
Recent research from the University of Melbourne concluded that poverty is trapping women in abusive relationships, and the single largest protective factor against family violence, particularly amidst disaster and crisis, was employment.
The latest labour force statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal women in Victoria alone have lost their jobs at almost five times the rate of men.
Good Shepherd’s recommendations to the inquiry include costing and subsidising care work; providing free universal child care; addressing the overrepresentation of women in insecure employment and building parity into Australia’s superannuation system.
We are also calling on government, the community and corporate Australia to work together to develop mandatory responses from the financial services sector – including training staff to recognise signs of financial abuse and supporting women to resolve issues that arise from economic abuse and/or debt accrued through family violence.
Numerous earlier inquiries focused on family and domestic violence have revealed a fractured response across Australia and significant under resourcing. There is an urgent need for immediate and sustained action that brings together federal, state and territory governments, the community and corporate Australia in a systemic way – to ensure a well-resourced, nationally consistent and integrated response to this growing problem.
As Natasha Stott Despoja pointed out at her recent National Press Club address, now is the time for a transformative agenda where the solution to a social problem is social change.
Good Shepherd’s work in responding to family violence has shown that collaboration between police, support services, mental health services, hospitals, emergency accommodation and courts are inadequate on their own – a response to family violence cannot operate in isolation from the housing crisis; or the poverty that women are facing at disproportionate rates. We must prioritise multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral responses that recognise shared leadership and equal investment from all aspects of society.
There also must be a top-down cultural change in the corporate sector – who arguably are the newest partner in violence prevention. We need to extend beyond training to education of the workforce to understand the context, complexity and dynamic issues that contribute to family violence.
Cultural change must address deeply embedded gendered views and norms that continue to perpetuate gender inequality, which creates the enabling conditions that shape men’s violence against women. The cultural norms that sustain, tolerate and enable men’s violence against women must be confronted, and the structural forces of inequality dismantled.
We are urging a response from this inquiry that speaks to a collaborative and integrated multi-disciplinary system, a system which is sensitive and appropriate for all. Such a model avoids perpetuating siloing or unnecessary duplication of responses, it enables sophisticated and efficient responses which means no woman or child falls through the cracks of a fragmented system.
Bringing governments, communities and corporate Australia together gives us an opportunity to focus on every angle of intervention that is available to us, to diversify our resources, and truly stand up with a whole-of-society response.