March 2021 marks five years since the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence handed down its landmark report. The report included 227 recommendations to reform the state’s family violence prevention and response system, to improve outcomes for victim survivors.
The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre (MGFVPC) recently hosted a five-year anniversary event, to reflect on what has changed in that time and where our continued efforts should focus.
It was a wonderful event and those present on the night reflected that it felt like a reunion of sorts, coming back together after 12 months of COVID-19 restrictions.
Boonwurrung Traditional Owner Carolyn Gheran Yarraman Steel Briggs opened with a Welcome to Country, emphasising the importance of traditional laws that govern how people interact with each other on country. She noted this includes the law of knowledge, where we have a responsibility to obtain knowledge and pass it down to future generations. It also includes the law of respect – respecting the past and respecting the laws of those whose land we are on.
In her opening address, former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon reflected on Aunty Carolyn’s directions to respect the past. Dr Nixon recalled that at the time of joining the police force 50 years ago, the public did not want to know about family violence and violence against women. Police at the time were instructed to stay out of ‘private matters’, despite the obvious prevalence of family violence throughout the community.
Dr Nixon noted that many of those in attendance were to be credited for the changes that have happened since that time because of their continued focus on family violence.
“They keep getting knocked over, but they come back,” she reflected.
Associate Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Director of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, facilitated a panel discussion featuring:
- Tania Farha, CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria and Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria
- Jacqui Watt, CEO of No To Violence
- Professor Muriel Bamblett AO, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency
- Eleri Butler, CEO of Family Safety Victoria
- Lauren Callaway, Assistant Commissioner, Family Violence Command, Victoria Police
- Tracey Gaudry, CEO of Respect Victoria
Panellists spoke of the world-leading nature of the reforms that have taken place since the Royal Commission, noting that many around the world are watching Victoria with interest. The Multi Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) Framework and Central Information Point (CIP) for sharing information between services were mentioned by several panellists as developments of significant impact in the march towards a truly integrated system.
Also named as key innovations were the Orange Door Support and Safety Hubs, the Dhelk Dja agreement for Aboriginal self-determination, and the establishment of Respect Victoria dedicated to primary prevention.
Regarding changes amongst the Victorian community, Ms Farha (DV Vic and DVRCV) observed that more people now know where to go for family violence support. Similarly, Ms Gaudry (Respect Victoria) noted that family violence is now front of mind in our community, with research showing Victorians consistently rank the issue among the top three concerns in the state. Ms Watt (NTV) stated that we have seen “power gradually shifting”.
Professor Bamblett (VACCA) commented that she felt proud of the work that has been led by the Aboriginal community and noted that Aboriginal women and children have increased access to Aboriginal-led therapeutic and trauma-informed approaches.
Family Violence Command Assistant Commissioner Lauren Callaway highlighted several changes within Victoria Police, including significantly improved family violence training for new recruits, a Family Violence Centre of Learning at the Police Academy for training across all levels of policing, the introduction of Family Violence Investigation Units and a specialist Family Violence Task Force.
Assistant Commissioner Callaway also noted that police data showed a rise in family violence reports during the second Victorian COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Ms Farha observed an increase in family and friends reporting family violence incidents on behalf of loved ones during the lockdowns, indicating improved community awareness of the issue.
Whilst much has been achieved, all panellists were quick to point out that there is much work still to do.
The need for improved family violence data was a common theme, to measure what is or is not working. Panellists spoke of the need to centre the voices of victim survivors, to improve responses to children as victim survivors in their own right, to pivot to the perpetrator, to address housing shortages, and to ensure the system is safe for all victim survivors of family violence, including LGBTIQ people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Perhaps the most powerful words of the evening though came from Jennifer, Chair of the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council (VSAC). Jennifer reminded us of the urgency of this work – that while we can be grateful for the changes that have been made, we should be impatient for more; that it is not enough when victim survivors can still have courts weaponised against them, when they continue to stay in relationships because there is nowhere safe for them to go. She noted that survivor advocates do not want to be consulted “down the line, later in the process” but rather as part of the thought process, as it occurs.
“Change occurs because we invest, we invest and then we invest some more.”
– Sharon Pickering Dean of Arts, Monash University
“Let’s get this done,” Jennifer concluded and was met with great enthusiasm across the room. “For the one who died this week, for the one who will die next week, let’s get this done.”
To close the event, Minister for Family Violence, the Hon. Gabrielle Williams addressed the group via video. She observed that the reform process cannot simply be about ticking off recommendations, but that we must build a system – not a sum of disparate parts – that we must build a strong evidence base embedded with lived experience. As Eleri Butler (FSV) noted, “Family violence is not inevitable… it is preventable with the necessary public and political will and resources… we have a really good chance in Victoria of ending family violence for good in our lifetime.”