“Let’s get this done”

“Let’s get this done”

Wednesday 31 March 2021

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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.”


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Making transgender people’s experiences of violence visible

Making transgender people’s experiences of violence visible

Monday, 29 March 2021

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Transgender people face structural and social discrimination that increase their chances of experiencing domestic and family violence. Intimate partner violence against transgender people is underreported, under researched and not well understood.

What we do know is that rigid gender norms, transphobia, and hetero-cis-normativity put transgender people at increased risk of abuse in their relationships. This is particularly the case for trans women who have relationships with cisgender men. We recently spoke with Starlady, Program Manager at Zoe Belle Gender Collective, about how her current prevention project is attempting to create greater awareness and change.

Can you tell us about your transgender advocacy work and about the current project you are working on?

Starlady: Social justice advocacy and activism have been my life’s mission. My transgender advocacy is an extension of that. As someone who identifies as trans, this work is deeply important to me. There is still so much stigma and a lack of understanding about being trans in the community, and our community is suffering. The Transgender Family Violence Primary Prevention Project that I’m currently working on is attempting to address that. One of its aims is to increase the family violence sector’s understanding of the drivers and issues impacting the relationships between trans women and cisgender men. We will be drawing upon interviews with trans women and cis men to create a website to support both of them. There will also be some focus on the importance of supportive families in addressing trans shame and stigma.

How do rigid gender and sexual norms impact on trans women’s experience of relationships?

Starlady: Trans women can have issues with their partners controlling how they look, how they sound, and what they do with their bodies. There is often of pressure on them to look hyper feminine for example. Some trans women may be coerced or pressured into taking hormones or having feminisation surgery. It vital that the partners of trans women are supportive of their gender autonomy, to ensure that they feel supported and affirmed with their individual choices in regards to their social, legal and/or medical affirmation.

Whilst many trans women and their cis male partners identify as heterosexual, their relationships are often seen as homosexual and invalidated or seen as inferior. We can misgender trans people through proscribing them sexual identities that do not match their gender identity. In doing so we may also stigmatise their cis male partners who often have internalised fears of being labelled homosexual. Families of cis men can place pressure on them to marry or date cis women who can have biological children, all to the detriment of their relationships with trans women. There appears to be direct links between transphobic beliefs and actions of the families of cis men and increased risk of violence being enacted towards trans women from their partner.

What have you found talking to trans women about their experiences of relationships with cis men?

Starlady: Firstly, we need to acknowledge the real and ongoing impacts of trans misogyny on trans women. That the intersection of transphobia and misogyny exacerbate the risk of trans women experiencing intimate partner violence and increases the barriers to access to services for support.

To understand trans women’s experiences of relationships we need to be aware that they are an incredibly diverse community. People don’t fully understand that. For example, not all trans women want to transition medically or they may not have access to surgeries such as facial feminisation. Being feminine also means different things to different people.

Experiences of trans misogyny can differ depending upon what medical interventions they’ve had or not had, and whether they pass [as a cisgender woman] or are read as trans.

Due to stigma and discrimination many trans women find it difficult to enter a relationship and, when they do, they often feel less deserving and feel they may have no other options except to accept bad behaviour because they think ‘at least I have a relationship, at least I feel loved’.

How does transphobia and trans misogyny increase the risk of intimate partner violence?

Starlady: It’s more difficult for trans women to access relationships because of transphobia. There’s so much pressure on those relationships from society that they’re more likely to break down. Trans women have to do excessive amounts of emotional labour when they are in a relationship with cis men, often because of the shame and stigma that their partners might be experiencing. There’s a lot of work that goes into supporting their male partners and helping them navigate the discrimination that their partners experience from their friends and family, all on top of the discrimination that they themselves face. It’s a heavy burden. This shame can be a trigger point for men enacting violence.

Trans women also talk about being objectified and seen as a fetish. Trans women of colour have spoken about this intersecting with racism and being fetishised because of their race as well.

What are some of the risks and vulnerabilities for trans women in their relationships?

Starlady: They have to navigate their safety in different ways, often because their relationships are more hidden. There is more risk around hidden relationships.

Navigating disclosure of their trans identity in their relationships is also another area of risk. For trans women who pass, often their greatest risk is around points of disclosure and not knowing how their partner will respond. They will be struggling with questions like: ‘How do I disclose? At what point do I disclose? Do I disclose at all? And if so, how do I do that safely?’

Whilst for trans women who don’t pass and are read as trans, it’s less likely that they will be able to meet men in public because there’s more shame around it.

How can a prevention focus help trans women’s experience of relationships?

Starlady: Preventing intimate partner violence against trans women needs an approach that focuses on cis men as much as it does for trans women. Many cis men in these relationships don’t have any appropriate services or programs that can help them deal with their shame and stigma which can impact badly on their relationships. The capacity of the family violence sector and men’s services in particular needs to be built. This is crucial.

Men’s behaviour change programs do not target the specific needs of cisgender men who have relationships with trans women. If other men have misogynous, transphobic and homophobic views then it would be an unsafe environment for these men to access. This can then have harmful consequences for trans women in their relationships.

“Until we deal with transphobia in a prevention space and change our approach to service delivery, we’re going to continue to see this violence.”

Contact Starlady at zbgc@cohealth.org.au for more information on the Transgender Family Violence Primary Prevention Project. Read her Trans Visibility Day call to action.

Page last updated Monday, March 29 2021


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DV Vic/DVRCV and No To Violence joint statement

DV Vic/DVRCV and No To Violence joint statement

Monday 15 March 2021

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The peak bodies for Victorian specialist family violence services have today issued a joint statement in support of people across Australia sharing their experiences of sexual violence and seeking stronger institutional responses across all parts of our community.

"This story is broader than any individual, any specific workplace or any one incident. The reaction we have seen to recent survivor accounts is telling. We have seen those with power deflecting responsibility, rather than reflecting on the toxic culture that allows violence to occur and then relies on shame to keep victim survivors silent."

The recently-merged Domestic Violence Victoria and Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria have united with No To Violence to support calls for reform.

“We must listen to and believe victim survivors,” said DV Vic/DVRCV CEO Tania Farha (pictured).

“And we need to do much more than listening and believing. We must shift the structures and systems that allow sexual violence to occur. They are the same structures and systems that so often fail victim survivors when they come forward,” Ms Farha added.

Ms Farha highlighted the multiple barriers survivors face when reporting abuse, which often result in a decision not to pursue a formal complaint.

“Condoning disrespect and discrediting survivors’ experiences are at once the symptoms and the causes of the epidemic of gendered, sexual and family violence in this country. All of us have a role in changing that.”

Jacqui Watt, CEO of No To Violence, pointed out the alarmingly high rates of men’s violence in Australia.

“While media and the public may be tempted to question any one victim survivor or set of allegations, there is no question whatsoever about how prevalent this abuse is. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 figures show one in three girls and women over 15 have experienced physical or sexual violence – or both. What public attention seldom highlights is how many men have used these forms of violence – this needs to change.”

Ms Watt also highlighted the need to acknowledge the culture that enables these forms of abuse, and the importance of embedding accountability across all workplaces and communities.

"Sexual violence is a manifestation of disrespect and gendered power imbalances that permeate our homes, workplaces and online spaces. We must listen to people when they call out disrespect, and we must call on everyone to challenge sexism when they see and hear it among friends and colleagues."

DV Vic/DVRCV and No To Violence acknowledge that recent media coverage and public conversation may be harmful and distressing for people who have or are currently experiencing abuse of any kind.

“Support is available. Specialist services are here for you, and will believe you,” Ms Farha said.


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DV Vic and DVRCV statement

DV Vic and DVRCV statement

Wednesday 3 March 2021

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Domestic Violence Victoria (DV Vic) and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (DVRCV) welcome the public release of the final report of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System and the commitment made by the Victorian Government to implement the 65 recommendations made by the Commission.

The report finds that the current mental health system is failing many people and sets out an ambitious reform agenda for a redesigned mental health and wellbeing system in Victoria.

While the recommendations do not speak directly to family violence, the report focuses on several elements which have the potential to improve outcomes for victim-survivors of family violence:

  • Moving away from a crisis-driven model to community-based models of care and addressing the ‘missing middle’ of the current mental health system. This is of particular significance for victim survivors of family violence and trauma, who are more likely to need more extensive support than is available to them through the current system.
  • Centering the voices of people with lived experience in the redesign and development of the new system and embedding structures to support this into the future.
  • Embedding trauma-informed mental health treatment responses.
  • Integrated approaches to system design and delivery.
  • Reducing barriers to accessing mental health services and increasing the range of service options available to make the system more accessible and inclusive.
  • Increased investment in the mental health workforce and service system to meet existing and forecast increasing demand.

DV Vic and DVRCV CEO Tania Farha said she hopes to see this work approached in a systematic and comprehensive way that considers the reforms required across both mental health and family violence service systems, in order to ensure better safety and wellbeing outcomes for all Victorians.

‘DV Vic and DVRCV will continue to read and reflect on the Commission’s report and recommendations, with a focus on the implications for Victoria’s coordinated response to family violence. We look forward to working with the Victorian Government to ensure the redesign of the mental health system is undertaken in a family violence and trauma-informed way, that complements and leverages the significant family violence reforms currently underway.’


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