Let’s not pretend things are simpler than they are…

Let’s not pretend things are simpler than they are…

down arrow

DVRCV's CEO Emily Maguire responds to the recent commentary that specialist family violence practitioners and advocates are not doing enough to end violence against women.

As someone who has worked towards ending violence against women for the last 15 years – and who has been fortunate enough to learn from women who were doing this work decades before me – I have been somewhat perplexed by the recent commentary about why men perpetrate violence against women, and what can be done to stop this incredibly prevalent form of violence.

In recent weeks, I have seen incredibly simplistic articulations of complex public policy and reform in this area – “until we change attitudes, close the gender wage gap, and achieve greater gender equality, domestic abuse will continue to thrive” – that don’t represent the evidence nor the work of those in my field.

“I have witnessed the approach articulated by specialist family violence practitioners and advocates – all with a lifetime of experience – being reduced to the simplified narrative that “changing sexist and violence supportive attitudes are the [be all and end all] cure” to men’s violence against women.”

And, most recently, I have seen suggestions that there is a belief in this country that “reducing violence against women is something that can or should wait decades”.

Nobody I have ever spoken to through my work – politicians, advocates, practitioners, and those working with men who use violence – has ever suggested that reducing violence against women is something that should wait decades. I don’t believe that anybody currently working in my field thinks we can wait even one more second to do better at preventing violence against women and supporting the thousands of women who experience it on a daily basis. Advocating for this after all, is a core part of our work.

What we are all struggling with is the very real complexity of this issue and how to communicate about it, and how to articulate it in public policy and legislative reform. We are also struggling to address the resistance and backlash to this issue that comes from many quarters and, as always, we are struggling with a lack of ongoing, adequate funding to support prevention, early intervention and response.

The work of Our Watch is focused on preventing violence against women before it even occurs by addressing the structures, norms and practices in our society, our institutions, our organisations and even in our relationships and families. Our Watch’s Counting on Change document helps people understand how long primary prevention work takes and what it costs, as well as how to build awareness and understanding of the complexity of the issue and the sustained effort that will be required if we are to see a tangible and sustainable shift to the prevalence of violence against women in Australia.

Counting on Change articulates only the time it will take to reduce violence against women if primary prevention efforts are supported, funded and sustained. But primary prevention is only a third of the puzzle. It was never designed to articulate how long reducing (and ultimately ending) violence against women would take if we had the three magic elements:

  1. primary prevention activities that reached every member of the Australian public
  2. early intervention efforts for women and men who were at high risk of experiencing/perpetrating violence
  3. a connected, well-resourced response system that wraps around both victims and perpetrators.

It’s also important to remember that the whole puzzle would comprise of many different pieces including:

  • specialist support services for women, children and young people who are victims of violence
  • activities that are designed to hold men to account for their violent behaviour and support them to change
  • an effective justice system that supports perpetrator accountability and prioritises the safety of women and children
  • a well-resourced housing system that means both victims and perpetrators have somewhere suitable to live
  • human services supports to address the mental health and physical health impacts of violence for both perpetrators and victims, and
  • longer term supports (such as education, social connection, universal health care) that enable Australians to be healthy, safe, secure and thrive.

The problem is, doing all these things together – prevention, early intervention and response – is incredibly complex, incredibly expensive and something that is as a result, hard to sell to the voting public. This doesn’t excuse politicians – many of whom have shown significant leadership in this space – from action but it does show why many have been reluctant to play the leadership role we need them to.

The most unhelpful thing we can do at this critical point in time when it finally feels like we have social and political momentum – not only around ending violence against women but in addressing gender inequality, sexual harassment and gendered discrimination – is to pit the work of those preventing violence against women with the work of those who are supporting victim survivors, holding the perpetrators of violence to account and supporting them to change their behaviour. It doesn’t support our cause, inadvertently or otherwise, to undermine the efforts of those who have been working for so long (and with significant success, I might add) to support women, to increase funding, to achieve social and cultural and structural change.

I am not suggesting we all sit down, shut up and be grateful for what we are given as feminists, advocates and social campaigners. But I think it’s important to remember that where the pace of social change is slow – just like it was with smoking rates, and reducing the road toll – that it’s only by being in this together, no matter where you live, what you look like, how much you earn or who you vote for – will we actually achieve any real change.

We owe that change to the women who have been murdered; to those who have narrowly escaped murder; to the children and teenagers where family violence is the undercurrent of their lives; and to all the women who are, as we speak, living with or experiencing the impacts of men’s violence.


With the Safe and Equal monthly bulletin

Q&A with Lucy from Safe Steps

Q&A with Lucy from Safe Steps

Tuesday 11 May 2021

down arrow

Recently we spoke to Lucy who works at Safe Steps as a family violence crisis response support worker. Here she gives us some insight into her role, its challenges and what it offers a new graduate venturing into the sector.

What led you onto a career path in family violence?

This is my first job in the sector since completing a Master of Public Policy. I didn’t intentionally set out on a career in family violence but after completing my university placement at Gender Equity Victoria, the seed was sown. Family violence is very much grounded in politics, sociology, and psychology, and because I’d studied politics at university, and loved it, the work really resonated with me.

I applied for this role at Safe Steps because I wanted to have on the ground experience and work in an organisation that deals directly with clients and other services. In the future when my knowledge base is stronger and I’m more confident and experienced in the sector, I’d like to move into a policy role.

What skills do you need to work as a family violence crisis response support worker?

You need to be very flexible, have good time management skills and an ability to prioritise and juggle competing demands. You also need to have good organisational skills. My role involves providing support to the case management and the intake and assessment teams. It’s very logistical and administrative, and involves everything from paying invoices, data entry, to doing more hands-on work like booking accommodation, sourcing material and items for clients.

Can you describe a day in the life of a crisis response support worker?

Safe Steps is a crisis service so no one day is like the next. Mornings typically involve sourcing emergency accommodation for our clients. We review on a day-by-day basis because a client’s case plans can change so quickly.

The rest of the day involves everything from invoicing, getting food vouchers and material aid to women and children in accommodation. I also work closely with the case managers to resolve any issues that arise at the hotel. This can be as simple as a client needing more pillows, or it might involve working on a crisis situation that is happening for her where she is staying.

What have been some of the highlights and challenges of your role?

The highlight has been learning firsthand about the nature and complexities of family violence. Hearing and learning about client’s experiences and listening to the incredible knowledge from the case management team and our managers is so rewarding.

My main challenge is learning how to create more boundaries with my work. As a support worker you get a lot of requests so it’s important to know how and when to respond appropriately to them. It can also be challenging hearing about what our clients have been through, as well as negotiating the relationship between other services in the sector.

What has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Safe Steps clients?

Women and children were in our service a lot longer than they normally would be because there were limited exit options for them. We also had women reaching out for the first time and the complexity of clients increased. We also had an expectation that there’d be a lot more calls, but the reality was that it was difficult for some women to make those calls because they didn’t have the space and time away from their perpetrators to reach out to us. This led to Safe Steps establishing a new online webchat function. We’ve had some incredible outcomes with that, it’s brought women into our service who normally wouldn’t access it. It’s also been incredibly useful in providing basic information to women and doing safety planning with them.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to start a career in the family violence sector?

You just need to be passionate and compassionate, and have resilience. It is a sector that values a broad range of skills and experience whether that’s academic, lived or cultural. Just put what you have on the table and be open to connecting with others in the sector. It’s definitely rewarding.

Page last updated Tuesday, May 11 2021


With the Safe and Equal monthly bulletin