In Australia, we’re only just beginning to comprehend our societal epidemic of gendered violence.
#MeToo, #TimesUp, #BelieveSurvivors. These movements are reaching Australia and their groundswell is huge.
Family violence is finally being recognised, but we are only scratching the surface. We are not dealing with the incredibly vast and varied forms of abuse that exist. In particular, we are failing to recognise nonviolent abuse.
Victims and survivors are coming forward with experiences that don’t fit the wife-and-kids-fleeing-husband model.
This means we don't get help and we don't get justice.
States and territories fail to penalise perpetrators of nonviolent abuse even if they have legislation recognising its destructive impact on society.
For example, the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Victoria) defines "family violence" as:
(a) behaviour by a person towards a family member of that person if that behaviour—
(i) is physically or sexually abusive; or
(ii) is emotionally or psychologically abusive; or
(iii) is economically abusive; or
(iv) is threatening; or
(v) is coercive; or
(vi) in any other way controls or dominates the family member and causes that family member to feel fear for the safety or wellbeing of that family member or another person.
But out of these six categories of family violence, only the first carries any legal consequence.
The law admits that nonviolent abuse is harmful but refuses to apply any penalty to it.
This means it is ignored and subsequently continues to worsen over time.
Family violence systems and services are not reaching those of us who experience what is often neither "familial" nor "violent."
Even when a small minority of victims and survivors report to Police, there isn't much help on offer.
Police will only protect you through an Intervention Order issued by a Magistrate in open court.
For Police to do this, nonviolent abuse:
1. Must be ongoing; and
2. Must have the presence or threat of violence.
For most of us, incredible damage has already been done by the time we qualify for this.
We can obtain an Intervention Order earlier by ourselves, but this requires appearing in court alone. This is highly stressful for someone already vulnerable and is therefore almost never done. In fact, alarming new research indicates perpetrators access these systems as a form of legal abuse or stalking.
And if nonviolent abuse happened in the past and is no longer ongoing, the only help available is one-off contact with telephone counselling.
None of this will do anything to solve the problem.
Our criminal justice system ignores nonviolent abuse.
In Victoria, some of these problems were identified in the Royal Commission Into Family Violence 2016. But the changes in the process of being applied only make a few aspects of the existing system slightly less burdensome.
There are no adequate reforms being progressed anywhere in Australia to stop or prevent nonviolent abuse.
As victims and survivors with firsthand experience, we know exactly the policy models and solutions that should be on the table.
We need to rebrand family violence so it is accessible and comprehensible to everybody.
There needs to be medium-term strategies that fill the gap between short-term crisis responses and long-term cultural and attitudinal shifts.
Prison only produces more offenders and more violent offenders, so there must be alternatives like:
- Financial Penalties
- Diversionary Models
- Transformative Justice
This must all be driven by victims and survivors; we must be the ones to decide that justice has been carried out.
We will be releasing our Policy White Paper in late July.