The next frontier in family violence reform

Opinion piece by Sue Clifford

Thursday, 31 January 2019 at 5:53 am

More than 1,000 people attended a vigil following the murder of a woman in Melbourne earlier this month.

This tragic reminder of the reality of violence and the attitudes that reinforce it coincided with a debate about toxic masculinity, sparked by a commercial selling men’s razors.

Setting aside differing views about the commercialisation of social issues, the fact that these conversations are happening at all represents progress.

As does the word ‘gaslighting’ being shortlisted for the Oxford English Dictionary’s 2018 word of the year.

There was also an unusually high level of media coverage towards the end of 2018 about the spike in family violence cases over the holiday season.

Clearly, there is media and community appetite to focus on violence against women and children, including family violence, and a willingness to have a much deeper understanding about what it looks like and its link to gender equality.

Social change doesn’t happen overnight, but we can see progress reflected across the media landscape, which is reflective of Victoria’s leading family violence reform.

And it is very much needed.

It is well documented that gender roles and stereotypes linked to traditional masculinity are risk factors for family violence and violence against women.

But something is getting lost in translation.

Research conducted by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) found that 1 in 5 Australians believe family violence is a normal reaction to stress and that sometimes a woman can make a man so angry that he hits her without meaning to.

For far too long, acknowledgement of the impact of toxic traits of masculinity has been confined to the specialist family violence sector, academia, advocacy, and unfortunately, to those experiencing violence.

Earlier this month the American Psychological Association officially recognised toxic masculinity and the effect it can have on men’s mental health.

In Victoria, we’re encouraging men to ‘call it out’ in the latest campaign designed to drive behaviour change and promote bystander intervention.

The campaign encourages men to hold each other accountable by calling out their mates’ sexist attitudes or behaviours.

Making the connection between the behaviours that reinforce violence has never been more relevant.

Now is our opportunity to harness the momentum to bring about change in the way we lead operational and service responses.

The first five Orange Door locations are now up and running, with more than 30,000 people referred since operations began in April.

The Orange Door provides a coordinated access point for specialist women’s family violence services, family services, men’s services and Aboriginal services.

The Orange Door has helped redefine how people access services, but also how responses can be further tailored and coordinated.

It has provided flexible responses to meet a range of different needs and importantly, engage the very people using violence.

As one specialist family violence worker said: “When I started working in The Orange Door I didn’t know how we were going to work with men. Now I understand that we can’t do this work if we don’t work with men.”

Changes such as the introduction of a new Central Information Point (CIP), which is now being further developed, and new information sharing laws help workers get the best information available to inform their work with women and children.

We know, for example, that information from the CIP is changing risk assessments in The Orange Door in nearly every case.

Other critical pieces of work include developing a campaign to grow and build a diverse workforce, and a strategic framework to embed and improve responses to diverse communities and young people.

The world-first Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council continues to champion the voices and lived experiences of the many diverse groups and people impacted by family violence. For the first time we are also applying an intersectional lens across entire reform areas.

Aboriginal communities in Victoria have long led innovative approaches to family violence and last year released a second 10-year Aboriginal agreement – Dhelk Dja: Safe Our Way, Strong Cultures, Strong Peoples, Strong Families.

Built on the foundation of Aboriginal self-determination, the agreement commits Aboriginal communities, services and government to work together and be accountable for ensuring Aboriginal people, families and communities are stronger, safer, thriving and living free from violence.

These reforms are taking shape on a global and local landscape of change. This is the next frontier.

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