Statement from Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council

The creation of the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council has enabled people with lived experience to shape policy and service design.

decorative art by Josephine Ford – Digital Storytellers for VSAC 2022–2023. VSAC 2022–2023 by Josephine Ford – Digital Storytellers

We, the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council, are a collective of diverse individuals. Our experiences, ideas and perspectives are different. Given the pervasiveness of family violence, we can never represent all voices, but we have one shared heart in knowing the profound cost of violence to individuals and communities and the urgent need to confront this crisis.

We stand on the shoulders of the strong advocates and survivors who have spoken out against all forms of abuse and violence with great courage, resilience, and bravery – to prevent others from experiencing the same pain and suffering. We have immense gratitude for those who have done and continue to do this work.

The creation of the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council has enabled people with lived experience to shape policy and service design. It allows decision makers to learn about systemic failures, and to hear first-hand the impact violence has on victim survivors. Lived experience must be valued in professional spaces for the specialist skill it is and welcomed into every level and at every stage of policy making on family violence.

Lived experience is not about stories of trauma. You shouldn’t need to hear our stories to be inspired to take action. So much is asked of victim survivors. We experience harm both from the people who use violence against us and from the systems and institutions which are supposed to protect and support us. These actions not only harm us but continue to define us. We suffer the experience of violence and then we are held responsible to solve it. We are expected to survive after surviving.

Responses to family violence must be informed and developed in partnership with victim survivors, but the responsibility for ending family violence against women, children and young people is not our burden to bear. This responsibility is, and always has been, with those who choose to use violence, in all its many forms. This could be our parent, our child, our partner, our sibling, or someone else close to us, but overwhelmingly those who choose to use violence are men.

Ending family violence is not about men versus women. It’s not about us versus them. Violence affects all of us, and ending violence depends on all of us.

Words have power. Language is a framing tool which constructs our understanding. It influences narratives and world views. When we don’t include men who use violence in conversations about violence, we allow them to remain hidden.

To truly eliminate family violence, we need to place those who are at the root of the problem in the centre of the frame - those who choose to use violence, not the ones experiencing violence. People don’t just experience family violence. It doesn’t just happen.

We know that 1 in 6 women experience violence, but we don’t talk about who uses violence. We’re left to assume. We, the victim survivor, are front and centre, but they, those who choose to use violence, sit outside the frame.

Men who use violence don’t look like monsters. Those who cause the most harm are often the most likeable within a community. To the world, they don’t present themselves as threatening men - that’s what makes them so dangerous. They aren’t exceptions to the norm or outliers of society. Their violence isn’t a deviation from our culture – it is because of it.

Violence creates violence. It is a cycle born out of suffering and trauma. When we exclude men from conversations about violence, we do them a disservice. We deny their experiences, we deny their suffering, and we remove opportunities for healing and redemption. Accountability and compassion go hand in hand– by holding people who use violence accountable, we create an opportunity for change. We are not here to indict men, but to invite them to be a part of the solution.

Violence is an individual choice but a collective community responsibility. It is all of us, together, versus the factors and conditions that enable violence. Violence impacts us all, whether you realise it or not. It doesn’t discriminate based on race, age, religion or sexuality. We all have a role to play in confronting, healing, and preventing abuse from happening in the first place.

What you allow to exist, persists. What you choose to ignore or not see is what you accept.

Silence is an intentional act of complicity. When you don’t speak up, you are supporting the culture and attitudes that create violence.

Actions also have power. We ask all people and institutions to put those who choose to use violence at the centre of all conversations and reforms. Now is the time to redirect the lens.

Holding those who choose to use violence to account is necessary to prevent all forms of violence, alongside offering opportunities for recovery and healing.

Let’s put the burden where it belongs. Put those to blame in the frame.