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Governments unwilling to tackle domestic violence problem

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Detective Inspector Mark Thompson faced heavy criticism for remarks he made over the murder of Hannah Clarke and her children (Image by Dan Jensen)

Our governments seem unwilling to respond appropriately to the growing issue of domestic violence in our country, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

IT'S NOT DIFFICULT to take immediate steps to address the slaughter and injury of women and children by their male partners, fathers and close family members. We do not need any more inquiries, committees or royal commissions into family and domestic violence. We have everything we need to instigate immediate action.

However, there is, quite simply, insufficient political will in federal and state governments to undertake those steps. We know this because domestic and family violence has been an acknowledged and urgent matter for some decades, yet the Commonwealth Government’s financial contribution towards state assistance for victims has been $840 million since 2013, or a mere $120 million a year for the last seven years, shared between states and territories.

As the Women’s Electoral Lobby wrote in February 2019:

WEL’s Women’s and Children’s Safety program estimates the need for an additional $454 million in Commonwealth funds in 2019/20 to meet crisis accommodation and wrap-around services for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

 

This new money also needs to be matched by states and territories to meet the current demand.

Most urgently, all governments need to provide adequate emergency safe houses, staffed by trained responders, where women and children can find immediate sanctuary from domestic violence. At the moment, women and children are turned away from shelters in this country every day. Many are forced to seek refuge in unsafe motels and boarding houses.

With domestic and family violence as the main cause of homelessness in Australia, it is astounding that the Federal Government considers $120 million per year an adequate response to the crisis. This paltry amount is certainly not an expression of either alarm or concern, rather a shamelessly blatant acknowledgement that women and children aren’t that important in the Coalition’s scheme of things. As a comparison, the LNP appropriated some $100 million and counting from taxpayers to finance its sports rort electioneering scam.

Secondly, much more needs to be done to control the perpetrators of domestic and family violence. Let’s note here that the NSW Liberal Government acted remarkably swiftly to introduce legislation that imposed serious penalties on so-called “coward punches”, that is, random street violence usually inflicted on men by other men. One hundred and twenty-seven men have been the victims of the “coward’s punch” since records began in 2000. 

Yet one woman murdered each week by a current or former intimate partner draws no such outraged reaction from state and federal governments. It is impossible to deny that government attitudes towards violence inflicted on men is entirely disproportionate with government attitudes to domestic and family violence inflicted on women and children.

If state governments can pass legislation that ensures serious penalties for perpetrators who land one punch in the street, why are we not seeing legislation that would see violent offenders against women and children, in their own homes, subjected to similar immediate and mandatory punishment? As we have seen, repeatedly and tragically, apprehended violence orders mean nothing to a man hell-bent on damaging or slaughtering his partner and children.

These offenders present a clear danger to their victims and perhaps would be more appropriately treated by the law as domestic terrorists. It is the responsibility of governments to protect citizens from violence, foreign and domestic. This responsibility is not nullified by the fact that the violence is perpetrated by a family member or a current or past intimate partner.

If it is possible to pass legislation that enshrines the one punch offence as unique, it is equally possible to introduce and pass legislation that carries unique definitions and sentences for perpetrators of domestic and family violence. What is terrifyingly obvious and has been for decades now, is that current legislation is entirely failing to protect women and children from injury and death. Despite the statistics, despite the failure of current measures, no other options for the legal control of perpetrators are publicly discussed and rarely raised.

There can only be one explanation for these attitudes. The lives of women and children injured and murdered during episodes of family violence are of less value to those who govern Australian society than are the lives of other victims of violence. As was most shockingly demonstrated by the remarks of Queensland Detective Inspector Mark Thompson after the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children, Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey by their father Rowan Baxter, there is still a belief in our communities that women drive men to violence.

Thompson claimed to be keeping an “open mind” about the circumstances surrounding Baxter’s decision to burn to death his small children and their mother, while the police officer decided if the family were victims of Baxter’s insane violent urges or whether he’d been driven to hideous murder by his wife leaving him. This belief implies that a woman is responsible for male violence enacted against her. From there it is only a very small step to "she deserved it," and so is not a worthy or innocent victim.

It’s incomprehensible how the focus of these inquiries could possibly be the victims rather than the perpetrator, however, in family violence situations this is all too frequently the case. The victim made poor relationship choices, didn’t leave when she should have, angered him by nagging — the list of accusations made against victims made in order to avoid focusing on the perpetrator is breathtaking.

Governments will not invest the money required to provide shelter, legal advice and housing for every woman and child in need of these things. Governments will not introduce legislation that ensures the responsibility for violence against us is firmly and irrevocably placed on the shoulders of perpetrators and that those perpetrators are constrained and detained as is appropriate.

Governments will never put our safety and the safety of our children first, no matter how much lip service is paid to this concept. At the heart of the political failure to address domestic and family violence is the unexamined belief that women have somehow brought it upon ourselves and the contempt for us this belief implies.

As long as there is even a lingering belief that women are responsible for the violence directed against us, nothing can change.

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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