Prior to the current Australian Prime Minister’s election, domestic violence in Australia had been largely eliminated. However, under the new Prime Minister, the issue has returned. Currently, there is an average of one woman murdered per week, and one man per month, from domestic violence (DV) attacks. Furthermore, family violence is the most prevalent cause of the country’s ever-growing homeless population. These statistics have only recently come to light under a new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) study, despite the common belief that DV had already been substantially rectified. Under Prime Minister Turnbull, however, the government’s budget has been greatly rerouted away from past DV campaigns and awareness programs.
Domestic violence refers to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse within the home. As a result, any member of the home environment can fall victim to an abuser. According to Barry Sandison, the CEO of AIHW, “We know that family, domestic and sexual violence is a major problem in Australia, but without a comprehensive source of evidence and analysis, tackling such a complex issue will continue to be difficult.” Unfortunately, in studies on domestic violence, victims are reduced to no more than a number in a statistical set. Sandison notes that the “numbers can at times appear to depersonalize the pain and suffering that sits behind the statistics.”
Why aren’t we talking about this issue? Hundreds of calls are made daily to emergency services regarding domestic violence, yet little action is occurring. Victims make calls, but often feel too powerless to act further than a call, either out of fear, embarrassment, or as a response to further threats. In 2016, under the former prime minister, the Australian government fought back against domestic violence by giving voice to the issue, urging the victims to seek help, and declaring that they were not alone. This fight was led by various media campaigns, from television advertisements to talk show discussions to radio broadcasts. Yet the issue has resurged, with no clear path to help.
These campaigns emphasized human rights – nobody should be subject to violence, especially in the home – while also upholding the nation’s view of sanctity within the family. These campaigns lead to widespread awareness of other options. Facilities such as women and children’s refuges were established nationally, with support, security, and counselling services for victims. However, resources are thin and spaces are few, making it difficult for victims to seek refuge from home life. Furthermore, if a victim breaks the cycle of abuse, they are dragged into a state of limbo filled with uncertainty. These changes shouldn’t be feared, as they are often the best solution for victims and those around them, despite the situational appearance.
In conjunction with government-funded programs, the Australian legal system is assisting past victims to seek justice against their abusers. However, is this helping? For a victim to rise up against a member of their home or family, they must first publicly own a perceived weakness; a status implied by their victimization. Furthermore, these already traumatized individuals are singled out and forced to face the person who has put them into compromising positions, making them feel weak and defenceless. This is an extremely confrontational process, which requires not only financial backing but also support, nurturing, and extensive courage.
Unfortunately, the decrease in funding for DV marks a return to silence. With the elimination of asset funding and the supportive position the government had previously assumed, this despicable issue is being allowed to hide beneath the surface of society and fester, destroying lives and hope for positive change. The Australian government has reallocated taxpayer funds away from these issues, and no longer airs awareness campaigns on standard media. However, if this issue has resurged so soon after drifting away from the public’s attention, were these campaigns ever an effective solution? If programs are inundated with victims, is the real issue a lack of spaces within the programs or the predatorial nature of DV actors? It is important to consider that this funding is essential to assist victims, as are legal protections and services. However, what other methods can the government employ in the future to fight back against violence and eliminate this behaviour within Australia? In light of the AIHW studies released this month, it is clear that in order to prevent domestic violence, we must further research the issue, understand why it is happening, and raise awareness.