Most families I know, or I think I know, are relatively free from violence in their daily lives. They view with horror the endless and bloody dramas unfolding around the world. Sometimes however, this blinds us to a form of household terrorism that is ongoing, and routinely carried out in many Australian homes.
While the Senate examines a report on domestic violence and a national plan submitted this month by the Finance and Public Administration References Committee, many in our region are keen to see if progress has actually been made.
The federal government’s action plans for women in the broader and Indigenous communities are timed to be in place by 2022. It is a bit frustrating to reflect that a big part of the responsibility for change will inevitably fall on the next generation.
Is this really how the world has to work? It seems feeble (at least to my feeble brain), that in this age of light-speed communication, our generational and institutional responses are still so agonisingly glacial.
What is the situation locally on domestic violence?
Has there been any progress? Well yes, there are encouraging signs, and of course a long way to go.
Last week Police Superintendent Rod Smith, of the Monaro Local Area Command, reported that out of the 144 domestic violence related assaults attended in our area [including Palerang] during the last financial year, the number of repeat offences was down to 7-10%. Within our local government area the overall number of domestic assaults attended by police had fallen by 17.4%.
Superintendent Smith said that a major success had been to bring the subject of domestic violence out into the open, so that a topic once regarded as taboo could now be discussed openly.
He was pleased to see that the community is starting to show its intolerance towards violence against women, and was confident that there is now a greater willingness for victims to report domestic violence.
The way forward, he said, is to continue to change community attitudes and to teach young people what is, and what is not acceptable regarding relationships, and how women should be treated.
More work was also required to improve perpetrator programs, particularly where participants are unwilling to change and may only be attending to satisfy the requirements of their sentence or conditions of parole.
Vera Kurtz of the Louisa Domestic Violence Support Service in Queanbeyan says that they are still waiting to feel any real positive effect from the first of the government action plans, and her service had already suffered a number of recent funding cuts.
Named after Louisa Lawson, the mother of Henry Lawson, and an early advocate of women made homeless by domestic violence, the Louisa service sometimes supplements its funding through raffles and other fund raising activities.
Ms Kurtz would like to see restoration of funding previously cut from special services, and an allowance made for effective monitoring and evaluation of programs.
Support for children very effective, funding and accommodation inadequate
One of the most gratifying aspects of the work of the service, said Ms Kurtz, is the speed at which the lives of children in domestic violence situations can be turned around once support is in place.
Funding also remains an issue for the South Eastern District Women’s Violence Court Advocacy Service, with funding available for only six out of the 28 local coordination points for the Safer Pathways program.
Manager Kerry Mobbs explained that from the 1st of July all local police-referred cases would come through the Queanbeyan advocacy unit, resulting in a 70 percent increase in the current workload. In the last financial year the service handled nearly 400 cases.
Ms Mobbs would like to see more resources for teaching programs in schools and specialist resourcing for victims within non-English speaking groups. There is also a desperate need for local accommodation for women forced from their homes as a result of domestic violence, and a shortage of trained domestic violence counselors.
On a positive note Ms Mobbs said that the advocacy service has an excellent working relationship with local police teams, which encourages victims to come forward and report domestic violence. This has enabled a faster and more effective response for women and their families.