Stopping family and domestic violence must be a state election priority

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Stopping family and domestic violence must be a state election priority

 

The #SafeSystemsWA campaign, with the support of WA’s social justice peak bodies, the WA Peaks Forum, is calling on the state’s political parties to commit to wide-ranging policies across housing, justice, police, health, education and other portfolios to keep women and children safe and hold perpetrators accountable. 

Family and domestic violence is a pervasive and pernicious problem in Western Australia. Living with the terror of family and domestic violence can have devastating effects on the health and wellbeing of women and children in both the immediate and the long term. In Australia, nearly 1 woman every week is killed by their current or former partner. As well as the significant physical injuries that can result from violence, women experiencing family and domestic violence can also experience a range of mental health difficulties, among them post-traumatic stress symptoms, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sleep problems and self-harming behaviour. For many women, these have long-term consequences.

For some women, the effects of family and domestic violence are amplified because of the disadvantages they experience as a result of their cultural and linguistic background, disability, age, race, sexuality, gender identity or socio-economic status. These social, psychological and cognitive harms are not experienced in isolation but are compounded by continuing exposure to family and domestic violence.

There is increasing recognition that children exposed to family and domestic violence are not passive ‘witnesses’ and that they suffer lasting effects even if they are not the direct object of the violence or do not directly witness it. Although it is difficult to assess the full extent of children’s exposure to family and domestic violence, it is apparent that a substantial number of children are affected. ANROWS analysis of the ABS Personal Safety Survey shows that since the age of 15, over half a million Australian women have children who saw or heard partner violence.

The health and wellbeing effects of family and domestic violence are not experienced in isolation. They are complex and interrelated, can be experienced while living with family and domestic violence, and can continue post-separation. Dealing with the legal and service systems, for example, often compounds women’s experience of harm and delays or prevents the recovery process. The cumulative effect of these harms on health and wellbeing, in addition to economic insecurity and lack of employment and secure housing, contributes to poverty and homelessness.

With the right social and systemic response there can be positive health and wellbeing outcomes for women and children experiencing family and domestic violence. Strong support networks from the community, family, friends and professionals can serve to increase the resilience of women and children and enhance their sense of wellbeing as do legal and housing outcomes that support the safety of women and children.

Failures of the system should not be confused with lack of progress. However, in Western Australia we are not responding adequately to the scale and impact of the harm caused by family and domestic violence. The #SafeSystemsWA campaign identifies gaps and obstacles that are limiting the effective implementation of laws, policies, and programs. The campaign describes the primary priorities for reform and the principles that must underpin future strategies, policies and programs aimed at responding to and preventing family and domestic violence.

Undoubtedly, achieving safe systems requires attention to operational changes and broader system design. However, if we are to have an effective system in Western Australia all components need to be appropriately funded. The Safe Systems Coalition has outlined key priority areas for action. To build a safer state for women and children it is essential that each key ask is sufficiently and sustainably funded. The key asks of the #SafeSystemsWA campaign and detailed information sheets can be found at: http://www.safesystemswa.org/

Please support and promote the #SafeSystemsWA campaign to keep women and children safe, well and connected throughout Western Australia.