This chapter begins with a discussion of the definition of family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV) and evidence on the need for a common definition across jurisdictions and legislative frameworks.
The chapter then considers the prevalence of FDSV in Australia, and suggestions for improvements to data collection and reporting. The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic are also discussed.
The chapter concludes with a discussion of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2012-2022, and a review of suggestions received in evidence on the next National Plan.
Definition of family violence
As noted in Chapter 1, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there is no single nationally or internationally agreed definition of family violence, domestic violence, or similar terms. Definitions of family and domestic violence ‘can have a broad or narrow scope, and may be focussed on legislative requirements, particular behaviours, or impacts upon victims and the community’.
Furthermore, as outlined by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, there is no single definition of what constitutes complex forms of violence, which can include ‘a range of behaviours and practices that exist outside common understanding of physical, sexual and emotional violence’:
Complex forms of violence may include: forced marriage, trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation/cutting, prolonged incest, dowry abuse and dowry-related violence.
There is also no uniform definition of FDSV across the federal and state and territory jurisdictions. As the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has observed:
Definitions of family violence vary widely across family violence legislation, the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), the criminal law, and other types of legislation such as victims’ compensation legislation and migration regulations.
The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence highlighted both practical and symbolic benefits of having a ‘clear and comprehensive’ definition:
To define conduct as family violence is to express the community’s shared condemnation of that conduct. It also determines the circumstances in which police can seek an intervention order on behalf of a victim and when a magistrate can make an order to protect a victim.
In its 2010 report, Family Violence—A National Legal Response, the ALRC observed there was ‘substantial stakeholder support’ for consistent definitions across different legislative frameworks.
It made a series of recommendations relating to the adoption of a core definition of family violence with a shared understanding of the types of conduct that may fall within the definition across different legislative schemes. In making its recommendations, the ALRC said there would be ‘significant systematic benefits’ in such an approach, which would promote the principles of seamlessness and effectiveness.
It cited a number of specific benefits, including a more consistent approach for victim-survivors of violence involved in multiple proceedings; a positive flow-on effect in the gathering of evidence for use in multiple proceedings; and the collection of more useful and comparable data about family violence.
Evidence to the present inquiry revealed significant support for a more consistent approach to understanding and defining FDSV across jurisdictions.
Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria said the different definitions and understanding of family violence across jurisdictions ‘can create contradictory rather than complementary and mutually reinforcing outcomes’, which it said was problematic for victim-survivors involved in proceedings in different jurisdictions:
This contradiction is evident in the family law system, which requires women to negotiate their child(ren)’s contact with a person when previously they have been issued with an intervention order in the State jurisdiction that prevents that same person having contact with the child(ren) due to concerns for their safety as a result of experiencing family violence.
Bravehearts noted ‘a lack of uniformity in legislative and policy responses’ across jurisdictions and argued that a lack of a shared understanding of FDSV makes it difficult to accurately determine incidence and prevalence rates:
Having shared definitions of behaviours allows for direct comparisons and more robust and reliable figures. Similarly, different legislative definitions of offence types, complicate understanding rates of official offences across jurisdictions.
The NSW Women’s Alliance also noted that definitions of FDSV vary across jurisdictions, and argued that more narrow definitions can restrict access to justice, safety, and wellbeing. It recommended the development of an ‘inclusive and progressive’ definition that is endorsed across all jurisdictions nationally.
Similarly, Ms Renata Field from Domestic Violence NSW said that the lack of a shared understanding of what constitutes family and domestic violence limits the ability of law enforcement and the legal system to respond:
If we have thorough and agreed upon understanding of what constitutes domestic and family violence nationally then we can better address it.
In its submission, the Law Council of Australia noted differences between states and territories in respect to who is classified as a victim-survivor and what constitutes family violence, and differences in conditions of restraining orders and police powers. It said that the ‘achievement of some level of harmonisation’ in legislative frameworks is desirable.
Ms Hayley Foster from Women’s Safety NSW recommended a national agreement on ‘core foundational elements’ of family and domestic violence:
It is not about a single act; it is about the entire context of a relationship. It is about conduct; it is about the dynamics in that relationship. We need to change our definitions right across the country in our criminal justice system and our civil justice system to recognise that.
Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) recommended the adoption of a national definition of FDSV which incorporates all forms of violence. It said the definition should:
... not be restricted to physical, sexual or emotional abuse, but also encompass behaviours such as abuse facilitated by technology (including image-based abuse), destroying property, stalking and harassment (including over the internet), exposing a child to violence and destroying property.
It also argued that any national definition not be ‘time-limited’ to the duration of a relevant relationship and instead ‘recognise the potential for the violence to continue for a long time even after separation of the parties‘.
Dr Rachael Burgin from Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy said that a national approach to sexual violence could include a national definition of affirmative sexual consent, which could underpin criminal justice responses to rape and sexual assault and inform prevention efforts.
Other witnesses and submitters highlighted issues relating to particular forms of violence or particular communities. In addition to the evidence discussed below, evidence on a consistent definition of coercive control is discussed in Chapter 4.
The LGBTI Legal Service noted differences in the definitions of ‘domestic violence’ and ‘family violence’ in respective legislation in Queensland and Victoria, and said there is ‘a need for uniformity and consistency across all legal frameworks’. It emphasised the need to ensure coverage of forms of violence perpetrated against LGBTQI people, and to recognise that violence can occur over periods of time.
The Australian Human Rights Commission noted lack of clarity about whether congregated or supported living settings are ‘family’ or ‘domestic’:
For example, in both Victoria and New South Wales, ‘family violence’ includes actions of a paid carer, whereas in Queensland the definition does not include carers acting under a commercial arrangement. Nor does the 2016 [Personal Safety Survey] include people living in congregate settings.
It said these arrangements could be included in a nationally consistent definition of family and domestic violence.
Good Shepherd Australia and New Zealand recommended the inclusion of a nationally consistent definition of economic abuse in relevant legislation across Australia.
In its submission, the inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence recommended that a national definition of family violence be used across all Australian jurisdictions. It also recommended the inclusion of dowry abuse in the definition of family violence as a form of economic abuse.
Ms Michal Morris from inTouch and Harmony Alliance expanded on this recommendation, saying that in the past 15 years the Australian community has ‘gone on a long journey into reconceptualising what family violence is’:
This needs to be reflected with a single national definition, and changing the definition isn't as simple as wordsmithing. When we change the definition we need to make sure that the interpretation will be the same with the police, the courts, family violence services and community leaders.
She said that a consistent national definition ‘will provide certainty to victims of violence and deliver a really strong message to individuals who actually use that violence’.
Data and statistics on family, domestic and sexual violence
This section discusses evidence on the prevalence of FDSV across Australia. This evidence indicated that FDSV remains a matter of serious concern across the nation and that rates of FDSV have not fallen significantly over the duration of the current National Plan.
The section also considers evidence on data collection and reporting.
Prevalence of family, domestic and sexual violence
The Committee received considerable written and oral evidence regarding the prevalence of FDSV, including from frontline service providers, peak bodies, and government agencies.
Much of this evidence noted that FDSV rates do not appear to be declining.
In its report on the Inquiry into domestic violence with particular regard to violence against women and their children, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee summarised some recent statistics in relation to family violence, as collected through the Personal Safety Survey and the National Community Attitudes Survey:
The results are mixed. While there has been a reduction in total violence experienced by women, evidence indicates that violence in intimate partner relationships has not decreased since 2005, and sexual violence against women has not decreased since 1996.
In evidence to this inquiry, Ms Liz Hefren-Webb from the Department of Social Services told the Committee:
Putting aside COVID, the trend for violence against women is stable overall. The trend for sexual violence is increasing.
The St Vincent de Paul Society’s submitted that the National Plan has not reduced violence against women and their children:
Although the National Plan has been in place for 12 years, statistics indicate that family and domestic violence against women and their children has not decreased and sexual assault has increased. However, violence within the community has decreased.
In its submission to the inquiry, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) provided statistics on the prevalence of family violence based on data from the 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey (PSS).
The PSS collects information from men and women aged 18 and over about the nature and extent of violence experienced since the age of 15. The Australian Government has funded the ABS to conduct the PSS every four years under the National Plan, in 2012, 2016, and 2020.
The AIHW explained that the data from the 2016 PSS show:
1 in 6 (17 per cent, or 1.6 million) women and 1 in 16 (6.1 per cent, or 548,000) men had experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a current or previous cohabiting partner;
1 in 20 (5.1 per cent, or 935,000) people had experienced violence from a current or previous boyfriend, girlfriend or date—7.4 per cent (694,000) women and 1.9 per cent (174,000) men;
1 in 4 (23 per cent, or 2.2 million) women and 1 in 6 (16 per cent, or 1.4 million) men had experienced emotional abuse (which includes coercive control) from a current or previous partner;
more than 1 in 2 (57 per cent, or 958,000) women and 1 in 4 (24 per cent, or 247,000) men who had experienced emotional abuse from a previous partner had also been assaulted or threatened with assault; and
1 in 5 (18 per cent, or 1.7 million) women and 1 in 20 (4.7 per cent, or 429,000) men had experienced sexual violence.
The AIHW said that while family violence occurs across all age and sociodemographic groups, ‘women were overwhelmingly the victims of these types of violence’.
However, the AIHW also noted that national surveys such as the PSS may be limited in their ability to capture data on smaller population groups:
This is because it is difficult to obtain large representative samples of at-risk populations and data become less reliable and robust when small samples from specific populations are analysed.
The Committee notes that in its 2015 report on domestic violence in Australia, the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee made a recommendation concerning sampling sizes of particular subgroups. In its submission to this inquiry, the Department of Social Services provided information on the challenges in collecting data on vulnerable groups.
The AIHW also observed that there were no uniform processes to identify family violence across all states and territories, and limited published data on legal aid, family court responses, and apprehended violence orders.
The Committee also received concerning evidence regarding community perception and attitudes towards FDSV. The Australian Human Rights Commission noted in its submission that:
In the 2017 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS), one in five respondents believed domestic violence was a normal reaction to stress, and two in five respondents believed that women make up false reports of sexual assault to punish men.
Evidence on primary prevention and measures to encourage changes in attitudes about FDSV is discussed in detail in Chapter 6.
As additional context to the prevalence of FDSV in Australia, the AIHW reported that a United Nations comparison of 22 countries with national surveys about violence against women showed that Australia has the seventh lowest rate of violence from a partner since the age of 15.
However, the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth noted that international comparisons of violence prevalence are limited by comparability of data.
A number of submitters and witnesses also referred to an estimate of the cost of violence against women and their children undertaken by KPMG in 2016. The Australian Human Rights Commission explained:
… KPMG estimated that the cost of violence against women and their children in Australia was $22 billion in 2015-16. KPMG also noted that the under-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, pregnant women, women with disability, and women who are homeless within national prevalence estimates could add a further $4 billion to the cost of violence against women and their children in Australia in 2015-16.
This estimate included a $10.4 billion impact in pain, suffering, and premature mortality; a $1.4 billion impact on the private and public health systems; and a $1.9 billion impact on production and the business sector.
Data collection and reporting
A number of gaps in the data collection and reporting were highlighted in evidence to the Committee.
A common theme in evidence was a perceived lack of nationally consistent data regarding FDSV. For example, No to Violence submitted:
The continuation of collection of data, such as the Personal Safety Survey and NCAS, is important as we transition to a new National Plan. This needs to better collect data from diverse populations. Nationally consistent data is limited due to the state-based nature of police datasets, and needs to be informed by detailed insights on outcomes for victim survivors and perpetrators.
Similarly, Our Watch said that one of the challenges in accurately tracking progress is the lack of consistency in data:
… with significant variation across jurisdictions; in the definitions used for types of violence and the range of behaviours associated with each, as well as in legal and policy frameworks and data collection methods. The Australian Bureau of Statistics and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare have begun addressing many of the data gaps in this area, however challenges and inconsistencies remain at the state and territory level.
Our Watch argued that there are gaps and limitations in existing population-level data, which it said lead to under-representation and under‑recording of some population groups, limited data on some forms of violence, and data that is not able to be disaggregated. It also highlighted a gap in data on perpetration, which is discussed further in Chapter 7.
Our Watch also noted a lack of data regarding attitudes, norms and backgrounds of men and boys in Australia:
Another gap is the lack of robust data, especially data allowing for analysis of change over time, on the kinds of attitudes and norms related to masculinity that are subscribed to by men and boys in Australia. This is an area in which there is a significant need for data development.
NSW Women’s Alliance linked a lack of consistent data collection with a lack of accountability:
Consistent data collection enables core measures of domestic and family violence to be tracked and promotes accountability in performance. Currently, there is variation in data collection methods, definitions used for types of violence and the range of behaviours that are associated with domestic violence and legal/policy frameworks. The inconsistencies within and cross‑jurisdictions complicate the reality of a national data-set.
Ms Louise York from the AIHW highlighted a gap in the national collation of data on the use of services:
… that is spanning things like specialist family and domestic violence services and other more mainstream services like appearances in emergency departments or help-seeking through general practice. We don't currently have a good handle, including in a timely way, of information in those settings.
In its submission, the AIHW suggested that the development of a national specialist FDSV data collection, which would build an evidence base ‘so that policies can better respond to victims and perpetrators’:
Specifically, this asset would answer questions such as, what services are provided, where, to whom and with what outcome?
The AIHW said that an initial focus could be to define services in scope, and that the approach to data collection could be based on that used for the existing Specialist Homelessness Services Collection.
The Australian Women Against Violence Alliance submitted that diversity of experiences needed to be better captured:
While data on women’s health and safety are routinely collected by the government, there remains a need for consistency in accounting for the diversity of the victims/survivors and their lived experience along with types of violence. Issues including sexual harassment, dowry abuse, reproductive coercion, forced marriage, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGMC), and technology-facilitated abuse are not routinely collected which can create challenges in understanding, preventing and addressing the experiences of violence holistically.
Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) said there is a need for ‘more robust national data, including longitudinal data, to demonstrate the experiences and impacts of violence against women across the lifespan’. ANROWS highlighted a number of findings revealing the need to address under-reporting and inadequate data collection across a number of diverse groups.
The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia highlighted a need for data on the prevalence of family violence in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities:
Disaggregated data and research on the prevalence of FDV within CALD communities should be collected at every level to determine the rates of violence and the different variables and factors that influence it, including cultural or ethnic background, economic status, level of education, religious/cultural beliefs and location. While studies show that FDV occurs across cultures and economic backgrounds without discrimination, these data can be used to inform targeted strategies and help identify service gaps.
Evidence on the lack of data relating to CALD communities and other diverse groups is discussed in further detail in Chapter 5.
Some witnesses noted that while perpetrator behaviour change programs are seen as an important component of reducing rates of FDSV, there is limited data on their effectiveness. This is discussed further in Chapter 7.
A national death toll and death reviews
Evidence to the inquiry included suggestions for the introduction of a national death toll to count family and domestic violence related deaths, and improvements to death review mechanisms.
Associate Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon from the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre explained:
We have no national toll index or count, depending on how you describe it, in the same way that we do for other deaths, such as the road toll. Creating this won't necessarily prevent these deaths, but it will go a significant way in terms of building the data and the consistent data collection that we need to inform prevention.
It its submission, the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre also noted that a national death toll would:
… provide national recognition of the lives lost and a commitment to building the evidence base required to prevent future deaths.
It further explained that a national death toll responded to calls to better understand and respond to family violence risks:
The findings will have direct policy and service relevance in each Australian state and territory. The Index will produce guidance targeted at improving family violence risk identification, assessment and management processes for women and children, and enhanced perpetrator interventions.
… The lack of systematic overview and coordination of data relating to family homicides in Australia presently results in inefficiencies and lost opportunities to build the most comprehensive evidence base needed to prevent these killings.
The Australian Association of Social Workers noted the absence of an official national death toll:
Despite the news reporting of women who have been murdered in family violence incidents, there is still no official government death count for family violence deaths across the country as is the case for deaths related to road accidents or COVID-19.
Women’s Safety NSW voiced support for national data collection regarding domestic and family violence related homicides:
We need a national body to collect real time information about domestic and family violence related homicides so we can track trends and changes over time and be accountable for our progress.
It explained the aim of death reviews was to:
… examine how systems and services performed (i.e. through the history of service use of the deceased and the perpetrator) to evaluate factors that could have prevented the death. Death reviews collate both qualitative and quantitative data that assist in the identification of patterns, improve the detection of vulnerable groups and determine lethality factors.
The Australian Women Against Violence Alliance explained that there was no consistent practice across state and territory jurisdictions with respect to reviewing and reporting on deaths relating to FDSV, and said there was a need to ‘strengthen data collection and ensure consistent system for reviews of women’s deaths relating to gender-based violence’.
National Data Collection and Reporting Framework
The Committee received evidence on the National Data Collection and Reporting Framework (DCRF), which was an outcome of the National Plan and aims to provide a basis for consistent family violence data collection.
The Department of Social Services explained:
The DCRF is a is a broad level conceptual map that provides a systematic way of organising data on family, domestic and sexual violence into information units for statistical collection. It provides the basis for consistent collection of administrative data on family, domestic and sexual violence and identifies the key data items and recording formats required to standardise the collection of family, domestic and sexual violence data in Australia.
According to the Department, the DCRF was published on the ABS website in 2014 and is now applied by key statistical agencies, including the ABS and the AIHW.
The AIHW said that the development of the DCRF assisted in improving the evidence base:
Over the last 10 years the evidence base for family, domestic and sexual violence has substantially improved, through both the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) development of a National Data Collection and Reporting Framework for family, domestic and sexual violence and the AIHW’s work to report holistically against this framework.
Families Australia submitted that the DCRF was a ‘significant step towards improving the organisation and consistency of data … assuming it is on track to be operationalised in 2022’.
However, Women’s Safety NSW submitted that progress on the implementation of the DCRF is unknown.
In its report on coordination and targeting of domestic violence funding and actions, the Auditor-General stated:
In the absence of a plan identifying the sequence and priority of activities required to ensure that DCRF is operational by its target date of 2022, the department cannot demonstrate that jurisdictions are on track to deliver this outcome.
The Municipal Association of Victoria submitted:
While the list of potential data items relating to the individual is quite comprehensive; the data available is not. This suggests the IT and operational challenges involved in applying the DCRF have been too costly.
NSW Women’s Alliance recommended that the DCRF be ‘broadened to include all forms of gender-based violence, regardless of the setting in which it occurs and regardless of who perpetrates the violence’.
Implications of the COVID-19 pandemic
The experiences of Australians during lockdowns and other COVID-19 related measures differed significantly depending on factors such as geographical location and socio‑economic factors. Evidence to the inquiry indicates that there were widespread effects on the prevalence and nature of FDSV and the support available to victim-survivors.
This section considers the Australian Government’s response to the COVID‑19 pandemic and reviews evidence from submitters and witnesses on the impact of the pandemic and possible lessons for all governments to consider in the ongoing response to FDSV.
Australian Government response to COVID-19
Recognising the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on family and domestic violence, on 29 March 2020 the Australian Government announced the Coronavirus Domestic Violence Support Package, which was designed to support Australians experiencing family violence during this period.
The package included $150 million in funding, including $130 million to be provided to state and territory governments to increase frontline family and domestic violence services through a new National Partnership Agreement on COVID-19 Domestic and Family Violence Responses (NPA).
Women’s Safety Ministers agreed that this funding would be directed to meet the needs of those experiencing violence, with a particular focus on:
safer housing and emergency accommodation;
counselling and outreach;
crisis support and helplines;
men’s behaviour change programs and other perpetrator interventions;
assisting frontline services to manage the demand and explore new technology-based service delivery methods; and
responding to the unique challenges in regional, rural, and remote locations.
The remaining $20 million was directed to increase the capacity of nationwide family violence services, including:
the 1800RESPECT and MensLine Australia counselling services;
the Men’s Referral Service;
the Keeping Women Safe in their Homes Program, which provides safety advice and upgrades to assist women and children to stay in their home;
and the Support for Trafficked People Program.
As outlined in its submission to the inquiry, the Australian Government took a number of other measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic directly or indirectly related to FDSV. These include:
more than $64 million to extend grant agreements administered by the Department of Social Services for essential services, which had been due to cease in 31 March 2021;
$63.3 million to help the legal assistance sector respond to COVID-19, including funding for frontline legal services and to assist legal services in transitioning to online service delivery; and
$10 million to assist the eSafety Commissioner to respond to an increase in image-based abuse;
$6 million to support drug and alcohol activities to help reduce drug and alcohol usage and harms;
keeping staff in place in the Family Violence Unit at the Department of Home Affairs to manage serious cases; and
changes to Services Australia’s payment and support systems, including the development of online Crisis Payment claims.
The Committee is also aware of state and territory government measures to prevent and respond to FDSV during the COVID‑19 pandemic. For example, in April 2020, the Victorian Government announced an investment of $40.2 million in crisis accommodation and specialist services for people suffering or at risk of violence.
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
The Committee received evidence from submitters and witnesses outlining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the prevalence and nature of FDSV and the demand for support services.
The impact of the pandemic on frontline specialist FDSV workers is discussed in further detail in Chapter 8.
ANROWS cautioned that reporting numbers are ‘influenced by many factors and do not necessarily provide a reliable picture of prevalence’:
For example, reports to police are most likely to concern physical violence, as this is the tactic most commonly reported to police, hospitals and other agencies. However, it is just one of many tactics of abuse of women—use of physical violence may increase or decrease according to the degree of overall control the perpetrator has over the life of the woman…
ANROWS said that evidence suggested that ‘the health, economic and social crises that have followed COVID-19 have exacerbated pre-existing violence and led to the intensification of certain tactics of violence’.
A number of submitters and witnesses including ANROWS referred to a paper on the prevalence of family violence against women during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was published in July 2020 by the Australian Institute of Criminology. The paper was based on an online survey of 15,000 women in the initial stages of the pandemic in May and June.
The paper said that in the three months before the survey:
4.6 per cent of women who responded to the survey reported experiencing physical or sexual violence from a current or former cohabiting partner;
5.8 per cent of women reported experiencing coercive control; and
11.6 per cent of women reported experiencing at least one form of emotionally abusive, harassing or controlling behaviour.
For many women, the pandemic coincided with the onset or escalation of violence and abuse. Two-thirds of women who experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former cohabiting partner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic said the violence had started or escalated in the three months prior to the survey.
Many women, particularly those experiencing more serious or complex forms of violence and abuse, reported safety concerns were a barrier to help-seeking.
The authors concluded that ‘it appears likely that the conditions and consequences associated with the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to an increase in domestic violence’. They noted that the drivers of increased violence likely involved ‘some combination of the increased time spent at home, social isolation due to social distancing requirements and financial stressors associated with the economic impact of COVID-19’.
National Legal Aid also stated that demand for its services had increased during the pandemic. With particular regard to the Family Violence Law Help website it reported that:
Compared to an average 7 week period (e.g. 1 Sep 2019 - 15 Oct 2019) there was a 25% increase in page views (11,371) and a 39% increase in users (2,454).
The Salvation Army reported a rise in demand for its family violence support services:
Between March and April 2020, demand for supports offered by us through family and domestic violence flexible support packages grew by almost 60 per cent. In the same period, demand for safe accommodation and trauma‑informed case management grew by 7 per cent.
In addition to the pandemic having increased rates of family violence, there were also changes in patterns of demand for services.
Ms Liz Hefen-Webb from the Department of Social Services explained that there had been an increase in calls to 1800RESPECT, the national support service for people affected by family violence and sexual assault:
We've been following the patterns of calls to that line. They definitely surged at the commencement of the pandemic. They have fluctuated throughout, but there has definitely been an increase.
However, she also explained there had been variation in demand across different geographic areas:
There are some areas where there has definitely been an increase in calls and demand on the service sector. There have been other areas where we've seen demand drop.
The Victorian Government explained that Victoria experienced an initial decrease in demand for police and family violence services with the introduction of social distancing measures, but that:
… there are now indications of increasing demand and complexity of calls and referrals to services, with anecdotal indications of fatigue in the family violence sector as coronavirus continues.
The Victorian Government said that this pattern of demand is consistent with research about past disasters and emerging research about the coronavirus pandemic.
The Committee received evidence about the increasing complexity of cases presenting to family violence services.
A team from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Centre for Justice provided interim findings to the Committee from a nation-wide survey on the impact of the pandemic on the family violence workforce and clients between June and August. It found that 88 per cent of respondents reported an increase in the complexity of client needs. It also noted that a concerning find was that 57 per cent of respondents reported new clients seeking help for the first time:
This is a significant finding, indicating that pandemic conditions are likely affecting the rate of domestic violence.
Similarly, the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre submitted that its research in Victoria in Queensland had identified ‘an increase in the prevalence, severity and complexity of violence against women’ reported to practitioners since the onset of the pandemic.
The Monash Centre also explained that clients were increasingly presenting with additional concerns, including mental health issues, increase in drug and alcohol use, and employment and housing concerns.
The Committee also heard that the pandemic may have changed patterns of perpetration, and created additional risks for particular groups.
For example, Dr Naomi Pfitzner from the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre told the Committee that ‘pandemic control measures were providing new opportunities for perpetrators to exert power and control over women and their children’:
We often heard that this involved weaponising children, so they were using the excuse that they had shared children to force women to move back into sharing a residence or to control who women could see and restrict their movement outside of the home. We also heard about perpetrators using COVID-19 and the threat of infection to restrict women's movements, further isolate them from friends and family and other support networks.
She also told the Committee about increased surveillance on women’s communication devices while isolating at home, which was reflected in how they were seeking help from practitioners:
They are reporting that women are more likely to call in late hours, when their children or perpetrator might be asleep and that there is a reduced opportunity to seek help because there isn't a safe environment in their homes during these strict lockdowns to have an open conversation about their needs and their safety concerns.
Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria said that ‘opportunities for perpetrators to isolate, monitor and control victims have exponentially increased’ while protective factors including contact with family and friends had ‘all but vanished’.
These organisations also reported that the types of perpetrator behaviour and the severity of harm caused had changed during the pandemic:
Anecdotal evidence suggests increases in surveillance of communication devices, controlling behaviour, psychological and emotional abuse, severe sexual and physical assault and instances of strangulation. Across the board, reports from victim-survivors consistently highlight the weaponising of COVID-19 by perpetrators, including by:
Saying they have COVID-19 so the victim-survivor and children have to remain in social isolation;
Threatening to expose children to COVID-19;
Inviting people into the home and then saying they ‘have’ COVID-19;
Taking children under family law parenting orders and refusing to return them claiming they have ‘been exposed’ to COVID-19 or ‘don’t trust’ that the victim-survivor has not tested negative to COVID-19; and
Telling victim-survivors they are not allowed to leave the house for any reason.
The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre highlighted the risk to people on temporary visas:
Service providers in Victoria reported a 20% increase in temporary visa holders coming forward needing assistance in the context of family violence, while Domestic Violence NSW reported that 60% of women on temporary visas they were supporting had less access to income, food and essentials.
The Monash Centre said that, for this group of people, ‘there are no safe options’:
… leaving a violent partner is inherently risky because of the absence of any guarantees of ongoing support, yet remaining with a violent partner is also significantly risky in terms of the immediate and long-term safety of women and their children. These conditions have escalated during the pandemic.
The LGBTI Legal Service highlighted the impact of the pandemic on the people in the LGBTQI community:
As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, the closing of community and cultural spaces have greatly impacted the mental and physical health of LGBTI people. The LGBTI community already experiences disproportionately high rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide, which will be further exacerbated especially due to financial, employment and home-life stresses.
The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre suggested that evidence of the economic impact of COVID-19 supported the ‘mounting evidence’ of the ways in which the pandemic is exacerbating existing gender inequalities.
Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria explained that a significant risk factor associated with increased rates of family violence during and after a disaster was ‘a tendency to revert to stereotypical and “traditional” gender-binary roles during times of uncertainty’:
… namely men taking the role of protectors and decision makers while women are seen as carers. When these strict gender norms resurface in the home, out of sight, they limit women’s independence and autonomy and can put them and their children at risk. Financial stress, unemployment and housing insecurity are other known risk factors for family violence that are often present post disaster. These risk factors, combined with strict gender norms, create an environment where family violence is likely to increase.
Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic
A number of suggestions were made in evidence to the inquiry drawing on the experience of FDSV in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Victorian Government highlighted the way in which the family violence sector had adapted, with some frontline staff working from home and delivering services remotely:
This has provided opportunities to use technological innovations and new service delivery models that ensure the safety of victim survivors.
The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre said the introduction of innovative service models during the pandemic ‘has demonstrated that a range of services addressing domestic and family violence perpetration and victimisation can be delivered remotely if absolutely necessary’.
Dr Naomi Pfitzner from the Centre expanded on this similar point:
We have heard about significant service innovation in Victoria and Queensland, with many services moving towards web based and message based services, using encrypted call links so that perpetrators wouldn't be able to see that there was a particular app on a phone so it is not traceable.
While noting the need for effective client engagement, support, and perpetrator accountability, the Centre submitted that ‘learnings from services provided under COVID-19 restrictions may be able to inform technology-facilitated service provision trials in regional, rural and remote communities’.
But the QUT Centre for Justice noted challenges for workers and clients accessing technology, and said attention should be given to the ‘digital divide’. It recommended additional government funding to support ‘technological outfitting’ for the sector.
ANROWS made a number of recommendations involving expanding service delivery, including increased access to alternatives to phone calls such as webchat, and expanding the number of telehealth bulk billing sessions for sexual and reproductive health and mental health care.
The QUT Centre for Justice also made recommendations following its research on the impact of the pandemic. This included supporting greater access to technology in the family violence sector, and considering the workforce and funding needs of the sector to prepare for disasters.
The QUT Centre for Justice also stressed the need to urgently revise disaster management frameworks to:
plan, in collaboration with the family violence and support sectors, for spikes in family violence in preparedness, response and recovery phases;
provide for additional funding for family violence services through adjusting scope and eligibility of National Disaster Response and Relief Arrangements;
adjust personal disaster planning guides and tools, and communications strategies, to provide enhanced safe access to information about family violence services and supports.
The Australian Women Against Violence Alliance also addressed the need for disaster planning to include specialist family and domestic violence services. Furthermore, it said:
Disaster planning needs to include specialised services for domestic and family violence. Further, support service workers responding to disasters must be training [sic] to recognise and respond to domestic and family violence. Previous experience shows that involving domestic and family violence and women’s health specialists from the beginning is crucial for gender-sensitive approaches to recovery.
Associate Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon from the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre also spoke about the need for:
… family and domestic violence to be integrated into plans for all periods of crisis, including any future wave of COVID across the Australian states and territories as well as natural disasters, both expected and unexpected. That is absolutely essential.
The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre highlighted the need to consider responses to perpetrators:
Since the outset of the COVID-19 crisis and related restrictions there has been minimal attention paid to how this will impact responses to family violence perpetrators – in terms of the justice system’s ability to hold perpetrators to account during the COVID-19 crisis and the wider family violence system’s need to keep perpetrators ‘in view’. Both are critical to manage and monitor the identified heightened risk and dangerousness during this period of uncertainty.
The Monash Centre stressed it is ‘essential that the momentum of the work advanced nationally to keep perpetrators in view is not lost during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond’. It also suggested that service innovations may lead to improvements in the delivery of behaviour change interventions. This is discussed in further detail in Chapter 7.
Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria expressed concern about a shift away from ‘preventing and responding’ to a more singular focus on addressing the immediate impact of FDSV in the pandemic:
We are deeply concerned that this practice is reflective of a perception that prevention work is a ‘luxury’ or add on, rather than a crucial and complimentary element of the continuum of efforts to end violence against women and family violence.
The organisations went on:
In order to ensure that the considerable gains made nationally to address the gendered drivers of violence against women are not lost, to address the particular articulations of those drivers in the context of COVID-19, and to ensure that lessons from the response period are captured, applied and expanded during recovery, it is crucial that the prevention sector remains supported, funded and its legitimacy protected.
The current and next National Plan
This section provides a brief overview of the current National Plan, before considering evidence received on the next iteration of the National Plan.
Overview of the current National Plan
The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 (the National Plan) is the Australian Government’s overarching policy framework for responding to FDSV. The National Plan was endorsed by the then Council of Australian Governments in 2011.
The Department of Social Services is the Australian Government agency with primary responsibility for implementation of the National Plan. Coordination and governance arrangements for the implementation of the National Plan are set out in a submission to the inquiry from the Department of Social Services.
Further evidence relating to governance and coordination is discussed in Chapter 3.
In its submission, the Department of Social Services explained that the National Plan:
… articulates a shared vision that ‘Australian women and their children live free from violence in safe communities’. The National Plan was a landmark step towards achieving this vision, providing a comprehensive framework to coordinate national action.
The National Plan sets out six national outcomes for all governments to deliver from 2010 to 2022. These are:
communities are safe and free from violence;
relationships are respectful;
Indigenous communities are strengthened;
services meet the needs of women and their children experiencing violence;
justice responses are effective; and
perpetrators stop their violence and are held to account.
Implementation of the National Plan occurred through four three-year actions plans, which identify priority areas of focus and practical actions to drive national improvements, and including policy and funding commitments from each jurisdiction.
Key outcomes of the National Plan have included:
establishing 1800RESPECT, DV-alert, ANROWS, and Our Watch;
funding the Stop it at the Start primary prevention campaign; and
measures to improve data collection and coordination across jurisdictions, and funding for new specialist services.
The fourth and final Action Plan was launched in 2019 and runs to mid-2022, and sets out the following five priorities:
primary prevention is key;
support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children;
respect, listen and respond to the diverse lived experiences and knowledge of women and their children affected by violence;
respond to sexual violence and sexual harassment; and
improve support and service system responses.
The Department of Social Services’ submission provided a summary of all measures implemented by Australian Government agencies under the Fourth Action Plan. Measures implemented by state and territory governments under the Fourth Action Plan are outlined in the National Implementation Plan.
Findings of the Auditor-General’s report
In its report on coordination and targeting of domestic violence funding and actions, the Auditor-General made a number of observations about the implementation of the current National Plan.
The Auditor-General stated that Department of Social Services implementation of the National Plan is ‘reduced by a lack of attention to implementation planning and performance measurement’.
It said the Department has established effective governance arrangements to support the implementation of the National Plan, and has ‘used a variety of mechanisms to engage formal stakeholders at key points throughout the life of the National Plan’.
However, it also said that:
Performance monitoring, evaluation and reporting is not sufficient to provide assurance that governments are on track to achieve the National Plan’s overarching target and outcomes.
The Auditor-General made five recommendations, including that the Department:
… identify and develop new measures of success, data sources and specific outcomes for the Fourth Action Plan, and any future National Plan.
Other recommendations related to research and data projects, development of a national implementation plan for the Fourth Action Plan, evaluations of individual programs and services to inform overall evaluations of the Fourth Action Plan and the National Plan, and more detailed public annual progress reports.
The Auditor-General highlighted the following key messages identified in the audit:
When delivering large-scale and long-term initiatives it is important to signpost success by developing interim performance expectations backed by practical implementation plans.
It may also be necessary to invest in developing new and improved data sources or more frequent data collections. Identifying what works and why it works helps drive towards ultimate outcomes through better targeting resources to high value add activities.
In its response to the Auditor-General’s report, the Department of Social Services agreed with all five recommendations and said work to implement these was already underway. The Department’s submission to this inquiry provided an update on progress against these recommendations since 2019.
View of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee
While it did not make formal recommendations, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee set out in its 2020 report a list of questions that it suggested should be considered in the development of the next National Plan:
(a) Has the National Plan achieved what it set out to achieve? If not, why not?
(b) What evidence is there that the initiatives undertaken to date will lead to generational change? When will we reap the rewards of current investment?
(c) Are the theory and approaches that underpin Australia’s National Plan still in-line with international evidence and best-practice?
(d) Is Australia doing enough under the Plan to support women and children from Indigenous and non-English speaking communities who are experiencing gender based and family violence?
(e) Is there enough support for women with disabilities?
(f) How will governments ensure the next iteration of the National Plan incorporates the learnings from the implementation of each Action Plan?
(g) How comprehensive and reliable is Australia’s data, and is enough being invested in data and research?
(h) Have departments and delivery partners taken on board criticisms around the mechanisms in place for evaluating initiatives? What are the new evaluation mechanisms, and are they sufficient?
(i) How effective and efficient is the governance model in place for implementing the Plan? Are all states and territories ‘pulling their weight’, or are some not investing enough? Are there any areas where more Commonwealth control or coordination may be warranted?
(j) What lessons can be learned from past experiences in relation to the procurement processes and service delivery model for 1800RESPECT?
(k) How can the government ensure the 1800RESPECT service is fulfilling its vital role?
(l) How have COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns and job losses contributed to domestic and family violence? Has the government response been fast enough, and has it been effective?
(m) Are there any lasting impacts of COVID-19 to be considered in drafting the new National Plan?
The Committee also expressed the view that before making the new National Plan, governments should invest in work ‘to determine if it is simply a matter of waiting for current efforts to come to fruition, or if a new approach is needed’.
Evidence to inform the next National Plan
Throughout the inquiry the Committee has received a significant volume of evidence that reflects on the current National Plan and includes suggestions for consideration in the development of the next National Plan.
In this section, the Committee provides a brief overview of some of this evidence, but also notes that many of these issues are discussed in further detail at other sections of the report.
Our Watch recommended that, like the first National Plan, the next National Plan include ‘a specific, dedicated and continued emphasis on primary prevention’.
Our Watch said that through the current plan Australia has ‘developed the foundations for a bipartisan, cross-jurisdictional approach’. However, it said that cross-jurisdictional effort needed to be improved and strengthened to address gaps and opportunities for improvement.
Our Watch also recommended ‘mechanisms for civil society engagement in the development and implementation’ of the next National Plan.
Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria submitted that the National Plan ‘has laid the foundations for a national approach’, but that ‘there is much that can be strengthened to provide increased coordination and consistency’.
Women’s Safety NSW submitted that the National Plan included only ‘vague measures of success’:
Without any real targets, governments have not had an accountability mechanism against which to measure their performance and have gotten away with relatively minor investment in addressing what is the single biggest preventable driver of death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44 years of age.
It argued that ‘key aspects of the implementation of the National Plan remain underfunded and thus under-implemented, resulting in a lack of progress against its lofty vision’.
The Samaritans Foundation submitted that the next National Plan ‘must include measures around increasing perpetrator responsibility as well as accountability’.
While noting that there have been areas of significant progress and intergovernmental collaboration since the commencement of the first National Plan, No to Violence stressed the need for the next National Plan to be ‘embedded in a framework of coordination, collaboration and accountability’:
… a level of consistency in responses is essential for such an important matter; it is inequitable to not have adequate support for family violence – whether you are a victim or a perpetrator – depending on which state, territory, town or city you live in.
The St Vincent de Paul Society submitted that the National Plan has not reduced family violence:
When National Outcomes under the National Plan are assessed, it is apparent that the incidents and rates of family and domestic violence against women and their children have not reduced over the years. Policy and service responses to family violence across the country remain fragmented and variable.
It said that a ‘general, broad-brush community approach to addressing violence means that those cohorts who are at greater risk of violence continue to fall through the cracks’ and that:
A targeted approach is needed to assist groups at risk of family violence namely young women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women living in regional and remote communities, women living with disability, women experiencing financial hardship, pregnant women, women separating from their partners, women on temporary visas and older women.
Consistent with this evidence, many other witnesses and submitters said that the next National Plan should have greater focus on groups with particular vulnerability.
For example, ACON submitted that the exclusion of GBTQ men and non‑binary people in the next National Plan would result in an incomplete picture of FDSV and ‘further the sense of invisibility experienced by many members of our communities’:
We believe that it is not only possible to acknowledge that violence affects LGBTQ people of all genders, but that doing so will strengthen the ability of the Government to respond to the needs of all Australians who experience gender-based violence.
Women With Disabilities Australia argued that the current National Plan has ‘focused largely narrow conceptual understandings’ of family violence and sexual assault:
This narrow definition of violence against women within the National Plan is inherently limiting, problematic and outdated. It does not reflect contemporary understandings of what constitutes violence against women nor the complexity of the myriad of forms it takes, and the settings in which it occurs.
Women With Disabilities Australia recommended that any new National Plan preserve the language of violence against women but ‘better articulate its conceptual and definitional nuances in order to respond holistically to different manifestations of this violence’.
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services submitted that there needs to be a specialised National Action Plan for Indigenous people ‘that is led, and has final accountability to, our people, communities, and organisations’.
Other submissions emphasised the need to recognise the needs of children and young people in their own right. For example, the Australian Human Rights Commission submitted:
While reducing the proportion of children exposed to domestic violence is one of the key indicators under the [current National] Plan, its critical focus is on women, not children.
The next National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children and the next National Plan should include strategies and initiatives that meet the distinct services and support needs of children who are exposed to, or are direct victims of, all forms of violence, abuse and neglect in the home.
FamilyVoice Australia, the One In Three Campaign, and the Australian Brotherhood of Fathers all expressed support for the scope of the National Plan to be broadened to recognise that men, women and children can be both perpetrators and victim-survivors.
Our Watch said that the next National Plan should be framed as a plan to address and prevent ‘violence against women’ and its scope should be described as including ‘all forms of violence against women’, paying specific attention to:
… the inclusion of forms of violence against women that have to date received less attention; including non-physical forms of violence, violence perpetrated in a range of settings, and new and emerging forms of violence.
The Australian Human Rights Commission said that the ‘broadening of focus in the Fourth Action Plan, to include sexual harassment and technology-facilitated abuse’ should be continued in the next National Plan.
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education and the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research recommended that the next National Plan incorporate ‘primary, secondary and tertiary strategies to reduce alcohol-related family violence and child maltreatment’.
The Australian Local Government Association argued that local governments and their representatives already provide FDSV services and should therefore be a part of the broader FDSV collaboration process. This is discussed further in Chapter 3.
The Victorian Government said the pandemic had ‘highlighted the value and opportunities in consistent messaging at a national level’ and argued for the creation of a communication strategy for the next National Plan.
Alignment with other plans and frameworks
The Committee received evidence about alignment between the current and next National Plan and other national plans and frameworks.
Women With Disabilities Australia recommended that both the new National Plan and any new National Disability Strategy have a strong focus on primary prevention and on changing social norms, behaviours, and community attitudes, and that:
… policy language in both frameworks is consistent, overlapping and mutually reinforcing.
Ms Carolyn Frohmader from Women With Disabilities Australia told the Committee that the many forms of violence perpetrated against women and girls with disability continue to remain unaddressed by both the National Plan and the existing National Disability Strategy 2010-2020:
So what this means in practice is that violence against women and girls with disability continues to fall through violence prevention legislation, policy programs and service delivery gaps.
The Institute of Child Protection Studies at the Australian Catholic University submitted that there is ‘insufficient coordination across policy agendas at the national level’ and between the National Plan and the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020.
Families Australia also made this point. It said insufficient coordination between the National Plan and the Framework:
… has a detrimental flow-on effect into programs, service delivery and practice, fragmenting responses and perpetuating siloed approaches. National leadership is required to better link policy agendas, leverage investments by all levels of governments, hold all stakeholders accountable and help drive a shift towards system-level, integrated approaches.
Caxton Legal Centre recommended cross-referencing of activities undertaken in the implementation of the National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians 2019–2023 with future planning regarding FDSV.
Ms Bonney Corbin, Chair of the Australian Women’s Health Network, recommended that the next National Plan embed the relevant measures of success from the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020-2030. Ms Corbin said this was critical ‘in order to enable cross-sector collaboration and efficient planning, resourcing, implementation measurement and evaluation’.
In relation to the health impacts of violence against women and girls, the Strategy includes five key measures of success:
increase in number of services available, and women accessing these services;
decrease in deaths from physical violence on women;
reduction in the proportion of women who have experienced abuse or trauma in their life;
reduction in the rate of reproductive coercion; and
reduction in the gap in mental and physical health trajectories between women who have and have not experienced violence.
The Committee acknowledges the evidence that the rate of FDSV has not decreased over the life of the National Plan, and the rate of sexual violence is in fact increasing. In that respect—despite its success in bringing Australia’s governments together—the National Plan does not appear to have met its stated objective of a significant and sustained reduction in violence against women and their children.
The Committee also acknowledges the findings of the Auditor-General’s report into the coordination and targeting of domestic violence funding, which in the Committee’s view raises concerns about the Department of Social Services’ implementation of the National Plan.
The stark reality is that all Australian governments have much more work to do in preventing FDSV.
But governments cannot eliminate FDSV on their own. The Committee stresses that there is an important role for business, community groups, and other non-government bodies in preventing and responding to FDSV in our community. A whole-of-society response is vital.
All violence comes from a lack of respect, and we all have a role in changing the attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence.
A uniform national definition
Evidence to the inquiry suggested to the Committee that the lack of a uniform national definition of FDSV creates barriers to coordination and information-sharing across jurisdictions and contributes to poorer outcomes for victim-survivors.
The Committee agrees that significant benefits would flow from a consistent definition and shared understanding of FDSV across jurisdictions, which is inclusive of the range of relationships in which violence can occur, and the many and varied forms of violence, including non-physical forms of violence such as coercive control, reproductive coercion, economic abuse, and complex forms of violence.
The Committee is of the view that a shared understanding of FDSV is fundamental to our collective effort to end violence, and sends a clear message to the community about behaviours that should not be tolerated.
The Committee considers that there is an important leadership role for the Australian Government in bringing together the states and territories to agree on a shared definition, which can subsequently be implemented in relevant legislative frameworks, including state and territory family and domestic violence legislation and the Family Law Act.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with state and territory governments to adopt a uniform definition of family, domestic and sexual violence, which:
reflects a common understanding of the features and dynamics of such violence and the breadth of relationships in which violence can occur;
encompasses a broad range of violence, including but not limited to coercive control, reproductive coercion, economic abuse, and complex forms of violence, such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting and dowry abuse; and
recognises the diversity of victim-survivors and perpetrators and the particular vulnerability of certain groups.
The next National Plan
While the Committee encourages the Australian Government and state and territory governments to consider all of the recommendation in this report in the context of the next National Plan, this section outlines the Committee’s recommendations about the overarching scope, coverage, and priorities of the next National Plan.
The Committee stresses that primary prevention should remain a core focus of the next National Plan. This is discussed in detail in Chapter 6.
Second, the Committee considers that the success or otherwise of the next National Plan must be measured against quantitative targets. It is crucial that progress is properly evaluated, and that governments are held to account in their response to FDSV. The Committee has suggested a number of targets for consideration, however it emphasises that any targets to be included in the Plan should be the subject of consultation with non-government organisations, experts, and victim-survivors.
Third, the next National Plan should aim to be more inclusive of the diversity of victim-survivors, perpetrators and the particular vulnerability of certain groups. In this regard, the Committee considers that the Plan should not be directed solely towards violence against ‘women and their children’, but should also include measures to prevent and respond to violence against all people, including children in their own right, men, and LGBTQI people.
The Committee stresses that it recognises that the majority of FDSV is perpetrated by men against women, and that it also recognises the evidence of the gendered nature of such violence, as discussed throughout this report. The Committee does not seek to diminish that fact.
However, the Committee’s strong view is that all forms of FDSV are abhorrent, and that the community as a whole has a right to expect their governments to be undertaking all reasonable measures to eliminate it, irrespective of the age, gender, and sexuality of the perpetrator or of the victim-survivor.
Fourth, the next National Plan should as a priority seek to identify, prevent, and address a broad range of FDSV, including non-physical forms of violence—such as coercive control, systems abuse, and technology-facilitated abuse—and complex forms of violence.
The Committee considers that the name of the next National Plan should reflect this broader focus, and that this would send a strong message that any form of FDSV against any Australian will not be tolerated.
Fifth, the next National Plan should ensure that responses to FDSV are integrated across systems, portfolios, jurisdictions, and legislative frameworks. A whole-of-service-system approach to preventing and responding to such violence should be a priority of the Plan.
Sixth, the Committee wishes to see greater involvement from business, community groups, schools, and other non-government organisations in the next National Plan, reflecting a whole-of-society approach.
Lastly, the Committee acknowledges that there is confusion amongst stakeholders as to the governance arrangements for FDSV at the federal level. The Committee considers that responsibility for the implementation of the next National Plan should continue to rest with the Department of Social Services.
The Committee notes that more specific recommendations addressing many of the issues outlined above are included in later chapters of this report.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan include quantitative measures, which should be agreed following consultation with non-government organisations, experts, and victim-survivors.
The Committee proposes the following measures for consideration:
reduction in the number of deaths attributed to family, domestic and sexual violence;
reduction in the rate of incidents of family, domestic and sexual violence;
reduction in the rate of re-offending by perpetrators;
reduction in the rate of family, domestic and sexual violence in diverse communities, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; LGBTQI people; culturally and linguistically diverse people; and people with disability;
increase in the availability and quality of support services for victim-survivors;
significant and long-term increase in the number of perpetrators attending and completing perpetrator behaviour change programs;
reduction in the number of incidents of family, domestic and sexual violence involving alcohol and/or other drugs;
reduction in the number of incidents of family, domestic and sexual violence involving children as either victim-survivors or perpetrators;
reduction in the number of incidents of family, domestic and sexual violence involving elder abuse, whether within the aged care system or in the home;
increase in the reporting rate of incidents of family, domestic and sexual violence; and
significant improvement in community awareness and understanding of, and attitudes about, all forms of family, domestic and sexual violence.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan be inclusive of the diversity of victim-survivors. In particular, the next National Plan should recognise the rights and needs of:
children in their own right;
people living with a disability.
Further, the Committee recommends that the Australian Government, and state and territory governments, ensure that the next National Plan and the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 are clearly aligned.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan seek to prevent all forms of family, domestic and sexual violence, including physical violence, sexual violence, exposure to violence in childhood, repeated violence, non-physical forms of violence including coercive control and technology-facilitated abuse, and complex forms of violence such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting and dowry abuse.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan be named the ‘National plan to reduce family, domestic and sexual violence’.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan promote and enhance an integrated whole-of-service-system response to family, domestic and sexual violence across jurisdictions.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan promote and enhance a whole-of-society response to family, domestic and sexual violence that involves businesses, community groups and other non‑government bodies, as well as governments.
The Committee recommends that responsibility for the implementation of the next National Plan continue to rest with the Department of Social Services.
Data and statistics
The Committee acknowledges the shocking evidence about the prevalence of FDSV. However, it is also apparent from evidence to the inquiry that much of the FDSV in our community remains hidden and unseen.
The Committee acknowledges that significant work has been done on improving data collection and reporting, including the development of the Data Collection and Reporting Framework under the National Plan. However, there is more to do to ensure that governments and the community have a clear picture of FDSV.
Improving data collection and reporting is critical to measuring success and holding governments to account, and to understanding what works and why.
The Committee recognises the importance of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey to informing government policies and services, and recommends that the Australian Government provide funding for the survey to be conducted on an annual basis, rather than every four years, and that the survey collect information about the prevalence of specific forms of FDSV and complex forms of violence.
Based on evidence to the inquiry, the Committee also considers there is a need for more consistent data collection, enabling data to be compared and combined across different settings and jurisdictions. The Committee considers there should be:
a national collection on service-system contacts with victim-survivors and perpetrators, which would bring together data from primary health care, ambulance, emergency department, police, and other services;
a national collection on the use of specialist FDSV services, which would assist in understanding how these services are used and with what outcomes; and
a national FDSV death toll.
Collectively, the Committee expects that these measures will assist in building a stronger evidence base and ultimately a more comprehensive understanding of the prevalence and impacts of FDSV, the demand for specialist and other services, and outcomes for victim-survivors.
The Committee also expects that efforts to achieve greater consistency in data collection across jurisdictions will be aided by all governments adopting a common definition of FDSV, as discussed above.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government direct and appropriately resource the Australian Bureau of Statistics to conduct the Personal Safety Survey on an annual basis and ensure that the survey collects information about the prevalence of specific forms of family, domestic and sexual violence and complex forms of violence.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government direct and appropriately resource the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to develop a national data collection on service-system contacts with victim-survivors and perpetrators, including data from primary health care, ambulance, emergency department, police, justice, and legal services.
Further, the Committee recommends that the Australian Government, and state and territory governments, provide appropriate funding and support to service providers to implement consistent data collection procedures.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government direct and appropriately resource the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to develop a national data collection on the use of, and unmet demand for, specialist family, domestic and sexual violence services.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government lead the development of a national family, domestic and sexual violence death toll.
Further, the Committee recommends the Australian Government consider the need for additional measures to ensure better integration of data from family, domestic and sexual violence death reviews across all Australian jurisdictions.
Implications of the COVID-19 pandemic
The Committee is acutely aware of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on victim-survivors and frontline workers.
The Committee acknowledges the outstanding response to the pandemic by the people of Australia and its governments, which has ensured that critical frontline services continue to be available to support victim-survivors.
The Committee is of the view that additional funding provided during the first phase of COVID-19 should be maintained to meet demand for services while the pandemic and the risks associated with restrictions and lockdowns remain.
The Committee notes some concerns about the distribution of funding to state and territory governments on a per capita basis, which is considered in further detail in Chapter 3.
Lastly, the Committee considers that the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic offers lessons for governments’ collective response to FDSV, both in times of natural disaster and national emergency, but also more generally. These lessons include the need for FDSV to be integrated into emergency planning and disaster response frameworks, and the need for support for the ongoing health and welfare of frontline workers.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, and state and territory governments, continue to provide increased funding for frontline family, domestic and sexual violence services in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan include measures informed by the experience of family, domestic and sexual violence in the COVID-19 pandemic, including but not limited to:
integration of family, domestic and sexual violence in emergency planning and disaster response frameworks;
increased support for the health and welfare of frontline workers, at all times but particularly during emergencies and disasters; and
increased use of technology and new service delivery models to improve access to services.