Family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV) occurs across Australia, but it affects different groups in society in different ways. This chapter deals with a range of different communities within Australia where there are victim-survivors of abuse: children, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, regional, rural and remote communities, people identifying as LGBTQI, people living with disability, culturally and linguistically distinct communities (CALD), older people, and men as victim-survivors of FDSV.
The groups discussed in this chapter were generally recognised by submitters as at-risk groups, while the extent of FDSV involving men as victim-survivors was the subject of some disagreement.
The chapter examines the evidence as presented to the Committee about the characteristics of abuse against each group and the special challenges in providing effective support service delivery to each cohort in the community.
The various groups are discussed individually, but evidence to the Committee made it clear that there is a large degree of overlap or intersectionality between different communities that are at risk of FDSV. For example, while regional, rural and remote communities have particular challenges as a whole, they also have populations of particular at-risk groups – for example, people with disabilities and people identifying as LGBTQI – with their own special problems that must be understood and addressed.
The chapter is therefore based on a recognition that the challenges for the groups discussed – and for the service-providers attempting to assist them – interact with each other in complex ways.
The complexity of the situation across Australia was summed up by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, which noted the particular vulnerability of some groups and the difficulty in assessing the quality of support services provided to them:
AIFS’ research of domestic and family violence prevention initiatives identifies the gaps in services and programs as more pronounced for people who identify as LGBTIQ, for women in regional, rural and remote communities and for women with disabilities and mental health issues. This research also raises concerns with the lack of evidence about the effectiveness of prevention and early intervention strategies for at-risk communities, and highlighted the need for further research and evaluation about DFV prevention and early intervention work in Australia to guide existing and future initiatives, particularly in relation to at-risk communities.
Children and young people
Children are possibly the group most at risk from the direct and indirect effects of FDSV. They can be affected by FDSV in at least two major ways: firstly, they may be the direct targets of abusers and secondly, they may suffer the effects of witnessing abuse or becoming unwillingly involved in it.
Regarding the first, the submission from a non-government agency working to protect child victim-survivors of FDSV, Bravehearts, cited research evidence that 16 per cent of women and 11 per cent of men in Australia were ‘physically or sexually abused before the age of 15’.
In relation to the second, the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, another organisation working to keep children safe from violence, told the Committee of the many ways that children can ‘be subjected to some deeply distressing experiences’ through intimate partner violence. These include witnessing violence and injury in their home, being forced to deal with abusive family members, domestic upheavals, disruption to schooling and friendships, exposure to economic hardship, witnessing their father being arrested and feelings of isolation and shame.
Family and Relationship Services Australia cited an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report summarising the effects of FDSV as:
diminished educational attainment
reduced social participation in early adulthood
physical and psychological disorders
future victimisation and/or violent offending.
Representatives from the non-government organisation, Our Watch, discussed the negative impact of family violence on young children and stressed the critical importance of ‘the first thousand days’ of a child’s experience in shaping their future development and lifetime attitudes, and hence the need to intervene at an early age.
The Alannah and Madeline Foundation pointed out that one especially vulnerable group is ‘children who have lost a parent to intimate partner violence’. The Foundation argued that such children have special needs for services – both because of the immediate impact of the loss and because of the ‘likelihood that these children have already been exposed to abuse in their home, before the violent death of one or both of their parents’.
Evidence to the Committee highlighted the difficulties faced by children making disclosures about abuse they have either personally suffered or have seen inflicted on family members. Children’s testimony needs to be trusted and they should be provided with a supportive environment that can encourage disclosure and not intimidate or re-traumatise young victim-survivors.
Mrs Hetty Johnston from Bravehearts gave the example of the problems associated with taking a child to a police station, stressing that ‘it's a foreign environment; it's not child friendly; it's a place where bad people go, in a child's world.
Barnardos Australia highlighted the fact that issues confronting children in situations of domestic violence are multi-faceted and inter-generational.
In our experience, it is the impact of intergenerational and recurring experiences of trauma coupled with the effects of entrenched social and economic disadvantage, which is the reason families need our services.
Challenges for service providers can therefore arise when a history of family violence and associated issues and ‘multiple barriers to create an effective safety net’ involves interaction with many different agencies. Ms Deirdre Cheers from Barnados Australia told the Committee
Where we sometimes struggle … is where … for example, in health—means that it's not cross-connected with statutory services or where the funded services for installing safety equipment in homes, for instance, doesn't move quickly enough. At the most extreme end, it can mean that children go into the care system. Once that happens, of course, the legal system, once it's involved, will kick in and it will have those established processes for assessment around whether children can return home.
Bravehearts explained that its approach to the issue of integrated services in a non-intimidating environment has been to advocate for the establishment of Child and Family Advocacy Centres (CFACs), inspired by an example in the US which the organisation has been studying for some years. In line with this approach, Bravehearts is:
… bringing all our child sexual assault specialised, holistic, and professional services together in one place and to work in collaboration with and referral to, other professionals, agencies and government authorities to deliver on the best interests of the child.
Bravehearts’ submission said several Australian jurisdictions had experimented with ‘various versions of multi-disciplinary teams’, but that implementation had been ‘inconsistent, with many models not reflecting the holistic best practice approach that is essential to the CFAC model…’
Continuing with the theme of the need for coordinated service-delivery, Families Australia, a peak body of organisations striving to improve family well-being, submitted that ‘there is a need to better link national policy agendas to a deliver a systems approach’ and, as noted in Chapter 2, called for enhanced:
… coordination across policy agendas at the national level, in particular in relation to the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2012-2022 and the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020.
This should aim to ensure that children and young people as victim-survivors receive ‘adequate support to address their individual needs’, that gaps in service are filled and that there is better integration of services and responses.
Families Australia emphasised that children and young people who experience FDSV have special needs for support and assistance, apart from their position as dependents of mothers suffering from abuse. The agency’s submission stressed:
While there has, quite rightly, been a heavy policy, research and programmatic focus on the rights and needs of women as victims and survivors of family, domestic and sexual violence, including women who have children, this focus has resulted in a failure to recognise and respond to the needs of children and young people as victims and survivors in their own right [emphasis in original].
The agency added that:
Recognising the needs of children and young people and supporting [them] will enable a longer term focus on their experiences and needs in relation to recovery from trauma while complementing investments in services…
The Committee also received evidence about the phenomenon of adolescent perpetrators and the need to address it. The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre said that:
Adolescent family violence describes violence perpetrated by young people against family members, including parents, siblings, carers and other members of the family. Adolescents who use violence in the home engage in a range of different strategies to control, coerce and threaten family members that create harm.
The Centre noted that the ‘complex needs of adolescents who use violence in the home and those caring for them require specialist service responses outside of the criminal justice system’, but that:
To date, there is limited research examining AFV [adolescent family violence] in Australia and elsewhere, and few tailored responses and programs either for those who use or those who are affected by this unique form of family violence.
The Centre submitted that this form of violence should be ‘included as a specific focus in the next National Plan’.
The gap in both knowledge and service provision was also brought to the attention of the Committee by the Law Council of NSW:
There are few robust evaluations of adolescent perpetrator programs and interventions. However, emerging evidence suggests that due to the differences between adolescent family violence and adult family violence, such programs need to be tailored to adolescents and not just adapted from adult programs. Examples of programs currently being trialled in NSW include:
Youth on Track (an early intervention program);
Name, Narrate, Navigate (currently being trialled by University of Newcastle, NSW); and
Family Functional Therapy (currently being trialled by OzChild in Gosford).
The Committee received a wealth of evidence from organisations representing Indigenous Australian peoples. The Committee was struck by the devastating effects of family violence in Indigenous communities, as well as the variety of different ways in which diverse communities are affected by, and are responding to, FDSV.
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) told the Committee:
The social, cultural, spiritual, physical, and economic impact that family violence has on our communities is devastating, described widely as a national crisis. The greatest and most direct impact of family violence is on our women, trans women, and sistergirls which leads our children to also be especially vulnerable to the direct and indirect impacts of family violence – causing deep and lasting harm and contributing significantly to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s over-representation in Australia’s child protection systems.
NATSILS made the additional point that family violence compounds other problems:
Family violence also contributes significantly to our people’s experiences of homelessness, poverty, poor physical and mental health and substance abuse which in turn places our people on pathways into the criminal legal system.
Ms Cheryl Axleby from NATSILS observed that:
Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, predominantly our women and children, devastates communities and destroys families. In comparison with other women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence and ten times more likely to die as a result of a violent assault.
Particular emphasis was laid on the fact that, for Indigenous people, family violence must be understood in the context of historical experience. For example, in the words of the Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service (QIFVLS):
Social disadvantage and intergenerational trauma have their roots embedded within a history of destruction, disadvantage and dispossession from land, culture, family and community, stemming back to colonisation.
Similarly, the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress told the Committee that:
… family, domestic and sexual violence within communities is related to the overall inequity and disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal people, as a result of colonisation and disempowerment.
Ms Axleby said that the legacy of community trauma and dispossession was central to both the causes of, and ways to deal with, family violence:
At the heart of family violence lies the ongoing legacy of colonisation, individual and communal grief and loss, disempowerment and trauma. We believe the central way to effectively end violence is through community driven, trauma informed approaches to family violence that prioritise cultural healing and restore the inherent strength, dignity and self-determination of our families and communities, especially our women and children.
A submission from Mrs Bess Price took issue with such interpretations and argued that there was a ‘refusal to recognise’ that family violence in Indigenous communities had ‘its roots in customary law’,
But most submitters took a similar position to that advocated by Men’s Outreach Service Aboriginal Corporation (MOSAC), a community support organisation in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. MOSAC argued that the gendered nature of violence in Indigenous communities must be placed in the broader context of colonisation, violence against Indigenous women by non-Indigenous men, dispossession, cultural dislocation and forced removal of children. MOSAC further submitted that:
This context, and the continuing effects that policies and practices have on Aboriginal people across the Kimberley, are significant factors contributing to trauma, disadvantage, violence and the use of alcohol and other drugs in Aboriginal families and communities… It is only with this context that the magnitude of the effects on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal families and communities can begin to be understood.
The legacy of dispossession from land and culture, and the associated history of traumatic interaction with the police, welfare agencies and other government bodies continues to mark Indigenous peoples’ experience today and to influence their perceptions of representatives of the state, however well-intentioned.
One manifestation of this is the extremely disproportionate rate of incarceration of Indigenous people, both women and men, and its interaction with family violence issues. Ms Axleby pointed out that Indigenous women in prison were highly likely to be victim-survivors of family violence:
The over incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is a family violence issue from our perspective, and the evidence demonstrates that. There are about 3,600 women in Australian prisons and 34 percent of those women are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander women. Aboriginal women are the fastest growing prison population, being 17 times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be incarcerated. In the last year, there has been a 10 percent increase in the number of women in prison. Up to 90 per cent of Aboriginal women in prison are themselves victims of violence.
Fears about the consequences of reporting abuse to police can make Indigenous women wary of seeking police protection. Ms Axleby described situations where:
Instead of being treated as a survivor of violence, when police attend a family violence situation, women can be criminalised as a result; they are charged with assault. … This is a situation that is well documented with Aboriginal women as is their reluctance to go to police and raise issues. We've also had women have warrant checks undertaken on them by police at a time when they are a victim of family violence. The police will arrest them for warrants that may be related to unpaid fines et cetera.
The fear of police is particularly associated with the history of removal of Indigenous children from their families. This was mentioned by Ms Phynea Clarke from the National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Forum:
The law historically has been used as a tool of oppression against our people, and women not reporting violence because their children will be removed by police.
Such wariness of authority can extend to other types of agencies. A long family history of witnessing and experiencing negative consequences from interactions with authority leads Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to be very reluctant to approach any representatives of government, including to make use of supportive services. Mrs Debbie Medhurst from Mens Outreach Service Aboriginal Corporation said that, as a consequence, Indigenous women:
… can also be very difficult to engage and that can be for reasons such as getting overwhelmed. There could be fear around losing their children. They are very suspicious of services.
The barriers to Indigenous women making use of services were summarised by Djirra, an Aboriginal community organisation providing services in Victoria:
… Aboriginal women are markedly less likely to disclose family violence due to a multitude of complex barriers, including:
Lack of trust by Aboriginal women in mainstream services and organisations
Lack of culturally safe services delivered by mainstream organisations
Reluctance to report due to fear of children being removed.
One result of this is that the rate of reportage of family violence in Indigenous families is even lower than other parts of the Australian community. QIFVLS told the Committee of estimates that up to 90 per cent of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is not reported.
Witnesses also highlighted the many different circumstances of Indigenous communities and the challenges of providing appropriate services. Ms Liza Balmer from the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Women's Council told the Committee:
… that not all Indigenous domestic and family violence looks the same or has the same causality. And we really need to be clear that the issues in our region are very unique to our region, particularly around the remoteness and therefore the access to services and resources. There's also an extreme level of poverty and unemployment in our region, much higher than in urban areas and other regional centres. And the size of the communities, the small communities that people live in, puts another layer of cultural complexity around the issues.
A key element of the issue is the great cultural and linguistic diversity found amongst Australia’s Indigenous peoples. Detective Superintendent Lauren Hill, from the Northern Territory Police Force, told the Committee about the situation in her jurisdiction:
There are up to 104 Aboriginal languages and dialects spoken across the NT, and 77 per cent of our indigenous Territorians live in remote communities. There is something like 96 remote Aboriginal communities and over 600 homelands in the NT. It makes for a challenging policing environment.
The Northern Territory has a number of special ‘demographic and geographical issues which increase the challenges associated with service delivery’ in the area of FDSV in Indigenous communities. Territory Families, the NT Government agency responsible for responses to family, domestic and sexual violence, presented the following facts about the extent of the challenge:
30 per cent of the NT population identify as Aboriginal
NT makes up 17 per cent of the Australian land mass, including many remote areas with extreme weather patterns making access to services challenging
Domestic and family violence comprises over 60 per cent of all assaults
The rate of domestic and family violence is 2.6 per cent higher than other states and territories
Women and girls are 1.6 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than in other parts of the country
An average of 80 Domestic Violence Orders are applied for each week
77 per cent of prisoners in the Territory have had a prior apprehension by the policy for family and domestic violence.
As mentioned in Chapter 3, despite these especially acute problems, Territory Families said that the Australian Government support package for family, domestic and sexual violence during the COVID-19 pandemic made an allocation for the NT mostly ‘based on population and not on need’.
Similar problems of size, remoteness and a deep problem with family violence can be found in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, which comprises 16 per cent of the state’s land area and is twice the size of Victoria. A total population of around 40,000 people lives across 6 towns and almost 200 Aboriginal communities. MOSAC said that some research shows that up to 70 per cent of Indigenous families in the region have experienced family violence.
Australia-wide, language issues can make nationally-based emergency phone services ineffective if there are insufficient numbers of interpreters available in Indigenous languages. Ms Phynea Clarke from the National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Forum cited the example of the 1800RESPECT service which she said ‘does not work for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’ because ‘there are not always interpreters around or available’.
Ms Inez Carey from Breaking the Silence also pointed out that Indigenous peoples’ country often crossed administrative and state boundaries and the functional divisions amongst different service providers made little practical sense:
… changes in demand in parts of Australia often fluctuate based on wet and dry seasons. People will quite often move out of a region … or often out of the state. People from APY lands in the Northern Territory will move down towards Port Augusta, where those services may not be funded … people are going to homelessness services rather than to family and domestic violence services because there simply aren't enough resources to accommodate them or those services don't exist in those areas.
Against the background of such issues, there was strong agreement amongst service providers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, that efforts to respond effectively to FDSV against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had to be designed around the specific needs of diverse Indigenous communities. What witnesses frequently called ‘mainstream’ services often failed to deal with these special realities.
The term most often used by Indigenous organisations to describe services that are responsive to Indigenous needs was ‘culturally safe’, while ‘cultural competence’ was also sometimes used. While not precisely defined by witnesses, the terms included elements such as the provision of services by Indigenous people themselves and/or by staff specifically trained for cultural awareness, services and legislation created in consultation with Indigenous people, services that are culturally appropriate for Indigenous people in a particular location, and services that are integrated and comprehensive or, in the words of many witnesses, are ‘holistic’ and ‘wrap-around’.
A more academic definition submitted to the Committee was that ‘culturally safe’ means:
Works in a way that is respectful and celebrates Indigenous culture; builds relationships with community; listens to community and values their knowledge and expertise.
The Law Council of Australia elaborated on the concept of ‘cultural competency’ in relation to matters such as systems and services that recognise ‘the lived experiences of First Nations people’ and policies that are developed and implemented with meaningful consultation and engagement with First Nations communities and organisations.
The submission from Aboriginal Family Legal Service Southern Queensland argued that ‘there is trauma that results from culturally inappropriate service delivery’, citing the example of ‘women being unable or unwilling to ask for options of returning to community and country after social workers arrange other, less appropriate, accommodation’.
In more comprehensive terms, the submission recommended:
… the prioritisation by frontline services of cultural safety and the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers as first points of contact. … This prioritisation needs to be borne out of consultation with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that regularly access these services and should involve:
Programs to support and promote Indigenous workers employed or volunteering with frontline services;
Cultural awareness procedures for community housing, including ensuring culturally appropriate locations are taken into account when housing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims of family violence;
Allowing for safe and open communication channels between frontline services and Indigenous families accessing the services, so that unsafe situations can be addressed promptly and appropriately; and
Recognising the priority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences and voices (including those external to the service, e.g. an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person's lawyer or social worker) when making decisions for or about victims of family violence.
NATSILS expressed the view that:
… the central way to effectively break the cycle of violence is through community-driven, trauma-informed approaches to family violence that prioritise cultural healing and restore the inherent strength, dignity and self-determination of our families and communities – especially our women and children.
A similar culturally-appropriate and community-based approach was described to the Committee by QIFVLS:
QIFVLS approach to implementing long term measures to prevent violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children has been in the creation and delivery of culturally appropriate community education (CE) and community legal education sessions (CLEs) in rural, regional and remote Queensland. Embedded within the core of the CEs and CLEs is education around healthy and unhealthy relationships, with an emphasis on empowering gender equality. Our stand alone CE on ‘Healthy and unhealthy relationships’ is geared towards school aged children (pre-teens and teenagers) and can be delivered within a school setting environment.
The importance of holistic approaches in Indigenous communities and the problems of grant-based funding by multiple government agencies was highlighted by Mr Ian Perdrisat:
Reports, inquiries and papers consistently identify the siloed approach where governments and departments within governments do not collaborate freely with other departments and agencies or the community. Despite multi-stakeholder approaches being government policy; government appears to maintain a fragmented silo approach to providing a range of disparate services in an ad hock [sic] grant lottery approach. Historically the government’s issue specific, election cycle competitive grant system has not demonstrated a coordinated approach.
NATSILS expressed its support for community-led approaches informed by an understanding of underlying issues and said the organisation was:
… heartened that the Fourth Action Plan clearly states the need to value and engage the expertise of our people, communities and organisations to lead the creation and implementation of community led solutions, and to address the immediate impacts, including the deep underlying drivers of family violence in our communities due to the intergenerational trauma caused by the ongoing effects of colonisation.
NATSILS also 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’.
Djirra proposed that there should be a ‘move to genuine Aboriginal led evaluation’ for the purposes of data collection, assessment of issues and development of programs, including a long-term commitment to ‘building a pool of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander evaluators’. Djirra submitted that Indigenous organisations:
… must be brought into decision-making on whether to conduct an evaluation, how the evaluation should be conducted, designing the evaluation plan and methodology and selection of evaluators. Only then will evaluations support the agendas of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations delivering services or programs.
Regional, rural and remote communities
Family and domestic violence affects victim-survivors in a range of particular ways in regional, rural and remote communities and there are special challenges in assisting women in those areas to escape from violence.
Breaking the Silence, an organisation formed to provide assistance to victim-survivors in regional, rural and remote communities, made the case that:
For those living in regional, remote, and rural areas of Australia their experiences with domestic or family violence are very different to those in urban areas. In Australia those living in these areas are more likely to experience family and domestic violence that those living in urban areas.
Breaking the Silence described various issues facing people from such areas. These include:
difficulty for couples separating where there are complex financial arrangements such as assets in land, leading to financial dependence and lack of employable or renewable skills;
perpetrators using geographical isolation to control victim-survivors;
lack of close-by and accessible support services;
problems with privacy, confidentiality and anonymity in small communities for victims seeking support;
poor mobile phone coverage and/or landline services, creating difficulties for the use of support services and providing opportunities for perpetrators’ controlling behaviour; and
trauma and tensions generated by natural disasters such as bushfires, droughts and floods and by financial problems caused by fluctuating markets for primary products.
A similar view was outlined by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, describing the challenges for victim-survivors in regional, rural and remote Australia:
Women living in regional, rural and remote areas who experience DFV also face specific issues related to their geographical location and the cultural and social characteristics of living in small communities. Some distinct barriers were identified to seeking help, such as a fear of stigma, shame, community gossip, and a lack of perpetrator accountability. … A lack of privacy due to the high likelihood that police, health professionals and domestic and family violence workers know both the victim and perpetrator can also inhibit women's willingness to use local services. Furthermore, women who do seek help find difficulty in accessing services due to geographical isolation, lack of transportation options and not having access to their own income.
Referring to the long-term impact of FDSV in rural areas, Northern Midlands Council of Tasmania expressed the view that, in some communities, ‘intergenerational violence persists, with children growing up believing violence and disrespectful behaviour is a normal way to live and behave’. The Council added that ‘the shame and stigma sometimes felt when seeking help can be exacerbated by intergenerational disrespectful attitudes being normalised’.
While there are common elements to the issues facing victim-survivors in regional, rural and remote areas, each area has its own particular features and challenges. This point was stressed by the Northern Midlands Council who said that ‘Tasmania has the most decentralised population in Australia’ and a topography that can create special problems for mobility and delivery of support services.
Highlighting the special problems created by poor quality internet or telephone services, Ms Inez Carey from Breaking the Silence noted that in some areas ‘people are often sharing a mobile phone’, so even if they have coverage they may not ‘have safe means of making calls or communicating’.
When they are able to reach out, victim-survivors may find it difficult to seek specialised support from a practitioner who understands the special difficulty facing people seeking to escape violence in a regional, rural or remote area. Ms Carey made the point that:
Nearly every web chat provider is a national service based out of either Sydney or Melbourne, and so very few of the practitioners and counsellors and people that answer those calls have any professional understanding or knowledge of RRR communities. …it's so crucial for people in the RRR areas to be able to speak to someone that has some understanding of the nuances of trying to seek help in a regional or remote area.
Problems arising from extreme remoteness particularly affect some Indigenous communities. These are discussed in the previous section of this chapter.
People identifying as LGBTQI
Evidence to the Committee about family violence issues related to people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) had a particular focus on the gaps in knowledge on the issues involved and the paucity of specialist services for LGBTQI communities.
Referring to the paucity of evidence about FDSV affecting LGBTQI communities, the National LGBTI Health Alliance took the view that:
There is still a significant knowledge and evidence gap about intimate partner and family violence within LGBTI communities, meaning that it is a relatively uncommon area of expertise within health and social service settings, including for many agencies that specialise in non-LGBTI intimate partner and family violence.
Speaking about the more general lack of disaggregated data about people identifying as LGBTQI, Associate Professor Adam Bourne from Rainbow Health Victoria told the Committee:
… most general population surveys don't adequately capture gender diversity or sexuality. I do know, however, that the Australian Bureau of Statistics convened a reference group earlier this year to try to create new standards around capturing gender identity and sexuality in government services. This is something that they are attempting to do.
The Committee heard evidence from Dr Michael Salter, Mx Joe Ball and Nicky Bath from the National LGBTI Health Alliance that LGBTQI communities are particularly at risk of sexual violence and intimate partner violence in various forms. But they submitted that available evidence does not fully account for the complex circumstances of people affected by FDSV who identify as belonging to one of the different LGBTQI communities. This includes the nature of the violence within the communities, and the abuse to which LGBTQI people can be subjected to by people outside the community, including their own family members.
Dr Salter elaborated that:
When we're thinking about family violence, we're including all members of people's families, so that includes reports of violence and abuse from parents, siblings and relatives. Under that broad definition of family violence, all LGBTIQ people—the whole community—are reporting significant rates of homophobic and transphobic abuse within their natal families.
The National LGBTI Health Alliance mentioned that a 2012 Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) inquiry found distinctive forms of intimate partner and family violence in LGBTQI communities, including:
threatening to disclose an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or intersex status to family members, friends or colleagues
telling a partner that they will lose custody of their children as a result of their LGBTI status being disclosed
a perpetrator claiming that the police, justice system, and/or intimate partner and family violence support services are not culturally safe for LGBTI people and therefore will not help the victim
transphobic abuse whereby a person deliberately misgenders their trans partner, ridicules their body or gender identity, or prevents them accessing gender affirming care or services
threatening to or revealing HIV status or withdrawing care, where one partner or family member is dependent, for example arising from their HIV status
sexual violence, such as coercing a partner to have sex through manipulation of the victim’s shame related to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity
physical violence committed by a family member due to their homophobia, transphobia and/or transphobia [sic].
The Alliance also drew the Committee’s attention to the ALRC’s findings about barriers to service delivery and disclosure facing LGBTQI communities, including:
actual or anticipated stigmatisation or discrimination and that such disclosure will jeopardise their job or career, or that the person/system to whom they disclose will not be responsive and affirmative
gendered concepts and language around intimate partner and family violence.
In a similar vein, ACON, a LGBQTI community organisation, said:
Sexuality and gender diverse people are far less likely than the general population to find support services that meet their specific needs. … LGBTQ people experience barriers to recognising and reporting SDFV. Barriers include fear of not being taken seriously; fear of discrimination; a higher threshold to abuse; and not being aware of the existence of any services that could provide support.
One example of the social exclusion of LGBTQI communities and the paucity of services to support them was cited by the Australian Women against Violence Alliance (AWAVA) who said that young LGBTQI people are at a higher risk of homelessness than their peers.
A lack of recognition in the court system of the issues facing LGBTQI people experiencing family violence was reported by the Law Council of Australia:
… within and outside the courts, a number of different forms of family violence are insufficiently recognised and responses are not always tailored to the particular circumstances and needs of diverse victims, including … LGBTQI.
The National LGBTI Health Alliance noted that a failure by service providers to appreciate the experience of LGBTQI people created the risk that cases of family violence would go unidentified. The Alliance therefore advocated ‘investment in specialist LGBTI services’ and that ‘LGBTI community-controlled organisations must be involved in the planning and delivery of training to mainstream services’.
The Committee was told that the current legal definitions of family, domestic and sexual violence were inadequate. The LGBTI Legal Service argued that:
A broadened and consistent definition would also ensure coverage of LGBTI experiences are included under relevant domestic violence legislation. A more uniform definition should account for parents, siblings and other family members being capable of perpetrating violence against LGBTI people, especially young LGBTI people. A reevaluation of the definition of ‘domestic violence’ should ensure coverage of the differing behaviours by perpetrators that can include threats of ‘outing’ an individual’s sexual orientation, gender or HIV status, withholding hormone treatments or other vital health treatments, prevention of participation in LGBTI specific community events that are often vital for young LGBTI people’s mental wellbeing, and acts of public humiliation or LGBTI exclusionary behaviour.
Reflecting the view that LGBTQI communities have been rendered invisible in both the understanding of family violence and the responses to it, three organisations working in the area, Rainbow Health Victoria, Thorne Harbour Health and Switchboard Victoria, argued that:
… the dominance of heteronormative (and cisnormative) models of family violence make it harder for LGBTQ people to recognise and label intimate partner violence as such, creating silence around this violence. … LGBTIQ people have been found to delay or avoid seeking health and support services due to actual or anticipated stigma and discrimination, and the lack of an affirmative provider.
The organisations therefore called for the ‘meaningful inclusion all LGBTIQ communities in the next National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children’. Kai Noonan from ACON and Associate Professor Adam Bourne from Rainbow Health Victoria also advocated the inclusion of questions about LGBTQI identity in official surveys, including the census.
The submission from Our Watch informed the Committee that the organisation recently undertook research, as part of its National Framework to prevent violence against women, Change the Story, to ‘explore the intersections between the gendered drivers of violence and other forms of oppression and discrimination’ against LGBTQI communities.
People living with disability
A number of submitters provided evidence about the high incidence of family violence perpetrated against women living with a disability and the need for special services to cater for them.
The Australian Human Rights Commission referred to statistics indicating that:
In 2019, Australian women with disability were almost twice as likely to experience physical or sexual violence from a current or previous partner in the previous 12 months than women without disability, and significantly more likely to experience emotional abuse by a partner or sexual violence.
Citing similar data from research on the intersection of gender and disability, the Domestic Violence Victoria and Domestic Violence Resource Centre informed the Committee that:
Women and girls with disabilities experience higher rates of sexual and family violence than men with disabilities, are more likely to experience family violence than women without disabilities … current available research indicates that women with disabilities are 40 percent more likely to experience DFV than other women and that more than 70 percent of women with disabilities have been victims of sexual violence.
The Commission elaborated on other issues, such as violence against women and children with disability frequently not being reported, problems with the physical accessibility of support services, uncoordinated support services across more than one agency, lack of ‘disability-specific supports’, and additional risks ‘such as forced sterilisation and violence in a congregate or shared living arrangements’.
This view was supported by Women With Disabilities Australia who added that women with disabilities were at risk of a wide range of abuse:
… such as forced sterilisation, forced abortion, forced contraception, denial of legal capacity, forced treatment, restrictive practices, seclusion, restraint, indefinite detention, and forced and coerced marriage.
The organisation argued that common definitions of family violence were too narrowly focused on violence by an intimate partner or spouse and did not capture the full spectrum of the abuse suffered by women with disabilities. An example cited was that of a disabled woman living in collective accommodation being assaulted by another resident, but the incident not being recognised as family violence:
Research shows that it is partly because women and girls with disability’s experiences of violence may not fit contemporary definitions and understandings, that violence perpetrated against them often goes unidentified, unreported, un-investigated, inadequately investigated, or results in poor outcomes for the person concerned.
Existing legislation lacks clarity and is inconsistent across jurisdictions:
An additional complication is the lack of clarity around the issue of whether congregate 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.
People with Disability Australia (PWDA) argued that policies, practices and legislation for people with disability should be based on the social model of disability which sees disability ‘as arising in the interaction between an impaired body and a disabling society’, citing the example of stairs only being a problem for a person in a wheelchair because architects mostly design buildings with stairs. But PWDA pointed out that, on the contrary, the medical model of disability, focusing on a disability as the ‘medicalised deficit’ of an individual is still prevalent, both amongst government and in public perceptions.
PWDA further submitted that attitudes towards people with disability can create a kind of ‘social apartheid’ where ‘stereotypes and perceptions are not only a barrier to an inclusive society, but are also instrumental in enabling the devaluing of, and violence towards, people with disability’. People with disability who fall victim of FDSV are then not properly protected by government agencies because of ‘limited social connections, multiple service providers, limited choice and control afforded to an individual and limited community oversight’.
PWDA concluded that:
Police, domestic and family violence services, the court system and government and non-government agencies must develop disability-informed strategies for responding to domestic and family violence against people with disability.
The organisation recommended that the next National Plan include women with disability as a priority population. It also made a series of recommendations for legislative reform, policy reform, ensuring access to justice for people with disability, and strengthening capacity building and resourcing. These included the creation of an independent national ‘watchdog’ with broad functions and powers, including implementation of a mandatory incident reporting scheme.
Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities
Various organisations submitted that people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds face particular issues in relation to FDSV and need to be supported with different approaches.
Nationally consistent data on the prevalence and characteristics of violence against women in CALD communities is still underdeveloped, an observation made by a number of submitters.
Ms Sandra Elhelw Wright from the Settlement Council of Australia said:
For migrant and refugee women, we know from the experiences of the members at the front line across the country that they do often have unique experiences and often different needs.
Settlement Services International (SSI) said that circumstances that particularly affect migrants include:
… recent arrival, temporary visa status, entrenched patriarchal structures and attitudes, financial dependence on the perpetrator, lack of community support and fear of shaming the family and community.
Along similar lines, SSI said that there are complex forms of family violence experienced by women and children in CALD communities, including dowry abuse, modern forms of slavery, forced marriage, immigration-facilitated abuse, technology-facilitated abuse, elder abuse, violence by extended family members and coercive control.
SSI also described the additional complexity that refugees can face:
Due to their experience of war, fleeing from their country and subsequent settlement journey, additional vulnerabilities are present that need to be approached with expertise. Refugees are traumatised by what they have experienced during war, including sexual assault. Sometimes partners have been separated overseas for a long time, also due to war related circumstances. While they have arrived in Australia on a joint visa, their relationship is no longer functional.
The Committee received evidence about the importance of programs of support for victim-survivors of violence being tailored for diverse communities.
SSI argued that there is a ‘lack of focus on FDV service delivery for CALD communities especially in the area of primary prevention and early intervention’.
Culturally appropriate and community-led education was highlighted by AWAVA:
Mainstream services working with women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds need to ensure that service provision is culturally competent. More culturally appropriate community education is required. Responses to violence against women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds need to be co-designed and community-led.
Ms Alexandra Raphael from the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) argued that:
… it is incredibly important to repeatedly provide to all migrants coming into Australia information both around their rights as Australians and their responsibilities as Australians. That information, from what I can see at the moment [is] presented in a way that is often very off-putting and often implies those kinds of narratives around the propensity of domestic violence amongst other cultures.
Ms Raphael also stressed the need for family violence practitioners to be culturally competent. She identified that:
… cultural competency itself does not rely on a deep understanding of culture… a lot of cultural competency is about any people understanding the skills and gaining the ability to listen without their own cultural biases, which we all have no matter what culture we're from. Those skills, in terms of open listening and asking questions in a way that removes your own kinds of cultural assumptions, are skills that don't require a deep understanding of every single culture in Australia…
A number of submitters raised the matter of the special difficulties for women in CALD communities that arise from their visa status.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre apprised that Committee about the ways that perpetrators can manipulate the situation of temporary visa holders and ‘threaten adverse consequences for their visa status if they report family violence’. As a result:
… victims of family violence without income often have no choice but to remain cohabiting with a violent partner, trapping both the victim and often her children at very high risk of continuing violence.
If a victim-survivor does leave the family home, additional problems with the processing of their visa application can arise because correspondence from the Department will continue to be sent to the primary applicant, resulting in the victim-survivor missing appointments and deadlines for their application.
The Centre further explained that:
If the perpetrator is the primary applicant or visa holder and his visa is cancelled, then under current law the visas of the dependent wife and children will also be consequentially refused or cancelled, despite those family members being the victims of the behaviour that triggered the cancellation decision.
Dr Carolyn Graydon from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre indicated that refugees were unable to be protected under the visa system where their refugee status is reliant on the perpetrator of family violence. Dr Graydon noted that domestic violence provisions, which allow for those on a temporary partner visa to apply for a partner visa where their relationship has broken down:
… don't apply to people who are seeking protection and they don't apply to people on certain categories of spouse visas or student visas or others on bridging visas. So it's a very narrow exception that exists under migration law. For all others who are going through other kinds of visa application processes, there's no specific legal account taken of the additional vulnerability or issues they face as a consequence of being a victim of family violence, and we certainly see that in the protection space.
Dr Graydon highlighted the significant barriers for refugee victim-survivors to make disclosures of family violence:
A nonconviction, an intervention order or even a charge could be enough to trigger visa cancellation or refusal. And the views of victims are given limited weight. Even if complaints are later withdrawn, even if the couple reconcile, where no further violence occurs, the damage to [the perpetrator’s] visa status is often irreversible…
In our example, following cancellation of Dad's visa, Mum and the children's' visas could also be consequentially refused or cancelled if they are dependent on his visa application… Mum and the children will then need to show they meet the definition of a refugee in their own right, and their case may be weaker than Dad's, and this could result in their visas being refused.
FECCA mentioned a number of points about the current situation regarding visas. FECCA noted that 80 per cent of CALD clients of the support organisation, Safe Steps ‘were not permanent residents’, yet crisis services in many states provided only short-term support for women on temporary visas.
Domestic violence victims on temporary visas are more vulnerable and more likely to remain in violent situations because they do not have access to crucial supports such as Medicare (including access to subsidised abortion services or contraceptive services), Centrelink benefits or access to social housing.
FECCA also contended that, should women decide to seek judicial protection, they encounter considerable barriers:
Entering the legal system is intimidating, time-consuming, and expensive even for Australian citizens who are familiar with their rights. For women who are unfamiliar with court proceedings, have no family support system in Australia, and do not have English as their first language, obtaining a court order may seem like an impossible task.
Ms Tania Farha from Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria said of migrants on some visa types, that the current system:
… creates barriers to them leaving the relationship in which they are experiencing violence and seeking support, barriers that have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The submission from Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria pointed out that:
Temporary visa status can be used by perpetrators as an additional tool for coercion and control. If victims are in Australia with no family or friendship networks, they are increasingly isolated and dependent on the perpetrator.
Ms Raphael advocated greater access to support for victim-survivors on temporary visas:
… it needs to be much, much easier for women on temporary visas, when they raise issues of domestic or family violence, to be placed on bridging visas that allow them adequate access to Australian services.
Ms Michal Morris, from the inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence and Harmony Alliance also called for the establishment of a bridging visa for temporary visa recipients experiencing family violence in Australia.
The abuse of older people in family and domestic environments was highlighted in evidence to the Committee.
A definition of elder abuse was provided by the Health Law and Ageing Research Unit at Monash University:
Elder abuse is any form of violence or mistreatment that causes harm to an older person and occurs within a relationship of trust. Sexual abuse is included in the term elder abuse. Elder abuse can happen in many contexts, including the home and residential aged care.
The non-government organisation, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, told the Committee that:
The term ‘elder abuse’ covers a range of harmful behaviours, including physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse and neglect, and can be a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust. Elder abuse can also include categories of abuse distinct to institutional care settings, such as the abuse or inappropriate use of chemical restraint against the elder person’s consent.
According to Good Shepherd, two of the most common forms of elder abuse are financial abuse and abuse in institutional care. Financial abuse includes the ‘misuse or theft of money or assets, using a legal document such as an enduring power of attorney’ and ‘emotionally pressuring an older parent or relative to relinquish their primary asset’, especially the family home. Perpetrators can be ‘caregivers, relatives, friends, informal carers and those in a functional position of trust’.
Regarding abuse in institutional care, Good Shepherd said that, with an aging population, more people are entering residential home care, but the ‘privatisation of aged care, alongside decades of significant budget cuts, has led to widespread abuse in institutional care settings’. The organisation took the view that:
… the state of aged care in Australia is reflective of deep structural inequalities, but it also generates acceptance – and tolerance – of substandard care of elderly people in the community more generally.
Submitters provided information that the great majority of older victim-survivors are women. AWAVA said:
Data collected by helplines in Australia indicates that approximately 70 per cent of elder abuse victims are women. Gender inequality and the way it is expressed in society has been identified as the social condition underlying violence against women which also extends to elder abuse. As older women are subject to both ageism and gender inequality, they may be more likely to experience elder abuse than men.
The view was put to the Committee that elder abuse was often misleadingly thought of as a separate problem distinct from FDSV. Mrs Cybele Koning from the Caxton Legal Centre said that:
… because we've called intergenerational abuse 'elder abuse' instead of 'family violence against older persons', that may have contributed to this dissection of the two issues rather than viewing elder abuse as a form of family violence.
Mrs Koning argued that, while there should be separate planning on elder abuse, there should be coordination with the National Plan on family and domestic violence ‘to incorporate what the crossover areas are’.
Information about the incidence of sexual violence against residents of aged care facilities was put before the Committee. Ms Daisy Smith from the Health Law and Ageing Research Unit at Monash University emphasised that:
Sexual violence in residential aged care is a major issue that deserves far more attention, as it's the most hidden, least acknowledged and least reported form of elder abuse. This is partially due to ill-defined terms, complex reporting obligations and a lack of awareness and knowledge of the topic.
The submission from the Unit contended that there was a failure ‘to have a national system or policy to manage’ the challenge of sexual violence. The submission said that the ‘Australian Aged Care Commission is a regulator and is not equipped [n]or does it have the expertise to analyse and determine preventive action for sexual violence’. Ms Smith told the Committee that:
The current reporting scheme is ill-informed and makes compulsory reporting pathways complex and too easily misjudged by aged-care staff. It also promotes underreporting.
The Unit also argued that there was ‘inconsistency’ in reporting requirements for aged care institutions in relation to abuse of residents. This particularly applied to cases where the perpetrator had cognitive impairment. In addition, there were inadequate measures taken in many institutions for prevention of abuse and care of victim-survivors.
In response to the above critique, Ms Janet Anderson, Commissioner of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, stated that, from 1 January 2020, aged care providers are required to report all cases of assault to the Commission, in the form of either ‘unreasonable use of force’ or of ‘unlawful sexual contact’.
Ms Amy Laffan from the Department of Health also told the Committee that
In recognition of some of the limitations of the current, compulsory reporting system, the government has committed to introducing a new serious incident response scheme for aged-care services. The serious incident response scheme will be in place from early 2021.
Ms Laffan added that:
Significantly, the new serious incident response scheme will also lift the current exemption on the reporting of resident-on-resident incidents where the person has an assessed cognitive impairment.
The requirements of the new system will mean that an incident perpetrated by a resident with cognitive impairment will need to be reported and identified, resolved and managed in the same way as all other incidents.
In the context of ambiguity and inconsistency in definitions, categorisation and reporting requirements about elder abuse, the Caxton Legal Centre argued that there is a ‘lack of research on elder abuse and thus a lack of theoretical models that help frame the response to elder abuse’. In addition, the intersectional approach that is increasingly being applied to other areas of violence against women—recognising overlapping identities, discrimination and disadvantage—is rarely referred to in the literature on elder abuse.
Men as victim-survivors
By far the largest proportion of submitters agreed that the great majority of perpetrators of FDSV are men. For example, the leading statistical agency on health, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, stated that ‘the dominant profile is, unfortunately, of men as perpetrators and women and children as victims’. The Institute reported the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey 2016 figures that one in six women had experienced physical and/or sexual violence, compared to one in sixteen men.
Similarly, Ms Jacqui Watt, from the organisation, No to Violence, argued that ‘90 per cent or more of violence in families is committed by men against women’.
Ms Amy Prendergast from Respect Victoria submitted that violence against men should be put in the context of the ‘various permutations of family violence’:
… whether it's older men in care relationships or in family relationships, whether it's boys, whether it's men in same-sex or heterosexual relationships, there are a number of different experiences men also have around family violence.
But some of the above statistics were contested by other submitters, who contended that the number of male victim-survivors was much higher. One organisation advocating on the issue of men as victim-survivors of domestic violence, the One in Three Campaign, cited statistics from the ABS Personal Safety Survey 2016, that:
… demonstrate that while men make up a minority of persons who say they experience family, domestic and sexual violence, they make up a significant proportion indeed - between one in five and almost half, depending on the type of violence or abuse.
The above ABS data was also cited in a submission from FamilyVoice Australia.
One in Three cited figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, reporting that:
… 75 per cent of domestic violence related assault offenders in NSW between April 2015 to March 2020 were male, while 32 per cent (around one in three) victims were male.
The submission by the non-government organisation Australian Brotherhood of Fathers cited a range of academic work that the organisation said countered the dominant view or ‘the false narrative’ that most FDSV is perpetrated by men, that men are rarely victim-survivors and that ‘domestic violence is at heart about gender inequality’ rather than a range of other social and economic factors.
The organisation also presented the Committee with anecdotal evidence about what it said was the ‘systemic gendered discrimination [against men]’ amongst the courts, police, media and service-providers ‘based upon a discredited, unsupported, false model that is not supported by research over the last couple of decades’.
An issue raised was that men reporting as victim-survivors of family violence were not believed by police or other service-providers, were suspected of being perpetrators themselves or were not provided with support services.
For example, referring to the NSW Government’s SPEAK OUT program encouraging people to report abuse, One in Three contended that:
The NSW Government’s approach to domestic violence support during the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be as follows: …
If you are a woman, we will listen to you, believe you, and help you.
If you are a man, we will refer you elsewhere where they will listen to you, question you, possibly believe you, possibly decide you are a perpetrator, and probably not help you as there are few services available to refer you to.
Mr Andrew Humphreys, a social worker with One in Three, spoke of the shame felt by male victim-survivors and the trivialisation of their complaints:
Firstly, men do feel great shame that their partner has assaulted them, but they then meet the dilemma that they will be disbelieved. Not only are they embarrassed by what has happened to them, but they're certainly likely to get disbelief from police or services, which in most cases won't assist them anyway. I've certainly had men say to me: 'I've gone to the police with a black eye. I've complained to them, and they've said to me, ‘Look at the size of you; man up, mate!’'
Lack of appropriate services as an issue for male victim-survivors was mentioned by Mr Leith Erikson from the Australian Brotherhood of Fathers, who told the Committee that governments were:
… not investing in programs for men. There are programs for women when they present as victims, and limited programs—if any—for men when they present as victims…
These perspectives were contested by other submitters, who disagreed with claims about the numbers of men who are victim-survivors of abuse and criticised the anecdotal nature of some evidence.
Mr Russell Hooper from No to Violence told the Committee:
Of course, we recognise that there are male victims out there. I think it's really important to note that it is statistically a much lower proportion; it's much lower than one in three.
His colleague, Ms Watt argued that much anecdotal evidence on the subject is based on denial:
You'll hear that there's too much money going to women's services or, 'I got put in front of the court and I actually didn't do these things'. In our experience, men will always deny, minimise and blame—we know that from 25 or nearly 30 years now of doing this work.
Evidence was presented to the Committee about the complex history of violence within families and between men and women. This complexity and the need for further research on the subject was stressed by Ms Watt, who pointed out that:
… the evidence base around male victims is that many, many men will describe themselves as victims, and will actually believe they are victims, and they will possibly also be perpetrating family violence. … Men who are perpetrating violence may also have been victims, so it's really about unpicking more of the story and the pattern of what has actually happened.
Ms Lizette Twisleton from No to Violence said that, while recognising that there may be a complex history of violence within a family, the priority needs to be on those most in need of protection, namely women and children.
… whilst a perpetrator may also be a victim, … he might not be living with the same fear in his daily life as a female victim, and it's a complex piece of work around how do we support for a family to be safer. Sometimes it is about doing some work with both parties, with supporting the victims-survivors.
The importance of providing comprehensive services across genders was also mentioned by Bravehearts, who told the Committee that:
While acknowledging that those who perpetrate family, domestic and sexual violence are in the large majority male, we should not ignore that women can also perpetrate acts of control and violence (in same-sex and heterosexual relationships, against adults and children). If this is not acknowledged or discussed in developing prevention and intervention measures, the victims experiencing violence by female perpetrators will continue to face barriers in speaking out and seeking support.
Children and young people
The Committee was struck by the evidence about the multiple ways in which children and young people can be directly and indirectly affected by FDSV. The Committee notes with concern evidence that exposure to FDSV at an early age—especially during the first thousand days of life—can cause lasting damage to a child, including affecting educational attainment, health and behavioural outcomes in adult life and the possibility for future victimisation and/or violent offending.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government fund research into the prevalence and impact of family, domestic and sexual violence on children and young people, including:
during the first one thousand days after birth; and
from infancy to adolescence.
The Committee was moved by the compelling evidence from a broad spectrum of organisations representing Indigenous Australian communities about the traumatic impact of colonial dispossession, physical and cultural dislocation, and policies such as removal of children, on Indigenous communities, the results of which continue until this day.
The Committee considers that, in order to understand and respond to this legacy of exclusion and disadvantage, all legislation, policies and programs affecting Indigenous communities must be co-designed and evaluated by Indigenous communities along with government. One essential requirement for this is the provision of cultural awareness programs for all non-Indigenous stakeholders.
The Committee recommends that, in accordance with National Priority Two of the Fourth Action Plan, any family, domestic and sexual violence policies, programs and legislative frameworks which affect Indigenous Australians must be co-designed by Indigenous peoples along with government. Similarly, the evaluation of such policies, programs and legislative frameworks must be appropriately funded and be designed with and led by Indigenous Australians working with government.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government and state and territory governments work to ensure the provision of appropriate funding for culturally specific Indigenous awareness programs for all stakeholders in government, including police, service providers and the judiciary; to enable an improved understanding of the particular challenges faced by Indigenous Australians affected by family, domestic and sexual violence. This should include the options available to them for referral to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, whether they be victim-survivors or perpetrators.
Regional, rural and remote communities
The Committee recognises that the economic and physical challenges faced by regional, rural and remote communities can create pressures that increase the prevalence of FDSV, and that the special character of small communities can make the disclosure of violence particularly difficult for victim-survivors. This makes it especially important that all government agencies providing services in these communities are aware of the factors that generate violence and are able to detect the early signs of possible abuse.
Bearing in mind Recommendation 67 on the increased use of technology to deliver perpetrator behaviour change programs, the Committee considers that there is a broader need for funding for internet-based programs in regional, rural and remote areas.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government and state and territory governments provide additional training to police, General Practitioners, child health nurses, Remote Area Clinic nurses and any other service providers that have contact with people in rural and remote areas to assist in the early identification of family, domestic and sexual violence. Service personnel working in Indigenous communities should receive appropriate Indigenous culturally aware training.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government and state and territory governments explore opportunities to use technology to provide more services for victim-survivors and perpetrators in regional, rural and remote areas.
People identifying as LGBTQI
The Committee recognises that there are considerable gaps in knowledge and evidence about ways in which people identifying as LGBTQI are affected by FDSV. There is still a lack of clarity in definitions of FDSV as they are experienced by LGBTQI people. To this are added deficiencies in the collection of disaggregated data in general population surveys, including census and other ABS statistics.
Together these factors inhibit an understanding of trends and characteristics of FDSV affecting LGBTQI communities, including violence from within the community and abuse inflicted by non-LGBTQI people, including family members. The problem is exacerbated by barriers to disclosure of violence caused by privacy concerns and fear of stigmatisation.
These knowledge gaps have an impact on the quality of support services provided to LGBTQI communities. The Committee considers that there is a need for improved education and awareness training amongst mainstream and specialist service providers to ensure personnel are sensitive to the particular needs of the communities. Policies and programs for LGBTQI communities should be developed in partnership between government agencies and LGBTQI organisations.
The Committee recommends that, to improve data relevant to LGBTQI communities, the Australian Government:
develop guidelines for data collection about sexuality and gender as it relates to experiences of violence, as part of government-funded research and service provision;
include a question about LGBTQI identification in future Commonwealth censuses; and
fund a national research project to examine the impact of family, domestic and sexual violence affecting the LGBTQI community, and review best practice models to inform appropriate responses.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in cooperation with the states and territories, develop and implement nationally consistent, regular and targeted education and training within mainstream services, including police and paramedics, in relation to the nature, features and dynamics of intimate partner violence and its particular impact on those from LGBTQI communities.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government provide funding for Our Watch to update its Change the Story framework to be inclusive, and to develop an LGBTQI specific prevention guide, highlighting how gendered violence impacts LGBTQI communities in different ways compared to the broader community.
The Committee recommends that policies and programs relating to family, domestic and sexual violence as it affects LGBTQI communities be developed in partnership between government agencies and LGBTQI organisations.
People living with disability
The Committee notes with concern the high prevalence of FDSV perpetrated against people living with disability. The Committee has concerns that current definitions of FDSV do not capture the full spectrum of violence suffered by people with disability, including violence in collective accommodation. Effective responses to violence against people with disability are constrained by a lack of coordination amongst agencies responsible for dealing with the risk of FDSV and those responsible for providing disability support services. It is critical that disability and family violence service systems provide a coordinated continuum of support to victim-survivors (and their families) that address both their family violence risk and safety needs and disability support needs.
The Committee recognises that FDSV is perpetrated against people with disability in both homes and residential care settings, by family members, carers and other staff. The Committee notes that the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is currently inquiring into the prevention of violence against people with disability, best practice in responses to abuse, and the promotion of a more inclusive society that supports people with disability.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government ensure that the next National Plan specifies people living with disability as a priority cohort, to ensure that legislation, policies and programs (across all jurisdictions) include consultation to support specific consideration of the impacts on, and needs of, these members of the community.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, together with the states and territories, develop a national strategy, in consultation with people living with disability and their representative organisations, to improve access to comprehensive, equitable, accessible, and disability-inclusive sexual and reproductive health education and information.
The Committee recommends that National Disability Insurance Agency staff (including planners and those with decision making delegation) and disability service workers funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) complete mandatory training in identifying and responding to family, domestic and sexual violence affecting people with disability.
The Committee recommends that, to support the implementation of the above recommendations, the Australian Government, in cooperation with the states and territories, implement national uniform legislation establishing mandatory reporting by registered disability service providers to police and the proposed National Commissioner for the prevention of family, domestic and sexual violence of all incidents of violence perpetrated against people living with disability, whether in residential care facilities or people’s own homes.
Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities
The Committee notes that people from CALD communities face a range of special issues in relation to FDSV and need to be supported with different approaches that respond to their particular circumstances.
There is currently a paucity of data about the prevalence of FDSV within CALD communities. A research program is needed that focuses on CALD communities, cultural practices that may increase the risk of abuse, and problems related to visas, immigration matters and settlement issues that might be connected with increased prevalence of FDSV.
The Committee agrees that any information disseminated by government and service providers that FDSV is particularly rife in CALD communities is not helpful or respectful.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan be more inclusive of people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, their experiences and their needs.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government focus on providing more, and more effective, culturally appropriate education on family, domestic and sexual violence to culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, and state and territory governments, provide a specifically funded resource to assist larger multicultural organisations to enhance family, domestic and sexual violence service delivery for culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government and, where applicable, state and territory governments, make the following changes to immigration legislation and procedures:
amend the Migration Act 1958 to prevent ‘consequential visa cancellation’ where a victim-survivor of family violence has their visa cancelled due to domestic violence perpetrated against them by the primary visa holder;
where a visa applicant is in crisis or temporary accommodation, create an exception to the requirement that a residential address is required to lodge a valid protection visa application;
address official correspondence related to visa applications to each individual applicant, so that if one of them leaves the family home, the correspondence can then be re-directed to a new address;
provide access to legal services, specialist police services and income support for a broader range of temporary visa holders who are victim-survivors of family violence, and consider revisions to migration regulations to offer legal protection to victim-survivors on temporary visas;
broaden the definition of family violence in the Migration Regulations 1994 to be consistent with the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) and to ensure that people seeking to escape violence are entitled to crisis payments, regardless of their visa status;
exempt women on temporary visas and women seeking asylum who have experienced domestic and family violence from meeting residency requirements for the purposes of access to Centrelink and Medicare while their visa is being processed; and
review and amend the eligibility requirements for victim-survivors of violence to access financial and other crisis supports, particularly for those on temporary visas.
The Committee notes that the most common forms of abuse of older people are financial abuse, including that committed by family members, and abuse in institutional care. The Committee considers that elder abuse should not be viewed as a separate problem distinct from FDSV.
The Committee notes that the Australian Government has recently introduced legislative changes to incident reporting and management in residential aged care, removing the exemption from reporting assaults where the alleged perpetrator is a resident with a cognitive or mental impairment.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan provide funding to investigate the prevalence and prevention of elder abuse, both in residential care facilities and in people’s own homes, whether by facility staff, carers or family members.
The Committee recommends that the Department of Health release all de-identified data and information pertaining to incidents and allegations of sexual assault in residential aged care, including incidents where the perpetrator was alleged to have had a cognitive or mental impairment.
Men as victim-survivors
The Committee notes that, while the great majority of perpetrators of FDSV are men, there are also men who are victim-survivors of violence. The Committee is concerned that there is a lack of support services for male victim-survivors of FDSV, and a lack of evidence about the prevalence and impact of FDSV against male victim-survivors.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government commission research into the prevalence of family, domestic and sexual violence against men and its impact on male victim-survivors. The research should include a focus on any connections between male victim-survivors and their exposure to family, domestic and sexual violence as children.
The Committee further recommends that the Department of Social Services review the adequacy of advice and referral services for men as victim-survivors of family, domestic and sexual violence.