Women escaping violence face more barriers

1 in 6 women have experienced violence from a partner. Photo: Nathan Johnston.

Despite funding increases, not enough is being done to prevent domestic violence, according to experts.

Dr Jennie Gray, chief executive officer of the Women’s Legal Service WA, says there has been a rise in reporting rates of family violence during the pandemic.

“During COVID, gender roles were really amplified; women were most likely to lose their jobs, because they were more likely to be in those industries struck down first like hospitality, retail and caring roles. They were more likely to be isolated at home with the perpetrator, where they had nowhere to go,” she says.

A 2018 survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found one in six women have experienced violence by an intimate partner, as opposed to one in 16 men.

John Curtin Distinguished Professor with the Curtin University School of Allied Health Donna Chung says gender inequality is a common factor in domestic violence.

Professor Donna Chung believes domestic violence is often a result of gender inequality. Photo: Nathan Johnston.

“The key thing is that gender inequality gives that sense of privilege and control. It’s what is exploited and used,” she says.

Professor Chung noted for many women, trying to relocate was not an option.

“Housing is a real barrier at the moment. Trying to find somewhere else to live is pretty hard for women, especially if they haven’t been working- people are often staying in relationships they’d rather not be in because of the housing crisis,” she says.

Dr Gray agrees housing affordability and availability are key factors in preventing women from escaping domestic abuse.

“Often there’s nowhere for women to go. They don’t have the choice to leave a violent partner. The refuges are full and there’s no surplus social housing for women escaping family violence,” she says.

She noted the financial strain of escaping a violent relationship leaves many women feeling trapped.

“It takes on average 140 hours and $18,000 to leave a violent relationship. You have to find somewhere else to live, find your rent in advance, your bond, a removalist, attend appointments, sort your kids out. For some women this is insurmountable- you just can’t do it, so its easier to stay,” she says.

Professor Chung believes moving forward, support tailored to women’s individual needs is vital.

“We need specific supports in place for women around getting them ready to re-enter the workplace, giving them opportunities, even for work experience, to get a sense of what sort of things they’d like to do,” she says.

Dr Gray would also like to see more specialised support for victims of family violence.

“Specialist support for counselling in the area of family violence, that can include financial counselling, because economic abuse often goes hand in hand with physical violence and coercive control,” she says.

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