Violence crisis too close to home

Woman crouching. Photo: Georgy Sides

Content warning: This article is about sexual assault. Prevention strategies and greater perpetrator accountability will be on the agenda in an upcoming emergency summit for domestic violence in Western Australia.

Following the deaths of two women – one murdered and one allegedly murdered by former partners – WA organisations for family and domestic violence services have called for the summit to stop the cycle of abuse.

Zonta House Refuge Association CEO Kelda Oppermann says direct interventions and social change must be used to hold perpetrators accountable.

“We must address the drivers and the settings in which we continue to enable the perpetration of abuse and violence in our community,” she says.

“We also must shift the shame and responsibility to perpetrators.

“This needs to be prioritised in a whole of government, workplace and community approach with significant investment to make a true difference, improve responses, reduce prevalence and save lives.”

Anglicare WA director of services Philippa Boldy says men voluntarily seeking to address abusive or violent behaviours are unlikely to be able to find assistance.

“Men’s behaviour change programs are recognised – both locally and internationally – as a critical element in addressing family and domestic violence, yet they are in grossly short supply in WA,” she says.

“Those that do exist are almost exclusively for men in the justice system and prisons.

“Anglicare WA’s Changing Tracks voluntary men’s program was independently funded in Albany for two years until 2022 and was in high demand.

“Today there’s no such program funded by our State Government in any regional centre.

Ms Boldy says more ideas and money are needed.

“For any coordinated response to family and domestic violence to be successful, it must include significant investment in men’s behaviour change programs,” she says.

“Anglicare WA is calling on the Government to articulate a clear position regarding men’s behaviour change programs, and outline its plan to include it as part of a holistic approach to ending family and domestic violence.”

According to a WA Department of Communities 2022 Women’s report, WA has the highest rate of reported family and domestic violence-related assault offences against women across all states.

Liberal Party Leader for WA Libby Mettam wrote a recent opinion article for The West Australian, saying current plans and strategies for preventing domestic violence are not working.

“Despite all the media releases, roundtables and plans to put an end to it all in the next 10 years, family and domestic violence in this State continues to escalate,” she says.

“Undoubtedly, the pandemic and associated lockdowns and isolation from family and friends, combined with cost-of-living pressures and a lack of emergency or affordable housing has contributed to the prevalence of these types of assaults.

“But the number of incidents had also been trending upwards for many years prior to that.”

Curtin Student Guild women’s officer Aleena Shaji says increased support and education should be a priority talking point within the summit.

Aleena Shaji believes growing awareness about domestic violence, is part of the solution. Photo: Supplied.

“I think education is definitely important, not just in my role, but also in other roles across the board,” she says.

“It’s a good idea to make sure everyone does have at least a base level understanding of knowing what to do.

“When people feel there is a staff member or a guild member they feel comfortable with, the chances of them reaching out for help and support is higher. It’s a lot less intimidating.”

However, Ms Shaji worries she doesn’t always have the correct qualifications or enough training to direct people towards support services.

“I am well aware that I am not trained in looking after and making sure people have the right resources to service organisations – so it’s so much better to refer them to someone who does, than to try to do it all myself when they could be in better hands,” she says.

“I don’t want someone to feel like they are alone in this because that is a very scary feeling.

“If by any chance something like this happens, I want people to be assured that we can give them the help.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or the organisation’s online chat support service.