Looking at all sides of family violence

Morgan Liotta

5/06/2019 2:31:45 PM

Examining new data on those most vulnerable to family, domestic and sexual violence, and some of the help available to survivors and perpetrators.

Family, domestic and sexual violence
The new AIHW report describes family, domestic and sexual violence as ‘a major national health and welfare issue that can have lifelong impacts for victims and perpetrators’.

Picture a woman aged between 15 and 34 who lives outside a major city.
This is the Australian most likely to experience family, domestic and sexual violence, according to a new report.
Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia: Continuing the national story 2019 presents updated data on specific populations vulnerable to family, domestic and sexual violence. These groups include children, people with disability, older people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the LGBTQI community.
Key outcomes from the 2019 report show that:

  • one in six women and one in nine men experienced physical or sexual abuse before the age of 15
  • slightly more than half (53%) of female sexual assault victims who reported to police in 2017 were aged 15–34
  • people with disability were 1.8 times as likely to experience partner violence as those without disability
  • people in the LGBTQI community were more likely (52%) to experience workplace sexual harassment, compared to 30% of non-LGBTQI people
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were 32 times more likely to be hospitalised for family violence than non-Indigenous Australians 
  • police recorded 3100 family violence-related sexual assaults against children aged under 15 in 2017
  • more than 30 calls a day were made to elder abuse helplines in 2017–18
  • 23% of women living outside major cities experienced violence from a partner, compared to 15% of women in major cities.

The report states that family, domestic and sexual violence is ‘a major national health and welfare issue that can have lifelong impacts for victims and perpetrators’, affecting people of all ages and from all backgrounds, but predominantly women and children.
Despite declines in overall violence and rates of partner and sexual violence remaining relatively stable since 2005, the number of people accessing associated services – police, hospital, child protection and homelessness services – continues to rise.
One such service focuses on what could be called the other side of family violence.
As part of a new South Australian Government trial, the perpetrator of family violence is placed in community housing while the people experiencing the violence, including children, remain in their home.
There is a number of similar models in Australia, including Communicare Breathing Space in Western Australia, Room 4 Change in the ACT, and Fixed Address in NSW, which assist with support services and transitional housing for perpetrators.
Dr Elizabeth Hindmarsh is Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Abuse and Violence network and clinical editor of the RACGP’s White Book. She believes that although this approach represents a good idea in principle, success of such a model depends on individual circumstances.
‘It’s a very good option for the victim and children to be able to stay at home, and for the perpetrator to have to leave because that’s much less disruptive ... but it depends on each situation whether it will work or not,’ she told newsGP.
Dr Hindmarsh acknowledges safety and financial implications as the main contributors to whether the victims wish to stay at home while the perpetrator leaves.
‘These are probably the key challenges, but there may be others. Some people might have other more personal reason for not wanting to do it, but there is not one solution that’s going to work for everybody in these sorts of situations,’ she said.
‘Some people aren’t going to feel safe to stay where the perpetrator knows where they are. There’s also the issue of continuing to pay for the rent or mortgage on the place [where they live] if the perpetrator goes, especially if they are the breadwinner.’
‘Most of the focus is on the women and children ... but if we’re going to really solve this issue, we have to do more work with the perpetrators,’ Dr Elizabeth Hindmarsh said.

Safety and support for the victims of domestic violence is unquestionably paramount, but Dr Hindmarsh said that investing in adequate support and rehabilitation of the perpetrator is also important. Systems such as transitional housing may provide good opportunity to explore what interventions work best and for further engagement with support services.
‘More intervention with the perpetrators would be excellent and I think a scheme like [the SA trial] would need to incorporate that into it,’ Dr Hindmarsh said.
‘Some perpetrators are not going to be willing to do that, because they may not recognise that they’re doing anything wrong, [but] it’s a great opportunity.
‘We need to be doing so much more with perpetrators that doesn’t involve locking them up in prison – that doesn’t improve the situation most of the time and it’s a very costly thing to do.
‘It would be better spending that money on actually doing some rehabilitation.’
Dr Hindmarsh understands the critical role of the GP in assessing whether a patient is experiencing family violence, which is where the journey of support begins.
‘The role of the GP is to be asking people what’s going on at home; asking people who may be the victims and looking to theirs and the children’s safety,’ she said.
‘And there’s certainly a role for GPs to also be talking to perpetrators and trying to help them to get some assistance, with the approach of, “You’re okay, but what you’re doing is not okay”.
‘That is the sort of message we’re trying to convey to the perpetrators.’
In her experience, Dr Hindmarsh recognises that a connection with the perpetrators is an area in which GPs feel they could use more support, but lack of education and funding are significant barriers.
‘As GPs we’ve certainly seen perpetrators, but there’s been really no education and support about how to manage them, so that’s a whole area that needs to be invested in,’ Dr Hindmarsh said.
‘Most of the focus is on the women and children ... but if we’re going to really solve this issue, we have to do more work with the perpetrators.’

abuse and violence domestic violence family violence sexual violence

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