Domestic Violence and Homelessness

It is time for change—changing a society permissive of violence against women. We must never underestimate the scale and impact of domestic and family violence on the lives of women and children and their families. According to the Australian Women's Health Network:

Intimate partner violence is prevalent, serious and preventable; it is also a crime.

 

Among the poor health outcomes for women who experience intimate partner violence are premature death and injury, poor mental health, habits which are harmful to health such as smoking, misuse of alcohol and non-prescription drugs, use of tranquilisers, sleeping pills and anti-depressants and reproductive health problems.

Domestic and family violence is a gendered crime. There is a strong link between sexism, low status of women and violence against women. Violent-supportive attitudes and behaviours can be found almost anywhere and are recognised as a lack of support for gender equality, belief in the inferior status of women in relation to men, sexual harassment and coercion, bullying, abusive or controlling behaviours or group disrespect.

Recently I interviewed Karen Willis from Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia. She spoke of the changes that she has seen over her more than 40 years' involvement in the issues surrounding violence against women and children. She also spoke of the need for wider conversations about domestic violence and sexual assault and the need for cultural change that not only ends domestic and family violence but also removes the barriers to seeking help. Since being appointed shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, I have worked closely with the sector, with academics and with community organisations to shine a light on what is needed to create this change and to identify the gaps in services and long-term strategies and resources to support victims and survivors. Most recently I called on the Minister to support me in backing Domestic Violence NSW's campaign to create long-term housing security for victims of domestic and family violence by increasing investment in affordable housing.

Family violence is the single largest cause of homelessness in this State. Having a roof over your head is integral to a person's health, welfare and safety. If we are to break the cycle of domestic violence and keep victims and their children safe, we need to provide long-term housing security. Instead, what we have seen from the Government so far is investment in short-term strategies, such as emergency accommodation, but what we are missing and what the sector is telling us that we need is long-term investment and strategy. Since the Government effectively dismantled the women's refuge movement in 2013 and replaced it with an under-resourced homelessness sector, we lost a large number of specialist women's domestic violence refuges that dealt in trauma care for women and children escaping domestic violence. Today I pay tribute to the thousands of women who make up the New South Wales women's refuge movement—the workers, victim-survivors, advocates and volunteers. Your role in making history is noted, and I thank you.

Currently demand for housing assistance far outweighs supply. We have seen a dramatic rise in the number of women and children ending up in short-term temporary accommodation—also known as TA—which is in the form of a basic, hard-to-let budget motel rooms, often without support or case management which is so essential to accessing long-term solutions. All parts of that service system—support services, police and courts—are overwhelmed by the number of family violence incidents now reported. Services are not currently equipped to meet this high level of demand, which undermines the safety of those experiencing family violence and their potential for recovery.

The current response to family violence largely assumes that women will leave their home when family violence occurs. Yet where do women and children go in this current environment when there is little secure and affordable housing and a lack of case management and advocacy to get the best outcomes? Every week, sometimes every day, over the past six months I have written to the Minister about the effects of the bushfire emergency and now COVID-19 on the increased incidence of domestic violence in the community, the impacts on victims and their children and the capacity of domestic violence services, the police and courts to act.

I have called for a rapid deployment of funds but they were slow to come. Finally the Minister has responded but this was after many, many calls. It has taken a pandemic and a response to the desperation of peak bodies such as Women's Safety NSW, Domestic Violence NSW, and Women's Health NSW and frontline services that are desperate. Time and again I hear from victims, survivors, advocates and services that too little effort is devoted to preventing the occurrence in the first place and to intervening at the earliest possible opportunity. I thank my Blue Mountains services especially that work on the frontline day in, day out.