I am Amie Carrington, The CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Centre and it is my privilege to speak today and to join you to remember those who have been killed due to domestic and family violence.
I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the lands of which we meet tonight and to pay my respect to elders past, present and emerging. I would like to thank Aunty Raylene for speaking before me tonight.
Today marks an important time for people to gather to pay our respects and to remember those who have been killed due to domestic and family violence. It is a different way of meeting today virtually, connecting and sharing in a time of social distancing as we all do our bit to stop the spread of the global pandemic of COVID-19.
Domestic and family violence, especially the over-representation of women and children in death statistics, is also a global health issue. A silent epidemic.
In Australia, on average a woman dies every week at the hands of a current or former partner. Each death is not just a statistic. It is a tragedy.
Our Watch, the national leader in primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia, says that violence against women and their children is not an inevitable social problem. Rather, it is the product of complex yet modifiable social and environmental factors. Put simply, violence against women and their children is preventable.
I reflected recently that as we spend significant amount of time at home – for many we have the privilege of safety and comfort. But for some home is not a sanctuary.
Living in a world impacted by COVID-19 has exacerbated the risk to women and children. When social isolation increases so too can the threat of violence in the home. It is not COVID-19 that is the source of the issue though; domestic and family violence stems from the same issues that always existed. COVID-19 exacerbates these issues. The change we are seeing at DVAC is the increased complexity of victim survivors being required to isolate with perpetrators, the increase of financial stressors on a person who chooses to use violence, or barriers to navigate a service system that is fragmented by the impact of social distancing. At DVAC we have seen examples of women struggling to seek support when it is needed, unable to find a safe place to seek help, connect with support networks or perpetrators threatening to infect a woman or children with COVID-19 as a means of coercion.
Dr Heather Nancarrow says that for many women subjected to coercive control, decision-making is focused on the safety and wellbeing of their children. In a world (like ours now) facing economic uncertainty, health insecurity and disruption to daily life including education and social life, women may choose stability for their children over their own safety.1
So we know that COVID-19 has increased the complexity of the situations and barriers for victims and survivors to seek help. But it’s important to note that men’s violence against women does not exist in a social vacuum. It exists in a society where gender inequity exists.
After the murder of Hannah Clarke and her children, DVAC and other domestic violence agencies experienced a surge in calls. But not all calls where for help, some were from perpetrators making threats. This was during a time where the person who murdered Hannah Clarke and their three children was described in media as a ‘good dad driven to kill his family.’
Gendered violence exists in a society where in April, the neighbours who heard the anguished screams of Kim Murphy did not call the police before she was murdered in her apartment shortly after.
Violence against women is a serious prevalent health issue in Australia and it is driven by gendered inequality. We can help prevent this by challenging the condoning of violence against women, promoting women’s independence and decision making, challenging gender stereotypes and strengthening equal and respectful relationships.
Australia can stop violence before it starts through whole-of-population initiatives that address the underlying drivers of violence as a public health epidemic. Collaboration and significant efforts are required in the areas of gender equity, law and policing, primary prevention, ensuring women’s economic security and supportive and effective men’s behavior change programs.2
Australia has a long history of courageous responses to public health problems such as tackling tobacco and drink driving. Our health response to COVID-19 has achieved enviable results globally. Jess Hill says in her award-winning book, See What You Made Me Do, that in Australia we need conviction and belief that perpetrators can be stopped. Jess Hill urges us to have a courageous approach to treating domestic and family violence reduction as a public health campaign.
There is a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also created a space to explore new ways of providing services through improved use of technology. Our teams have been innovative and tried new ways of approaching challenges that we face in our work. We have received a much welcome temporary boost in funding to address the additional complexities and needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic and we are using these funds to achieve increased accessibility of services and to respond to emerging safety needs during an unprecedented time.
We have also seen strong collaboration and support from community, government, sector and business to respond to the unusual circumstances that many women are facing when being required to socially isolate in an unsafe home.
The road ahead will build on the collaboration, innovation, and adaptable approach we have taken. We will continue to work in the spirit of true collaboration. With respect and deep listening.
We will continue to be passionate leaders and advocates creating freedom from gender violence in our communities.
We share a vision where families, schools and friends can openly talk about domestic and family violence.
A vision where people do something when they see disrespect towards women, where people show support …and speak up.
A vision where men who perpetrate violence can be accountable and learn strategies to manage their emotions and make different choices free from violence and coercion.
DVAC envisions a future where our society achieves clear and measurable targets against the National Plan to end violence against women and their children. Where Queenslanders build on the achievements of the Not Now Not Ever recommendations.
We connect tonight in many events across the Nation, to remember those who where lost tragically, and the people left behind. We connect tonight to share solidarity in our hope in a future where all people can live safely in their homes. We connect with conviction and belief that perpetrators can be stopped.
2 UNSW femicide the intractable history