A- A A+

System must work for victims, not against them

Fatima Measham |  31 March 2016


The royal commission report into family violence, handed to the Victorian parliament on 29 March after more than a year of hearings, constitutes many things to different people.

Woman with bruised faceFor victims and survivors, it likely comes as catharsis. For too long, their experience of abuse had been dismissed as conflict between intimate or former partners, or between family members, not a subject for police attention or public policy. The report is a definitive correction of the persistent view that violence in the home is a private matter.

For activists and advocates, it is vindication. Overwhelming demand across services for women and children in need of protection, as well as family violence-related fatalities, indicate significant system failures. The comprehensive character of the royal commission report is thus received as overdue.

For politicians, the report is a formidable test. Family violence victims come into contact at multiple points across different departments. This means that an overhaul requires a serious outlay of secure funding.

The required investments are wide-ranging, from physical infrastructure to information sharing models, tech-related upgrades, localised response hubs, additional personnel and professional training, governance structures, and research and formal review. This isn't a new menu — it is a full kitchen rebuild.

The royal commission also suggests the development of guidelines for removing barriers to seeking and receiving support in other spaces. Things like: adding family violence to eligibility criteria for private subsidies or hardship programs; customer service training around recognising economic abuse; routine assessments for family violence risk at antenatal settings or mental health services; and managing liabilities (debt, rent, infringement fines) in favour of victims rather than their abusers.

The imperative is to fix the cracks through which victims often fall. For diverse communities, workplaces, utility providers, banks, landlords and healthcare providers, this is a wake-up call. Being able to identify family violence situations and responsibly handle them can no longer be passed on as 'none of our business'. Everyone is implicated.

For institutions such as the police force, courts and corrections system, the report must be nothing less than a turning point. The recommendations reveal gaps — such as the way case files are built and shared across agencies, the efficacy of intervention orders and safety plans, and capacity levels at magistrates' and children's courts.


"Being able to identify family violence situations and responsibly handle them can no longer be passed on as 'none of our business'. Everyone is implicated."


While cultivating gender equality and respectful relationships runs parallel to structural reform, the degree to which family violence is curbed may well hinge on such institutions. Victims and survivors deserve a system that works for them, not against them.

As long as processes for ensuring their protection and recovery are burdensome and demoralising — rather than liberating — then the system remains broken.

Secondly, protective measures (orders, injunctions, sentences, mandatory programs) must bear strength as deterrents. Perpetrators thrive on impunity. Impunity is built on uncertainty of punishment, cultures of silence, victim-blaming and perceived collusion with figures of authority. It also assumes that there are no alternatives to abusive or violent behaviour.

Dismantling this is central to violence prevention and ensuring the safety of women and children in the home. The royal commission addresses this goal across 227 recommendations.

But the report is the map, not the road. Political will, as with other royal commissions, will determine the extent to which this inquiry has been worthwhile.


Fatima MeashamFatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She tweets @foomeister and blogs at This is Complicated.

Main image from Shutterstock



Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.

Word Count: 0 (please limit to 200)

Similar articles

Turnbull's techno-optimism is a tad hasty

Ketan Joshi | 17 February 2016

Happy people wearing promotional hats for new technologiesA government campaign declares 'we've always been good at having ideas. Now we need to get better at innovation: turning ideas into successful products and services.' The message is that we are on the brink of a technological revolution, driven by government. But really we've some way to go. As we have seen with wind turbines, the communities that host new technologies can react with anger and fear. If they are left out of the process, visions of grand, sweeping change can be undermined.

Shedding light on elder abuse

Gillian Bouras | 23 February 2016

Elderly person face half in shadowElder abuse resembles child abuse in its iceberg qualities: both have received little attention until comparatively recently. In the case of elder abuse, very few cases ever come to court: old people are as helpless as children, similarly unable to plead their own cases, and afraid to: they have little power. The Yiddish proverb springs to mind: If you can't bite, don't show your teeth. The most consistent offenders, sad to say, are family members, who are often adept at exploiting the fear that is part of ageing.

#LetThemStay reveals the political capital of compassion

Somayra Ismailjee | 12 February 2016

#LetThemStay rallySince the first churches offered sanctuary to the refugees facing deportation to Nauru, a steady stream of voices have joined the call for compassion. As a political language, compassion is itself a reclamation of power. Extending safety, resources, or even a mere welcome to people in need proves that we have something to give. Strength is embodied by a capacity to aid and assist, rather than in cruelty. Empathy, care and compassion appeal to us on a level of emotion that runs deeper than mere rhetoric.

Gospel brutality reborn in our harrowing of refugee children

Andrew Hamilton | 11 February 2016

#LetThemStay rallyThe High Court decision on detention in Nauru came down just before the Christian season of Lent. It left the government free and determined to deport many young mothers and children to Nauru. For the mothers and children deportation will bring new trauma with renewed threat to their already precarious mental health. For the Australian public it again makes us ask what brutality, even to children, we are ready to tolerate. The savagery of this treatment is a suitable subject for Lenten reflection.

Notes (in Latin) on a football scandal

Brian Matthews | 10 February 2016

Domesday BookEslingadene/Isendene/Essendon was its quiet and bucolic self when Richard Green, one of its respectable citizens, farewelled it in the 1850s, migrated to Australia, settled near Melbourne and, honouring his home village, called the area Essendon. Like its northern hemisphere namesake, Essendon does not appear in the Domesday Book, but Macbeth-like vaulting ambition, disjoined from care and humanity, has enrolled it in a modern Doomsday register and stained its name ineradicably.