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Domestic violence is more than an attitude problem

  • 27 April 2016


The federal government's new ad aims to 'stop violence from the start'. It sends a strong message that violence is never acceptable. But it firmly positions domestic violence as a problem of individual attitudes of perpetrators, not the social and economic vulnerability of victims.

The title and the message of the ad is 'Respect'. It is premised on an increasingly influential idea of domestic violence as an expression of individual and cultural devaluing of women. It aims to raise awareness of the potential long-term consequences of seemingly minor acts of disrespect.

Even in the recent history of domestic violence debate, this message is an important step forward. But envisaging an end of domestic violence achieved through 'starting conversations about respect with boys and girls' sidesteps the need for the material resources necessary to stop violence when it happens.

Physical violence is the obvious and most derided act of violence in intimate relationships. But it is an expression not only of disrespect, but of power disparities between partners. Violent partners can control women's access to jobs, money and social supports. When women leave, they need meaningful financial support to rebuild their lives.

The funding failures of the Turnbull government are legion. The $100 million in funding announced in September last year does not come close to replacing funding lost in earlier cuts, nor can it address the service gaps in the sector. Emergency shelters are essential in keeping women and their families safe when they initially leave violent situations but there is a real shortage of beds and related supports.

Community legal centres are one of the few accessible sources of legal advice for domestic violence victims. But with funding cuts, victims will continue to be turned away because of a lack of staffing and resources.

The gap between the federal government's shiny rhetoric and the needs of domestic violence survivors is evident in policy domains that impact on the wellbeing of victims. Domestic violence is the primary reason for homelessness among women. Housing affordability is a key step in addressing long-term homelessness, but is absent from the government's agenda in any meaningful way.

Many women need money when they leave abusers. The dynamics of control that underpin much family violence increase the likelihood that women will not be financially independent when they leave a violent partner. The parenting payments that are a necessary source of income for many women when they leave relationships is not enough to