Still a long way to go in ending family violence

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Content warning: This article discusses instances of family violence

The Royal Commission into Family Violence conducted by the Victorian Government in 2015, told many of us what we fundamentally already knew — that family violence is a widespread issue for many women across this state, and that our services, systems, institutions and communities are not doing enough to effectively support victim survivors.

Boy sitting with his head down in a hallway (Getty Images/fiorigianluigi)

Nor do we hold those who use violence against their families to account or work in collaborative ways, share information when that information could lead to more supportive actions and increased safety for women and children, primarily.

One in three women in Australia have experienced some form of physical violence since the age of 15. One in five women experience sexual violence. One in six women has experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner. This means that there is between 2 to 4 million women impacted by violence across Australia.

We also know that the police report that approximately 65 per cent of family violence incidents that they attend in Victoria have children present when the violence occurred. 

Having worked in the area of family violence in one way or another for all of my social work career spanning some 30 years, I know too well the impacts that such violence can have on an individual, their immediate and extended family and their community. Impacts that lead to injury and even death, loss of job and income, loss of friends and family, loss of faith, self esteem and confidence to name a few.

As a young social worker, I began to understand that this was an issue that was very prevalent but not necessarily discussed across community and human services, let alone in the media or broader public spaces. My experience of supporting a woman to leave her family home and seeking police assistance ended up with the police officer reporting me to my manager for being unprofessional because I asked why he was late arriving, leaving us with the man who had abused his wife. He retorted that there were ‘people out there stealing cars.’

 

'Crucially, it also made clear that faith leaders and communities need to establish processes to examine how they currently respond to family violence, and whether practices operate as deterrents to the prevention or reporting of, or recovery from, family violence or are used by perpetrators to excuse or condone abusive behaviour.'

 

I am very pleased to note that there has been improvement from the police force in responding to family violence. Not only are there Family Violence Units in every police division, but that police refer victim survivors to family violence support services after every incident that they attend. The cultural shift within the police force has been extraordinary thanks to the initial work of Commissioner Christine Nixon.

But then I also began to consider my own experiences and recognised that I had grown up in a family where there was family violence. My father never hit my mother, but psychological, emotional, financial abuse and control were ever-present. He also liked to hit his children.

I know that our family was not the only family experiencing this in our country Catholic community; and I wonder if my mother or one of her friends would have taken heed of the Church’s preaching of love, compassion and justice and sought refuge or solution from the Church. As some of the rare studies into faith-based family violence will attest, it is likely that the response would not have been one based on safety and justice for the women and their children.

The Royal Commission made 227 recommendations about how the service system could improve responses to victim survivors, with better coordination, a more nuanced and legislated risk-assessment framework, an information sharing scheme also legislated, a more skilled primary workforce and more training for all community and human services staff.

Faith-based institutions and groups were also targeted, and three specific recommendations (163, 164 and 165) were identified and refer to processes and resources that can and should be developed and/or improved.

This included ongoing professional development for faith leaders. Giving women from faith-based groups the opportunity to inform family violence standards and services (for victim survivors and perpetrators), ensuring that they reflect the needs of people of faith. Instituting best practice training packages, including information on referral pathways for victim survivors and perpetrators.

Crucially, it also made clear that faith leaders and communities need to establish processes to examine how they currently respond to family violence, and whether practices operate as deterrents to the prevention or reporting of, or recovery from, family violence or are used by perpetrators to excuse or condone abusive behaviour.

At some point the Victorian Government will ask the Catholic Church how these recommendations have been implemented. It would be my hope as the Executive Director of a Catholic-based crisis refuge for women and children experiencing family violence that I can say the Catholic church is working with its social services, schools, parishes and clergy to do everything that it possibly can to fulfill these recommendations.

 

Felicity RorkeFelicity Rorke is Executive Director of Good Samaritan Inn, Melbourne, Victoria. She will be chairing a workshop at the upcoming national Catholic social services conference, 26-28 February 2020, in Melbourne, on the topic, ‘Domestic Violence: Awareness, Prevention and Progress’. The workshop includes speakers from Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand and colleagues from New Zealand who work in this area.

Main image: Boy sitting with his head down in a hallway (Getty Images/fiorigianluigi)

Topic tags: Felicity Rorke, family violence, domestic violence, Catholic Church

 

 

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“taken heed of the Church’s preaching of love, compassion and justice and sought refuge or solution from the Church. As some of the rare studies into faith-based family violence will attest, it is likely that the response would not have been one based on safety and justice for the women and their children.” Scripture doesn’t mention anything about physically chastising an adult and “spare the rod….” (coming from the shepherd’s use of a straight stick to guide his sheep) has nothing to do with beating children. Advising a woman and children to return to an abusive husband and father has never been canonical but (mal-)cultural. It stems from clerical men receiving another rod than their shepherd’s from their actual or cultural fathers. Does this mean female priests? It depends on whether the solution derives from the problem or from the meta-culture overarching the problem. If the Catholic community takes the Bible seriously, any lay woman would have the feisty subsidiarity authority to demand of priests and bishops duty-bound to use Scripture to correct and refute, “Show me in the Bible where it says….” because Tradition has to derive from Scripture. The Book is bigger than the officer.
roy chen yee | 15 February 2020


Many religions relegate women to an inferior status, either explicitly or implicitly. Regardless of what Catholics say, their refusal to allow women to participate meaningfully in the governance of the church proclaims to the world that women are inferior. This may be an unintended consequence. but none the less real. Jews and Muslims also proclaim the same message. And this attitude that women are inferior feeds into the culture that a real man must demand and enforce the submission of his wife. A genuine recognition on the part of the churches that women are truly equal would help change attitudes. .
Liam | 17 February 2020


no person has the right to say that they are christian and go home and abuse their family,
maryellen flynn | 18 February 2020


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