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National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children

03 March 2022
 National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children

February 25, 2022

Submission
National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children

 Introduction

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party (DHJP) is focused on ensuring our legal system and the policies of government give priority to safety, justice and fairness for our community and for victims and victim-survivors of crime.

 Continued reform is required to improve Victoria’s justice system; to be trauma-informed and responsive to the needs of victim-survivors, while pursuing justice, accountability and behaviour change for offenders. 

 DHJP acknowledges the victim-survivors of crime whose bravery and courage in sharing their experiences informs our work.

 In this submission, for consistency, we refer to those who have been affected by crime as ‘victim-survivors’ as a reflection of the terminology used in the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children, which may refer to those who are victim-survivors, their families or others impacted by crime. We use the term ‘victim’ to refer those who are deceased as a result of the violence perpetrated against them. We acknowledge and respect that individuals each have their own preference for the term that reflects their own experiences, which may differ from what is expressed in this document.

Overview

DHJP commends the goal of a society free of violence and welcomes the recognition within the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children (the ‘National Plan’) that violence causes significant and enduring harm to victims and victim-survivors.  Any plan can only be as good as the actions that follow.

 DHJP is of a firm view that state and national responses to violence must be victim-centred, provide appropriate interventions to address the causes of violence, and ensure offenders are held to account for their actions. Primary prevention and early intervention which is evidence-based and sustainably funded should be informed by a process of robust and transparent evaluation and the regular collection and analysis of data. 

The process of challenging and changing societal norms that reinforce violent behaviours must be reflected by changes in our public institutions; including the response and supports to victim-survivors through the justice and health systems to reduce re-traumatisation, secondary victimisation and the risk to our community of continued and escalating offending.

Given the scale of violence in Australia and the complex and intersecting factors that contribute towards violence, it is our firm view that intervention programs must be delivered earlier and more intensively to deliver real change.

The National Plan recognises that trauma presents differently and uniquely for each victim. Assistance schemes and therapeutic supports should reflect this and provide flexible and enduring services to victim-survivors.

Our legal responses to violence should reflect the pervasive and invasive course of conduct behaviours that, on their own, may not constitute a criminal offence, but that in culmination bring great harm. These behaviours are often explicitly used by perpetrators of family violence, but also extend to other offending that can be familial or non-familial, such as stalking.

States and territories should work together to ensure that accountability and visibility of offenders is not reduced when they move between states. Information sharing and technology should support the work of police and agencies across and between jurisdictions to monitor high-risk offenders and manage risk for victim-survivors.

The prevalence, drivers and different forms of gender-based violence in Australia

The Plan recognises important drivers of violence against women and children and reinforcing factors that can increase the frequency and/or severity of violence.  Victim-survivors’ experiences of the justice system demonstrate the ways that our public institutions can re-traumatise and victimise, as well as contribute to their risk of further violence. The National Plan should reflect awareness that our public institutions can be a reinforcing factor in and of themselves.

DHJP also advocates for greater recognition and understanding of the seriousness of course-of-conduct offences, such as coercive control and stalking, both within and outside family settings, as important markers for future violence. The pervasive nature of coercive control and stalking behaviours challenge the incident-based nature of our justice system, because on their own they may not constitute a criminal offence. Our laws and courts need to reform evidence laws to consider course-of-conduct behaviours in the context of family violence and stalking offences.

In Britain, studies revealed that, on average, victim survivors suffer around 100 different stalking incidents before they report the crime – and we have no immediate reason not to accept that numbers might be similar in Australia.[i][ii] A challenge for our legal system is that some incidents on their own might not constitute a criminal offence, but the collective course-of-conduct delivers serious risk and harm.

Non-fatal strangulation has been introduced in a number of jurisdictions as a stand-alone offence, and Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia should follow. Without a stand-alone offence, non-fatal strangulation can be challenging to prosecute, particularly in familial circumstances where the intent is power and control as opposed to causing physical harm.

Meaningfully reflecting issues, including the experience of victim-survivors

DHJP welcomes the commitment of the National Plan to establish mechanisms for ongoing engagement and consultation with victim-survivors to ensure their experiences are reflected in state and national policies towards addressing violence.

The National Plan recognises that the trauma of violence can be lifelong, and policy responses must be flexible and enduring to support victim-survivors through all stages of recovery without perpetuating their trauma.

The National Plan can take a strong leadership role in ensuring supports and policy development is victim-centred and gives agency to their voice. Empowering victim-survivors can mean different things at different times. Listening must also be joined with action and governments need to respond proactively to the issues raised by victim-survivors. Their experiences, rights, trauma and voice should always be at the forefront of state and national government policy and service delivery.

Actions must deliver improved safety and justice for victim-survivors, and accountability for offenders.

In Victoria, a Victims’ Charter Act is of great benefit to victims’ rights. However, there are improvements that need to be made to this Act, in the view of DHJP, such as penalties for non-compliance. We would encourage State Governments to adopt equivalent forms of the Victims’ Charter Act if they don’t yet have such provisions.

A holistic approach to identifying and responding to gender-based violence

The National Plan acknowledges children as victims of gender-based violence, in their own right, however this is not explicitly detailed as part of the four foundation principles. This acknowledgement must be embedded in our public institutions and policy responses, including how children are referred to and classified as they navigate the justice system, their access to support services and ongoing management of their risk, trauma and recovery.

In addition to early intervention, primary prevention and support mechanisms within this Plan, information sharing that helps people manage their own risk, is an important component of community safety.

DHJP welcomes the Federal Government proposal to make the National Child Sex Offender Register public. This followed extensive advocacy by former Senator Derryn Hinch and the Daniel Morcombe Foundation over many years. DHJP is committed to a register that is publicly available and retains judicial discretion, and expects the Federal Government to deliver on its promise.

Similarly, DHJP recognises the success of other registers, such as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme in South Australia. This scheme has been in place since 2018 and in its first two years, from 455 applications found 70 per cent of those to be eligible for further consideration. More than half of the applicants had not previously received support from a domestic violence service.

Families of deceased victims of violent crime have advocated for a national Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme to allow people with concerns about partner history to make a discreet and regulated inquiry and subsequently manage their risk or access services according to the information disclosed.

We recommend consideration is given to how extraditions between jurisdictions can be strengthened in cases involving offending using carriage devices and the internet, such as stalking, where the course-of-conduct is exercised outside the jurisdiction of the victim, and how our courts can co-operate between jurisdictions to respond to offending. Recognition, attention and reform should be considered when violence is perpetrated in cross-border communities, where offences can be recorded in both jurisdictions regularly.

The National Plan, while recognising the role of technology in the perpetration and prevention of violence against women and children, does not include any focus on preventing the trade of child sexual abuse and incest-themed merchandise. These products are regularly offered for sale online and in retail outlets and risk normalising and commercialising the degradation and violation of children.

The government has legislated to ban the import of child-like sex dolls, but we urge federal and state governments to go further and formulate and execute strategies to stop the sale of other abuse-themed merchandise in Australia. These sales occur both online and in retail outlets, and access should be denied to Australian markets for outlets that do not remove products from sale.

Age-verification requirements need to be strengthened to protect and to combat the stereotyping and exposure to violence through pornography and other harmful online content.  Federal and state governments need a clear plan to combat the misuse of end-to-end encryption technology.

The plan should include specific reference to protecting residents in aged care and disability settings from violence. An estimated 50 sexual assaults occur in residential aged care facilities every week across Australia. The 2015 Australian Senate Committee national inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings found that violence and abuse against people with disability is an epidemic  in Australia, and women and children with disability are at greater risk and experience violence at higher rates.[iii]  Advocates for reform say that in addition to staff training, developing organisational cultures that eliminate sexual violence should be pursued by governments, boards of management, insurers and employers.

Reflecting the family, domestic and sexual violence service system

The National Plan must remain alert to the incidence of violence in regional and rural areas and barriers to support for victim-survivors, including police resourcing, ambulance response times, access to courts, medical care, mental health supports, emergency accommodation, affordable housing and victim support services.

Similarly, the National Plan must remain alert to the barriers to perpetrator programs in regional and rural areas, and the subsequent risk of continued and escalating offending.  Management of offenders through community-based orders should be strengthened across our country to ensure that where programs are mandated, offenders are required to attend and complete these programs in order to fulfil the obligations of their order.

Reflecting the needs and experiences of women and children

The recognition of children as victim-survivors in their own right needs to be elevated and more clearly understood by public agencies.

Children are often referred to as a bystander which diminishes the effect of violence, whether witnessed or directly experienced.  Children who witness violence are often denied access to support services through the Victims of Crime Assistance Scheme in Victoria, and this could be the experience in other jurisdictions. Developing national standards for how children are represented and reflected as victim-survivors could help improve system responses and increase understanding of the profound impact of witnessing or experiencing violence as a child.

There is also now steadily-mounting awareness globally that far more work needs to be undertaken in understanding and limiting the damage that offences such as stalking can inflict on children and young people.[1]  In a Victorian context, the need for this action is underlined in many examples – including through what appears to be growing numbers of reports of police needing to investigate stalking among these age groups.[iv]

One in 32 children in Australia have contact with child protection services, representing 117,900 investigations in 2019-20. Of those children, 67 per cent are repeat clients and one in six Aboriginal children receive child protection services.[v] This National Plan must work with the National Framework for Protecting Children to ensure that early intervention, interfaces between agencies and the sharing of agency and jurisdictional data is consistent across the Plans and supports the goal to end violence.

Federal agencies have an important role to play through embedding trauma-informed learning in our higher education institutions, strengthening our responses to the use of telecommunications to offend against children (nationally and internationally), and improving the collection and sharing of data is important to guide future action and track effectiveness of the response.

Reflecting the needs and experiences of diverse communities and individuals

The over-representation of Aboriginal women and children experiencing violence is reflected in the National Plan, however there is little reference to understanding and responding to violence against women and children in CALD settings.

Despite Australia being one of the most multi-culturally diverse nations, collection of information about the experiences of violence within CALD communities is limited and inconsistent across agencies and states. People from CALD communities can experience unique forms of violence including forced marriage, female genital mutilation, dowry-related violence, spiritual abuse, multi-perpetrator violence and immigration-related abuse. The National Plan gives little focus to this and should include specific data collection and appropriate responses.

Building on what works for gender-based violence prevention, early intervention, response and recovery

Noting the complex and intersecting issues that perpetuate violence between generations, and the significant impact of trauma on the development of a child, intensive intervention should focus on the child maternal health, early childhood and early education systems as well as at the crisis response end.

In Victoria alone, modelling suggests investing $150 million every year over a 10-year period would deliver cumulative net savings of $1.6 billion to the child protection and out-of-home care systems. Every dollar invested would return $2 by ensuring children can safely remain at home.[vi]

Recognising and responding to developmental delays, the impact of childhood trauma on learning, emerging evidence of the connection between acquired brain injury and family violence, and best practice for addressing adolescent violence will allow our social service systems to deliver targeted responses to both those at risk of violence and to those who commit violent acts.

Monitoring and rehabilitation of high-risk offenders, including expanding the use of electronic monitoring and other available technology, should be a priority for all governments.

Providing a strong framework for measuring progress towards the next National Plan Goals

Future success requires continued investment and cooperation between states in data collection and analysis. We recommend this be a transparent process that is co-operative between state governments and agencies, covering all aspects of the National Plan, with particular focus on:

-        Best practice in early intervention,

-        Effective personal safety intervention orders,

-        The use of technology in offending (such as cyberstalking) and monitoring of offenders (such as electronic monitoring and SCRAM Continuous Alcohol Monitoring technology),

-        trauma-oriented approaches to inform reforms of the justice system,

-        corrective treatments and their impact on recidivism,

-        the incidence of violence in institutional or state funded settings



[i] [i] For two of the many studies of this trend, see: G Margolin, 'Children's exposure to violence: exploring developmental pathways to diverse outcomes' (2005): 20 (1), Journal of Interpersonal Violence 72; A Nikupeteri and M Laitinen, ‘Children's Everyday Lives Shadowed by Stalking: Post separation Stalking Narratives of Finnish Children and Women’ (2015): 30 (5), Violence and Victims 830.

[iv] ‘Young children investigated by police over bullying, stalking' - 5 November 2018 ( Herald Sun online)

 

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