End the domestic violence epidemic

Issue 

There is no room for any doubt that Australia is suffering from an epidemic of domestic violence.

A series of reports in last week's Sydney Morning Herald revealed the shameful and shocking fact that deaths of women and children from domestic violence in NSW has increased. It now sits at a 10-year high.

Nationally, domestic violence is the most likely form of preventable death for women under 45. It is also the biggest cause of
preventable illnesses and disabilities for women in the same age bracket.

The majority of all murders committed are of women and children by violent men.

The SMH reported on November 24 that domestic violence cases make up to 30% of all assaults reported to police, take up 35% of all police work and account for as much as 40% of all homicides.

State and federal governments cannot claim that they were not warned about the soaring rates of domestic violence against women and children.

Three years ago, a report released by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research revealed that domestic violence-related assaults had climbed a shocking 50% between 1997 and 2004.

Since then the problem has only become worse for women. Whereas 25,761 domestic violence-related assaults were recorded in NSW in 2004, the SMH reported that the figure topped 27,000 in 2007.

The NSW ALP government, in particular, must take a large part of the blame.

In February, the state government cut 24 positions dedicated to tackling violence against women in the Department of Community Services. The government justified the cuts as part of a program to "improve" domestic violence services through centralisation into a new domestic violence policy program linked to the premier's department.

The Public Service Association (PSA) condemned the job cuts, branding them a "smokescreen" for cost cutting. It said that those who had their jobs scrapped worked primarily among Aboriginal, regional and disadvantaged communities to stop violence against women.

There have also been renewed calls on state governments to launch official reviews into domestic violence deaths. While such reviews are important, they should not be used as a way for ALP or Coalition governments to put off, once again, the necessary funding and resources required to help prevent this violence.

No review is necessary to immediately restore the 24 positions in NSW and to create the scores more that the statistics reveal are necessary. No review is needed to dramatically increase funding for rape crisis centres, refuges, women's health centres and other drastically underfunded areas that will help save women's lives. No review is needed to restore funding slashed from social services under previous governments.

Furthermore, we don't need another review to conclude that, unless the underlying causes of domestic violence — poverty, disadvantage, unemployment and women's lack of financial independence — are tackled, the violence will not stop.

Only by implementing long-term solutions will we be able to change attitudes. It's not only men who have to change: the empowerment of women is essential for creating long-term change. Rather than constantly being treated as victims, women need to organise to take their fate into their own hands.

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