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Domestic violence ads shy on home truths

January 10, 2022

Federal government advertising is falling short on domestic violence messaging, with bad jokes and sledges at sports matches barely scratching the surface of the real problem, according to Northern Victorian MP Tania Maxwell.

“We are very used to seeing confronting road trauma violence in advertising from the Transport Accident Commission,” she said.

“But the ads about domestic violence – which is lethal for one woman a week in Australia – are all about calling out bad language when you see it or off-colour jokes about women and girls.

“If the problem of domestic violence was limited to degrading language – these ads would be spot on. But we know we have a much bigger problem than that.”

The ‘Unmute yourself’ ads, funded by the federal government, are a part of the Stop it at the Start campaign on domestic violence. One of the most recent ads features two men talking about girls and sport.

The older man asks a younger male “what’s wrong with playing like a girl?”

Ms Maxwell, who has campaigned against domestic and family violence for many years, said the advertising needed to reflect the realities of trauma – just as road safety messages did.

“The softly, softly approach to this issue is not appropriate,” she said.

“A lot of the messaging is silent on what men can do apart from reject degrading language.”

Coercive control should be shown in the ads to educate the audience about healthy expectations in relationships, Ms Maxwell said.

“I think an ad that told men ‘Your partner is allowed to disagree with you – or say no to you – without being punished for it’ would probably be eye-opening for a lot of people,” she said.

“There is an expectation that it’s ok to pressure a woman into going to parties she doesn’t want to attend, or use her money on things she objects to, and people need to know that mental and emotional abuse is domestic violence, too.”

Ms Maxwell said Australians should also reject soap operas as an instructional life guide.

“Children are like sponges and their perception of what is real in some TV shows can have lasting effects,” she said.

“Education is the key here in determining what is and isn’t real life.

“These are dramas – they are written and acted to entertain you – not teach you about how boyfriends and girlfriends should behave towards each other,” Ms Maxwell said.

“A lot of fictional television programs – not just the soap operas – are about grumpy, controlling men and sad, stressed women. We need to reject those role models and change the narrative.

“There is often a lot of conflict in the relationships on screen as part of the storytelling but it needs to be seen in its context as fictional entertainment, not as an expectation-setting tool.

“All those men who are respectful and treat everyone equally and there are, from my experience, thousands of them out there, should be thanked. It is a shame that the minority who display reprehensible behaviours don’t learn from the majority of men in our society.”

This story was first reported in The Bendigo Advertiser on January 6, 2022.

Victims’ experience can bring telling reform

Adjournment

December 3, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:18): (1693) My adjournment is to the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence (Hon. Gabrielle Williams MP), and the action I seek is for the minister to meet with a group of victims and victim-survivors of coercive control and family violence regarding the review into coercive control that was discussed in my motion last week.

I was very grateful last sitting week to have three people visit this Parliament as part of their call for a strengthened response within our justice system to the evidence and impacts of coercive control. Each of these individuals was in their own way subjected to horrendous violent offences involving someone in a position of intimate trust. Michelle Skewes’ husband was convicted of nine charges of rape against her during their marriage. Jay was subject to repeated violent attacks throughout her marriage, often in the presence of her children. Lee Little lost her daughter who attempted to leave her relationship in circumstances that were treated as murder until the charges were plea-bargained down to a driving offence.

Having gone back over Hansard from the debate, the government in speaking to my motion indicated that coercive and controlling behaviour can already constitute an offence in Victoria. Hansard shows Ms Terpstra saying all these forms of abuse or control can interact and all form part of coercive control or be singular offences in and of themselves. I think it is important to note that there is not a stand-alone offence of family violence but that charges arise under contravention of a family violence intervention order or some other offence like assault or stalking. With regard to coercive control, it is the experience of many victims I have spoken with that coercive control was given very little consideration in hearings relating to their intervention order applications, nor was it given much consideration when they faced court on charges of physical violence.

So there is a range of things to consider in this review, and I am very grateful for the productive dealings that I have had with the minister’s office to date on these important issues and also very encouraged from the support across the Legislative Council.

The individuals who attended Parliament last week, along with others, have experienced coercive control and are very keen to invite the minister to meet with them and discuss when and how the review will occur. I think this will give a great opportunity to take the next steps with victims and victim-survivors, to include them in these discussions and to empower them in the process. I would also like to say—and unfortunately he has left the chamber—that these victims of crime felt so honoured that (my Northern Victoria colleague) Mr (Mark) Gepp MP actually went out and spoke to them and listened to their stories, and they were extremely appreciative and very grateful for his time.

Ensuring violent offenders leave home

Adjournment speech

October 15, 2021

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (00:13): (1593) My adjournment is for the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence.

The government committed to keeping more victim-survivors of family violence safe in their homes, and the action I seek is for the minister to detail the number of perpetrators in my electorate of Northern Victoria who have been removed from the home as part of this program.

On August 17, 2020, the government announced it was directing more than $20 million to keeping perpetrators in full sight and victims in their home. As part of this, the program was to enable 1500 perpetrators of family violence to be moved into short-term or long-term accommodation and provide intervention and behaviour-change programs. This included support for the growing issue of adolescents using violence in the home.

The latest crime data ending June 30, 2021, shows family violence remains at an all-time high. More than 19,000 incidents of family violence in Northern Victoria occurred in the past 12 months. There were more than 5000 breaches of family violence orders and 1794 reports where the affected family member was a child. The coronavirus restrictions have placed some families into settings of increased isolation and risk. For children experiencing family violence, school is often the only safe space they have and provides a critical opportunity for them to get a break from the chaos and the stress of home and to connect with welfare staff at school.

For some vulnerable children, school might be the only place where they have access to food. Schools have remained open for vulnerable children, but we know not all at-risk children have been attending.

The only way to keep families safe is to stop perpetrators from offending. My colleague, Mr (Stuart) Grimley MP, referred very recently to the report of the family violence reform implementation monitor which said 500 men could be waiting to access a program at any one time. Many finished their community correction order without even completing the core program, which is meant to address their offending.

Keeping perpetrators of family violence out of the homes while they work to change their behaviour is certainly a step in the right direction. I suspect the critical shortages in affordable housing, particularly in regional areas, may complicate this policy rollout. But the shift from ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ to ‘Make him leave’ is a very important statement for the rights of victims and moves the onus of responsibility to where it should be, which is absolutely with the offender.

Family violence offences jump 18 per cent

In Victoria every year more than 34,000 incidents of family violence occur where a child is present, putting them at risk

Offering collaboration to reduce family violence

The state government last August committed $1.67 million to a 12-month pilot of the Perpetrator Accommodation Support Service, which allows for family violence offenders to be rehouse away from home for short periods while they receive professional help and supervision. I support the initiative but we need to find ways to make it work practically in rural and regional areas where there are housing and service shortages.

Adjournment – Men’s Referral Services

My matter is for the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence, and it relates to a 17 August 2020 media release from the minister titled ‘Keeping family violence in sight during coronavirus’. That release observed that the COVID lockdowns and restrictions of the past year have been accompanied by an increased risk of family violence and abuse, the Men’s Referral Service was fielding an 11 per cent increase in calls compared to the previous year and the government had therefore allocated significant funding to the arrangements for taking perpetrators or potential perpetrators from their homes to other short-term or long-term accommodation instead. However, I have unfortunately been hearing some troubling anecdotes about how this approach is now being practically implemented. In particular I have been told about cases where not only are vexatious calls being taken about people allegedly causing or threatening family violence but also this then creates serious problems for them in being able to access alternative accommodation. Particularly in my electorate of Northern Victoria it seems they sometimes have literally nowhere to go.

For now, I will illustrate this with a reference to one recent case of which I am aware from a town in my electorate of Northern Victoria. In this case an accused perpetrator of family violence not only denied all such claims against him but was immediately removed from his home and then taken to a police station at which multiple phone calls were made to the Men’s Referral Service in an attempt to try to find housing for him. However, there was simply no answer to any of these calls. As a consequence, the man spent the entire night not only in complete despair and at his wit’s end about what had been alleged about him but also forced to sleep on the floor and chairs in a cold police station. My understanding is that it also took a considerable time during at least the following day for accommodation to be found.

Obviously there are a lot of different questions to potentially be posed about all of this. I realise an adjournment matter does not allow me that flexibility so I will instead concentrate on seeking one main action instead, and this is to ask the minister, in view of the queries I am increasingly fielding about this, if she could provide an explanation of the hours during which the Men’s Referral Service actually takes calls and why it does not seem to be a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service.