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violence against women: vital research to stop repeat offending

Image: Concha García Hernández

Image: Concha García Hernández

Jill Meagher

Kiesha Weippeart

Sarah Cafferkey

Jordan Anderson-Smith

Shandee Blackburn

Bailey Constable

This is a roll call of tragedy. These women and children had their lives cut short by violence.  All of their stories are different; some knew their killers and some didn’t, some suffered long-term abuse and some were killed during a chance encounter. They all have one thing in common, though: their deaths should never have occurred. Sadly, stories such as these are all too common.

To say that the statistics around violence against women are frightening would be an understatement. For instance, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that one in three Australian women will be subject to physical violence during their lifetime, 23% -28% will encounter sexual or emotional abuse.  For Australian women aged 15 to 44 the leading cause of death or permanent injury is not obesity, smoking, alcohol or drug abuse – it’s violence.  On a global scale, 50% of all women whose deaths are caused by homicide are killed by their husbands and partners (both current and former).

There is no marker that clearly identifies a person as a perpetrator of violence. Nor is violent behaviour restricted to one region, country, religion or culture. The root of such violence is deeply ingrained behaviour compounded by persistent discrimination against women.

How then as a society do we start addressing some of these behaviours and reducing the risk of violence towards women and children? Raising awareness about these issues is a start. Building an expectation that these kinds of behaviours simply will not be accepted is another step. Movements such as the White Ribbon Campaign, which is active in over 47 countries, are essential. Anything that challenges society to become active in preventing these tragedies is critical.  Raising awareness is one thing but it is also equally important to determine how these behaviours become ingrained in the first place. What causes perpetrators to carry out this violence?

In an effort to understand just this, the Australian Federal Government this week made a very positive announcement that they are investing $3 million in vital research to investigate ways in which to prevent violent offenders from re-offending. This research will be specifically focused on preventing violence against women and their children.

This work will be undertaken as part of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010-2022.  Federal Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins, acknowledged that this kind of research is crucial. Currently, there is little information available either nationally and internationally regarding effective prevention methods. It is thought that this research, to be undertaken over a three year period by the National Centre for Excellence, will help to determine the best ways to prevent perpetrators of violence against women from re-offending.

Ms Collins explained that a significant component of this research will be ‘to develop national outcome standards for perpetrator interventions through consultation with relevant stakeholders and experts’.

Interestingly, the consultations will involve a wide range of contributors from law and justice experts through to academics and possibly former offenders.  Some states and territories have already developed operational standards in this area. Being able to explore the successes and challenges they faced during this process would also be a useful exercise. Ms Collins has confirmed that the researchers will be drawing on these experiences.

Once the national outcome standards have been agreed upon, the Federal Government will offer a share of a $4 million one-off reward payment to the states and territories that agree to implement them.

Ms Collins has said that the ‘Federal Government is committed to preventing violence against women and their children.’ This is evidenced by the fact that Government is investing $86 million in national initiatives to address this issue and stop violence from occuring.

It is heartening to see such initiatives being developed and the push towards eradicating violence against women is gaining momentum. There should be real, tangible outcomes that are developed from this work. By working in partnership the Government and the wider community have the opportunity to tackle this problem and improve the lives of women and children right across the country.

Violence against women must NOT be accepted. Complacency around this issue must NOT be accepted. Addressing violence against women MUST be prioritised at all levels. While this issue has not yet received enough traction to bring about significant change, it is initiatives such as these that will close the gap and see these changes occuring.

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