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paving a new track for domestic violence: gps tracking on cards as fatality rates double


Trigger Warning: Discussion of Domestic and Family Violence

If you have recently come across the statistic that one woman will die every week as a direct result of violence, you might be alarmed to learn that this number has doubled in 2015. This is according to the data collected by safe steps Family Violence Response Centre.

For decades women who have been subjected to domestic violence have sought protection in a piece of paper. Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs) have been the subject of scathing criticism due to their blatant ineffectiveness. While they can be difficult to obtain, they’re relatively easy to breach.

‘It can be difficult, particularly where abuse is centred around psychological or financial abuse, because there isn’t the same level of concrete evidence that might be present with a physical injury,’ explains Annette Gillespie, CEO of safe steps.

safe steps provides services that include a 24-hour helpline. But it also offers services such as ‘safety plans’, which enable abuse victims to plan their escape, access refuge housing, receive counselling, financial aid and other outreach services.

‘We have a time and history here in Victoria where there’s never been a brighter spotlight on men’s behaviour and a call to hold men accountable for the violence they perpetrate,’ Gillespie said. ‘We know that when men are held accountable and they feel like they are losing control, they will escalate the violence to regain that control.’

Public figures such as Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty have earned the nation’s respect through the most tragic of circumstances and have created a public dialogue about family violence that’s been unmatched.

‘It’s increased exponentially,’ said Prue Cameron, Policy and Communications Officer for Domestic Violence Victoria (DV Vic), a peak body for women and children’s family violence services in Victoria. ‘I think there’s greater awareness about family violence within the community.’

The Federal Government made a surprise announcement when they stated they were considering a new weapon in the war on family violence. There is now the possibility that domestic violence offenders will be forced to wear GPS trackers. This would enable police to track their movements and intervene faster.

However, the fact that there has been a limelight placed on domestic violence does not necessarily suggest we can expect to see a decrease in incidents. safe steps receive 55,000 calls per year and places 6,000 women and children assessed at highest risk into emergency accommodation.

‘We’ve had a 130% increase in demand for our services in the last two years,’ Gillespie said.

An overwhelming 44% of safe steps clients who seek emergency accommodation are under 18 years old. Family violence is very much generational, and often there are children trapped in the midst of a violent situation.

While the proposed GPS trackers have excited the general public, social service organisations are sceptical; it may be nothing more than an expensive electronic Band-Aid. GPS trackers are already used for some registered sex offenders throughout New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia. It’s estimated each device would cost $20,000. For its hefty price tag, the technology is unreliable. Signals can get lost, such as cutting out when people are travelling through bridges or tunnels and sometimes offenders will simply cut the anklets off.

However, government resources state that the current price tag of family violence is a staggering $13.6 billion per year.

‘Domestic violence is the leading cause of preventable death and disability for women under 45,’ explains Prue Cameron.

The disabilities are both physical and psychological. Cameron emphasises the importance that these are preventable. While DV Vic and safe steps both support the move to introduce GPS trackers, they emphasise it would only be one method to deal with this crisis.

‘People think technology is a magic bullet… if we rely too much on technology it gives people a false sense of security,’ Cameron said.

There is also the concern that this expensive proposal could disadvantage services that are aimed at assisting survivors on an ongoing basis.

‘The caution is around the complacency of applying one method or deterrent and thinking that means we can relax,’ adds Gillespie.

While GPS trackers may seem like a simple and obvious solution, family violence has multiple layers and is rarely simple. On average, it takes a woman seven attempts before she will successfully leave her abuser. There is a myriad of reasons why women have difficulty leaving these people. The answer to age-old question ‘why doesn’t she just leave?’ may simply be ‘because she has nowhere else to go’.

Add to this, the fact that there are often children involved and this further complicates things. A standard AVO does not apply to children, so children will still be required to attend visits. Gillespie explains that children are often used as weapons in these scenarios.

‘Often perpetrators will use their children to get messages to mothers – at the extreme end they will kill their children.’

Despite the fact that the majority of domestic violence cases revolve around men perpetrating against women, there’s a gross underrepresentation of members from the LGBTIQ community. safe steps does receive calls from victims, including men, but they have fewer resources. That’s why safe steps is collaborating with the LGBTIQ community to provide a joint submission to The Royal Commission into Family Violence.

These proposed GPS trackers are not a substitute for the countless services victims depend on, but for extreme cases it’s a small cost to pay and they offer security that existing AVOs cannot compete with. It’s expected that if the government does introduce this new strategy, the expense will make the court system very selective about who will and won’t be protected.

‘It’s always going to be based on an assessment of risk and the police and courts will assess that risk,’ Gillespie said.

‘Not every person who has ever perpetrated violence is going to be wearing a tracking device.’

With – statistically speaking – 104 women killed each year, it is still uncertain how they will decide who the highest risk is.

If you require help for domestic violence in Australia, phone 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). Victorians can contact the services named in this article.

Tweet the article’s author, Natalie Rose Corrigan: @CorrigaNatalie

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