Violence against women: Inequalities must be addressed

Queensland Law Society believes that addressing underlying structural and systemic gender inequalities is a crucial long-term measure in preventing violence against women.

We strongly support measures aimed at driving change in the structures, norms and practices that lead to gender inequality and violence against women.

As an example, QLS supports school-based respectful relationships education. These programs attempt to challenge attitudes about violence and gender constructs known to contribute to violence, as well as supporting the development of pro-social behaviours that lead to equitable and respectful relationships.1

We also support the recent government commitment to deliver programs and campaigns which recognise that women’s safety is founded on women’s equality.2

On 4 June 2020, the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs adopted an inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence. QLS worked with the Law Council of Australia in providing a submission to the inquiry.

QLS acknowledges the devastating impact of domestic and family violence on individuals and communities in Australia. Women in Australia are at significantly greater risk of physical and sexual violence by a partner.

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About one in four women, compared to one in 13 men, has experienced violence by an intimate partner and around one in five women has experienced sexual violence.3 On average, one woman is murdered in Australia each week by a current or former partner.4

Violence against women is preventable. Despite this, an alarming number of women are currently living in fear and are at significant risk of violence from a current or former partner. Immediate measures to protect people experiencing violence or at risk of violence must be implemented as a matter of urgency.

As part of the terms of reference, the inquiry is looking at immediate and long-term measures to prevent violence against women and their children, and to improve gender equality.

Legal responses to violence against women and their children must recognise the ongoing challenges women face when seeking support. The fear of not being believed is a significant barrier for women in accessing justice. The most recent National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey found that around 40% of people believe women lie about, or exaggerate, reports of violence as a means of revenge or to gain tactical advantage in their relationships with men.5

There is no evidence to support this belief. In contrast, extensive research confirms the difficulties victims of domestic and family violence encounter when disclosing their experience to authorities; including fear of not being believed, and fear that disclosure will increase the risk of violence to them or their children.6

Importantly, QLS encourages the Federal Government to adopt an evidence-based approach in implementing measures to affect long-term attitude and behavioural change.7

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Economic inequality has significant consequences for women. The Australian Human Rights Commission reports that the national gender pay gap sits at just over 15% and has remained stagnant at between 15% and 19% for the past two decades.8 The gender pay gap is influenced by a range of factors including:

  • gender discrimination and bias in pay and hiring decisions
  • women’s disproportionate share of unpaid labour and care responsibilities
  • occupational and industrial segregation across the workforce, with female dominated industries attracting lower wages
  • a lack of flexibility across the workforce in accommodating flexible work arrangements which are necessary to meet care responsibilities, particularly in senior roles.9

QLS recognises the connection between domestic and family violence and women’s economic security. Financial considerations, for example, whether affordable housing can be secured, are significant determinative factors in whether women remain in violent relationships.10 Women must have access to adequate social security benefits to enable them to leave violent relationships.

There are a wide range of coercive and controlling behaviours perpetrators use to establish power, and the impact this may have on the victim can vary. These behaviours can be compounded for vulnerable communities due to additional isolation and barriers to services.

Abusive behaviours may include acts of physical violence, ongoing verbal abuse denigration, sexual violence and coercion, property damage, psychological abuse and gaslighting, reproductive coercion, social isolation, financial control, monitoring and surveillance, technology abuse, and systems abuse where the perpetrator uses legal processes to harass, intimidate and exhaust their victim.11

The Queensland Government recently launched an awareness campaign to support people affected by domestic and family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign identifies the profound and tragic impacts of domestic and family violence and describes domestic and family violence as the use of abuse or violence in order to maintain power and control over another person.12

Importantly, the campaign attempts to educate people in Queensland about the many forms domestic and family violence can take and identifies not only physical abuse, but also emotional, sexual, financial, social, spiritual, verbal, psychological or technology-based.13

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QLS welcomes the current inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence. However, inquiries and reviews in themselves do not represent meaningful progress unless outcomes are properly considered and subsequent action is implemented.

Notes
1 Queensland Government Department of Education (2020), ‘Respectful Relationships Education Program’. Retrieved from education.qld.gov.au/curriculum/stages-of-schooling/respectful-relationships.
2 The Commonwealth has committed $20.9 million funding for Our Watch, the national organisation established to drive nationwide change in the structures, norms and practices that lead to violence against women.
3 Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. (2018). Violence Against Women: Accurate Use of Key Statistics (ANROWS Insights 05/2018). Sydney, NSW: ANROWS. Retrieved from d2rn9gno7zhxqg.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/19030556/ANROWS_VAW-Accurate-Use-of-Key-Statistics.1.pdf; See also Our Watch. Quick Facts. Retrieved from ourwatch.org.au/quick-facts/.
4 Our Watch. Quick Facts. Retrieved from ourwatch.org.au/quick-facts/.
5 Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. (2017) Australians’ Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women & Gender Equality –2017 NCAS Summary Report. Retrieved from ncas.anrows.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/300419_NCAS_Summary_Report.pdf.
6 Australian Law Reform Commission, Family Violence – A National Legal Response (ALRC Report 114), 2010, alrc.gov.au/publication/family-violence-a-national-legal-response-alrc-report-114/18-evidence-of-family-violence-3/difficulties-in-giving-evidence/; Also see Richard Chisholm, ‘Family Courts Violence Review’ (2009) and Family Law Council,’Improving Responses to Family Violence in the Family Law System: An Advice on the Intersection of Family Violence and Family Law Issues’ (2009).
7 We note the wealth of information and expertise on this issue. See, for example, ANROWS, National Plan and Counting on Change: A guide to Prevention Monitoring’.
8 See Australian Human Rights Commission. (2018). Face the Facts: Gender Equality 2018. Retrieved from humanrights.gov.au/our-work/education/face-facts-gender-equality-2018.
9 KPMG 2019, She’s Price(d)less; The Economics of the Gender Pay Gap – Summary Report. Retrieved 29 September 2019, home.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/au/pdf/2019/gender-pay-gap-economics-summary-report-2019.pdf at p7.
10 Cortis, N, & Bullen, J (2016). Domestic Violence and Women’s Economic Security: Building Australia’s Capacity for Prevention and Redress: Final report (ANROWS Horizons, 05/2016).
12 Queensland Government. DFV Support. Available at campaigns.premiers.qld.gov.au/dfvsupport/.
13 Queensland Government. DFV Support. Available at campaigns.premiers.qld.gov.au/dfvsupport/.

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