A new support payment has been announced for victims fleeing abusive relationships.
The one-off payment of $5,000 is a new and very welcome initiative, as authorities around the country grapple with the rapid increase in the number of domestic violence victims needing help as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The payment will not be means tested. It will be available as $1500 in cash, and the rest available as direct payments for bond, rent, and school fees.
It is part of a two-year government trial, which received an allocation of $144.5 million at the 2021-22 federal budget in May.
The payment is a reflection of the changing definition of domestic violence which has come to include behaviours such as coercive control, financial abuse and technology-facilitated abuse, all of which make it harder for victims to leave abusive relationships because they don't have adequate resources to get out safely.
Accessing the payment
For victims to access the payment, they need to apply to UnitingCare Australia, with proof of the violent situation such as a referral from a family and domestic violence service provider, a court order, such as an Apprehended Violence Order, or a police report.
For many, it's a positive step forward in protecting victims as they leave abusive relationships, but some question whether it's enough to ensure victims get to safety.
“We know, on average that it costs a victim $18,000 to flee a violent relationship. $5,000 will go a significant way for a proportion of our clients seeking a safe way out.” says Hayley Foster Chief Executive of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia.
“What's important is that there is flexibility as to how victims can choose to spend these funds for their own and their children's safety and wellbeing. They're the experts of their own situation, and most already have been putting strategies in place to keep themselves and their children safe.”
The pandemic-related rise in domestic and family violence
Around the globe when lockdowns came into effect in early 2020, Domestic Violence experts predicted a spike in family and domestic violence, citing a number of important danger factors related to lockdowns:
- That victims and offenders would be forced to spend more time together
- Decreased freedoms for victims which would restrict avenues for seeking help
- Increased stress factors such as job insecurity and financial pressures, as well a lack of daily routines which could lead to increased alcohol and drug use which can be a contributing factor to violence
Australian data certainly backs up these original predictions. Since lockdowns were introduced in 2020, frontline services workers across the board have reported an increase in victims experiencing violence for the first time as well as escalating violence for those in abusive relationships.
Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, which operates mainly in NSW, also reported that the number of visit to their website doubled in March and April. Online contacts for help went up by 20 per cent and phone contacts fell by about the same amount.
In recent years, as a result of increasingly tragic statistics, such as those published by the ‘Counting Dead Women' project, Australians have called on governments to do better.
There is a growing lack of tolerance in our communities for domestic and family violence — Australians want change, and while every dollar that state and federal governments invest in support services is welcome, addressing this very complex issue requires much more than just funding. It requires a much broader look at the number of social factors which not only contribute to domestic and family violence, but also the factors which underpin the reasons why many women are not financially independent.
“Providing more affordable housing options is a priority, as is addressing laws and policies which entrench women's economic insecurity in the first place, says Hayley Foster.
Because women are the majority of victims, there also needs to be “commitment to addressing the wage gap, revaluing unpaid care, reviewing social security and superannuation systems, too, and addressing affordable access to childcare, and equitable parental leave,” she says.
“We also need to review the family law system to explicitly recognise family violence as both a negative contribution to the relationship and as compounding future need.”
Male victims need better access to support
But it's also time that we began to take more seriously the number of men who are victims of domestic violence offences. These victims are often hidden, and their experiences tend to be under-reported so the real extent of the problem is not known.
While there have, in recent years, been several high profile inquiries into Domestic and Family Violence which have given us a much better understanding of the issue overall, the experience of male victims remains very misunderstood.
Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a gender bias here, as a result of the fact that because women are statistically the majority of victims of abuse, we don't often consider that men can be victims too. And they need to be recognised as we seek to improve support services and find long-term solutions.
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