Australia's coronavirus recovery must focus on inequalities driving domestic violence, advocates say

The head of a leading advocacy group for the prevention of domestic violence in Australia says the coronavirus recovery should be used as an "opportunity for a transformative agenda".

Our Watch Chair Natasha Stott Despoja says the underlying inequalities driving domestic violence must be addressed.

Our Watch Chair Natasha Stott Despoja says the underlying inequalities driving domestic violence must be addressed. Source: AAP

Australia is being urged to address the underlying inequalities that drive domestic violence in its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Natasha Stott Despoja - the chair of Our Watch, a leading advocacy group for violence prevention against women and children - made the appeal in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

Ms Stott Despoja said the coronavirus recovery could be used as an "opportunity for a transformative agenda when it comes to economy and society", and called for a systemic response from business, government and the community.

“If we want to stop violence, we need to think about it as a social problem, where the solution is social change. That is where prevention comes in,” she said.

“The national response and recovery from the pandemic can strengthen women’s security, independence, economic participation and decision-making in public life.”

Our Watch Chair Natasha Stott Despoja addresses the National Press Club in Canberra.
Source: AAP

Ms Stott Despoja's address fell six months to the day after Hannah Clarke and her three children were murdered in Queensland, which brought renewed national focus to the scourge of domestic violence.

She said there has been 34 women killed in domestic violence incidents this year alone - an average of one per week.

"I know that many of you are sickened by the stories and statistics, the body count, the slaughter in the suburbs and I know we cannot go on like this, so does this awful crisis bring an opportunity for change?

"I hope so. I believe it does."

The pandemic has led to a spike in domestic violence incidents around Australia, Ms Stott Despoja said, citing a survey by the Australian Institute of Criminology of 15,000 women that found 4.6 per cent, or 690 individuals, had experienced domestic violence in the three months to May.

She also said there had been a 210 per cent increase in online abuse, otherwise known as “revenge porn”, and increased reports of financial abuse and people experiencing abuse for the first time.  

Ms Stott Despoja noted the persistently high rates of domestic violence faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women from culturally diverse backgrounds in her speech.

She said three in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a male intimate partner.

"Ending violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women must be a national priority," she said.

In March, the federal government announced a $150 million domestic violence response to boost frontline and national support services during the pandemic.

But Ms Stott Despoja said work to promote gender equality and change attitudes towards domestic violence is still needed, particularly among young men.

“To change the story that ends in violence against women, we must begin with gender equality and respect for all,” she said.

If you or someone you know is impacted by family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.


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Published 19 August 2020 at 3:50pm
By Tom Stayner