‘We are in a bubble that is set to burst’. Why urgent support must be given to domestic violence workers


Dr Naomi Pfitzner, Monash University; Jacqui True, Monash University; Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Monash University, and Silke Meyer, Monash University

During lockdown, we have seen an increase in demand for domestic violence services in Australia and around the world.

The United Nations recognised this problem in April, declaring a “shadow pandemic” of violence against women and girls.

Read more:
How do we keep family violence perpetrators ‘in view’ during the COVID-19 lockdown?

But while we look at specific supports to victims, we cannot forget the people who work to help them.

Our research highlights how we risk losing the essential workers on the frontlines of our domestic violence response, as a result of overwhelming workloads and potential burn out.

Thousands of workers involved

While there is no national data on the Australian domestic violence workforce, in Victoria alone there are around 3,000 specialist practitioners and an additional 30,000 workers who provide core support for, or interventions to address, domestic and family violence.

These include workers from specialist domestic violence services, men’s behaviour change services as well as child and family services.

A 2017 Victorian family violence workforce census revealed that almost one third of specialist practitioners were considering leaving their job due to burn out.

Our new research demonstrates why this is likely to be exacerbated by the pandemic.

Our research

In partnership with the Queensland Domestic Violence Services Network and Monash University’s Melbourne Experiment, we have surveyed Victorian and Queensland practitioners responding to violence against women during the COVID-19 restrictions.

COVID-19 has seen domestic violence support being delivered from people’s homes.

This included 166 workers in Victoria and 56 and 117 workers over two surveys in Queensland.

As shutdown commenced in March, many services moved to remote delivery, with 73% of specialist practitioners in Queensland reporting they now worked from home.

This change resulted in frontline workers providing crisis counselling and conducting risk assessments and planning with traumatised and abused women from their homes. Often they were doing this incredibly challenging work from their living rooms.

The ‘shadow pandemic’

According to our recent surveys, the incidence and severity of domestic violence has increased in Australia during the COVID-19 restrictions. Over 50% of workers in Victoria reported an increase in the frequency and severity of domestic violence. These findings were mirrored in Queensland, with 70% of practitioners observing an escalation in the violence experienced by women in May.

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The pandemic conditions have also made providing support to victims more difficult and more complex. The lack of face-to-face services and the constant presence of perpetrators in victims’ homes limits workers’ ability to respond to violence. As one practitioner explained

You can’t see the hole in the wall, the bruise on her jaw, the fear in the kid’s eyes when dad’s name is mentioned.

Our Victorian and Queensland survey findings also showed during COVID-19, perpetrators have adapted their abusive behaviours, finding new opportunities to control and isolate their victims.

Frontline workers told us in some cases perpetrators are using the pandemic to force women into residing in homes with their abusers where there are children involved.

Perpetrators have also pressured women to wash their hands to the point they are experiencing cracks and bleeding, and have used the threat of COVID-19 infection to isolate women from friends, family and other supports.

Flow on effect to the workforce

Queensland domestic violence workers reported a decline in their mental well-being during April and May. More than 40% of practitioners surveyed in April said working during the pandemic was causing additional pressure and stress.

They tended to attribute this to their challenging work coming into their homes.

Frontline domestic violence workers say it has been difficult working from home during COVID-19.

Queensland workers also revealed the transition to remote work alongside an increased demand for their services during COVID-19 has been harmful to their mental health.

I have already used a week of personal leave due to potential burn out. The impact on domestic violence workers needs to be considered by government.

Similar reports have emerged from Victorian workers. As one survey respondent explained

We are all working from home, which has been emotionally, extremely difficult. Having this work in my bedroom, my safe space, has been frankly awful and has wreaked havoc on my work/life balance and self-care routines. Most significantly of all, not being around my colleagues for support, guidance and debriefing has really been the worst.

Self-care strategies and well-being supports

Positively, some workers involved in the Queensland surveys talked about new self-care strategies developed during the lockdown. For example, many Queensland workers said their services had implemented regular online catch-ups and debriefing sessions to check in with staff and provide regular contact and support.

Read more:
The Senate inquiry into family violence has closed, missing an important opportunity

Other well-being supports shared in the Queensland surveys included dedicated counsellors to provide individual counselling services to workers and their families during the pandemic.

We need to protect these essential workers

Historically, there has been limited attention paid to the support needs of the domestic and family violence workforce, beyond a general emphasis on self-care in social work training.

Our research shows why this must change moving forward.

As Australia navigates the easing of restrictions in some locations, funding and resources must be increased to ensure the sector can meet the demands of the increasing number of women seeking help from violence.

Victoria and Queensland have already provided multi-million dollar emergency funding packages, to address increased demand on the sector and the scarcity of short-term accommodation for victims fleeing violence.

Equal investments are now needed to ensure the health and well-being of support workers now and into the future.

The specifics of what this entails should be decided in close consultation with the sector, but we note workers said they benefited from counselling for themselves and their families and flexible working conditions, including additional leave days.

Without dedicating the resources needed to support practitioners, we run the risk of seeing an exodus due to burn out in the coming months and years. As one practitioner warned

I feel like we are all in a bubble that is set to burst very soon, in terms of capacity. And when it does burst, I don’t know what it will look like but I know who will pay the ultimate price – victims.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit http://www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.The Conversation

Dr Naomi Pfitzner, Postdoctoral Research fellow with the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, Monash University; Jacqui True, FASSA, Professor of Politics and International Relations, Director Monash Gender, Peace and Security Centre, Monash University; Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Director, Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre; Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Faculty of Arts, Monash University, and Silke Meyer, Associate Professor in Crimninology; Deputy Dircetor Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

COVID lockdowns have human costs as well as benefits. It’s time to consider both

Gigi Foster, UNSW and Martha Hickey, University of Melbourne

Australia has been lucky. We’ve had time to consider our response to COVID-19, based on what was happening in other countries, before it hit us.

We implemented restrictions that are likely to have saved many from dying of COVID-19. Fewer than 100 have died so far, a fraction of the number initially projected.

At this pivotal moment, we need to think carefully about how best to protect ourselves going forward.

We need to consider whether the costs of continued restrictions to prevent transmission of COVID-19 – costs that can be quantified in terms of human lives harmed and human lives lost – are worth the benefits.

It is unpopular to question the value of protecting Australians against COVID-19 when the world is in the middle of the pandemic.

Read more:
What might trigger a return to ‘normal’? Why our coronavirus exit strategy is … TBC

Yet continuing the restrictions we have put in place will increase deaths from other causes, and decrease the quality of many lives.

Moving forward, we will need to make decisions that maximise the health and well-being of all Australians, including the most vulnerable. We will need to consider not only the deaths and suffering the restrictions prevent (the benefits), but also the deaths and suffering they bring about (the costs).

Benefit: lives saved

By Tuesday April 28, COVID-19 had killed 84 Australian residents, only a fraction of the 134,000 initially expected.

This striking outcome reflects both government restrictions and rapid responses by individuals, with the actual contribution of each uncertain.

Australia’s geography, environment, culture and demographic makeup are different from other countries which have had many more deaths, and this too might have contributed.

But the restrictions will have saved many lives that otherwise would have been taken by COVID-19.

Read more:
Unlocking Australia: What can benefit-cost analysis tell us?

In Sweden, which had no forced lockdown and only voluntary social distancing, around 2500 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.

Adjusted for Australia’s higher population, that per-capita death rate would have produced about 6,000 COVID-19 Australian deaths by now, instead of 84.

The restrictions might have also saved lives by reducing things such as traffic and workplace accidents. Around 100 Australians die each month in road accidents and 14 in accidents at work.

Cost: lives lost to domestic violence

Concerns are emerging internationally about increased deaths due to COVID-19 restrictions. Despite reporting lags and uncertainty about the specific causes, the signs are worrying.

Australia’s record in domestic violence was shameful before the pandemic.

On average, one woman every week is killed by her current or ex-partner in Australia. One in every four Australian women has experienced emotional abuse from a current or former partner.

In the UK, deaths from domestic violence have more than doubled during COVID-19 restrictions. Calls to helplines for women have surged seven-fold.

Read more:
How do we keep family violence perpetrators ‘in view’ during the COVID-19 lockdown?

In Australia, Google searches related to domestic violence almost doubled, with increasing calls from potential perpetrators of domestic violence.

Government restrictions have left many potential victims vulnerable inside their homes. Whilst the Australian government has pledged A$150 million to support those experiencing domestic violence during COVID-19, like Jobkeeper, the extra services may not be enough to fully fix the problems exacerbated by the shutdown.

Domestic violence not only leads to deaths, but also to increased suffering of victims, which can be quantified in units such as wellbeing-adjusted life years (known as WELLBYs).

These human costs are highly likely to be paid by young women and by mothers, creating inter-generational trauma, particularly within vulnerable populations.

Read more:
Mums with an intellectual disability already risk family violence and losing their kids. Coronavirus could make things worse

By contrast, the median age of Australians who have died due to COVID-19 is 79.

Many had pre-existing heart and lung conditions and might not have benefited from costly and invasive interventions such as mechanical ventilation.

Cost: lives lost to suicide

Each year over 65,000 Australians attempt suicide. 3000 die by suicide. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages 15 and 44.

A recent study described coronavirus interventions as the “perfect storm” for increased suicide risk.

Although the COVID-19 crisis is still evolving, deaths by suicide climbed in the United States during the 1918–19 influenza pandemic, and among older people in Hong Kong during the 2003 SARS epidemic.

Read more:
Is your mental health deteriorating during the coronavirus pandemic? Here’s what to look out for

Another study concludes that suicide rates in Europe and the United States climb by about 1% for every one percentage point increase in unemployment. During the 2008 financial crisis Europe and the US recorded an extra 10,000 extra deaths by suicide. The authors expect twice as many extra deaths due to suicide over the next 24 months.

To the extent that this kind of increased human suffering is a result of COVID-19 restrictions, it should be counted in any assessment of whether to ease them.

Cost: lives lost to health care crowd-out

Arguably the biggest short-run health cost of our COVID-19 arrangements has flowed from the government’s preparation for a much greater burden on the health system than eventuated.

Private hospitals were brought under state control and non-urgent surgeries postponed. In the past week some have been restarted.

And there is growing evidence that people are avoiding seeking other forms of medical help because they are afraid of contracting COVID-19 or don’t want to burden health care providers.

In Britain, the number of people presenting at Accident and Emergency has fallen by one quarter. There is concern in the Britain and in Australia about excess deaths as a consequence.

In the UK there were 7,996 more registered deaths in the week ending April 10 than the five-year average for that period. COVID-19 accounted for 6213 of them, leaving an extra 1810 unexplained.

Are we prepared to do the maths?

There are undoubted health benefits from COVID-19 restrictions, including deaths averted and quality-adjusted life years saved. But there are also costs, which can be measured using the same metrics.

They include the consequences of lost education quality for the coronavirus cohort, and the long-run impact of a prolonged economic downturn.

Read more:
Australian schools are closing because of coronavirus, but should they be?

Making decisions based on lives saved and lost is challenging, but not new.

Our government makes such decisions every day when it considers such things as how much to spend on cancer research or whether to fund a new drug through the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.

These decisions are typically made using quality-adjusted life years or numbers of deaths averted, allowing governments to directly compare lives with lives, and deaths with deaths.

Now that the first wave of the pandemic has peaked, it is time for governments to consider carefully their next moves.

Sharing the full equation they are using – including the real costs as well as the real benefits of interventions – would enable the public to evaluate whether those decisions are being made with Australia’s best interests in mind.

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.The Conversation

Gigi Foster, Professor, School of Economics, UNSW and Martha Hickey, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How do we keep family violence perpetrators ‘in view’ during the COVID-19 lockdown?


Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Monash University; Jessica Burley, Monash University, and Silke Meyer, Monash University

Over the past few weeks, there has been increasing awareness of the heightened risk of family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, there has been a silence around perpetrators – in terms of the justice system’s ability to hold them to account during the crisis and the wider family violence system’s need to keep them “in view”.

Both are critical to manage and monitor the heightened risk and danger to women and children during this period of uncertainty and isolation.

Keeping perpetrators ‘in view’

In 2016, a government advisory panel report on reducing violence against women recommended numerous steps to hold perpetrators to account and more support to change their behaviours.

Since then, all Australian states and territories have implemented family violence reforms to ensure numerous “check points” are embedded in their systems to keep perpetrators “in view” at all times.

Keeping perpetrators “in view” refers to the process of identifying, assessing, monitoring and managing their risk over time.

Read more:
Coronavirus and ‘domestic terrorism’: how to stop family violence under lockdown

This notion of increased perpetrator visibility relies on coordination and information sharing between a range of men’s services, criminal justice agencies, family violence specialists and other support services, such as those dealing with mental health, alcohol and drugs.

But these responses have been significantly hampered by the COVID-19 restrictions, which limit the ability of victims to seek help and highlight the need for others to step in and report suspected abuse.

This raises the very real risk that new perpetrators will remain invisible for longer. Patterns of escalation among known perpetrators may also go “unchecked” unless they are monitored during this time of heightened risk.

Fewer men’s services during lockdown

One of the key ways known family violence perpetrators are held to account and kept in view is through men’s behaviour change programs (MBCPs).

These programs require men to attend weekly, group-based sessions, as well as engage in short or long-term case management programs.

An immediate impact of the coronavirus restrictions has been the suspension of some face-to-face men’s services and many MBCPs. While this has not stopped family violence interventions altogether, it does make known abusers less visible and may prevent them from getting the support they need.

Read more:
‘Cabin fever’: Australia must prepare for the social and psychological impacts of a coronavirus lockdown

Some men’s services are seeing a surge in demand for telephone services. Coinciding with the beginning of the lockdown last month, the Men’s Referral Service, a national telephone counselling service operated by No To Violence, has seen an alarming increase in calls from perpetrators of family violence.

This included a 94% increase in phone traffic and an average 20% increase in time spent with callers.

Despite the increased need, resources are still lacking. The federal government has announced a $1.1 billion boost in funding for mental health services, Medicare assistance and domestic violence support.

But this package does not specify additional funding to the Men’s Referral Service. Instead, the service makes do with funding from three states (Victoria, NSW and Tasmania).

In the absence of increased funding and availability of men’s services, proactive policing and random household checks of known, high-risk perpetrators will be critical during the lockdown.

Police resources have also been strained by the coronavirus crisis, but these spot checks should be seen as a priority. Victoria Police has recently committed to doing this.

Similarly, the Family Law Court has taken urgent action after reporting a 39% increase in applications relating to parenting orders over the past month.

Both the Family Law Court and Federal Circuit Court will fast-track cases in which there is an increased risk of family violence as a result of COVID-19 social restrictions. This may not guarantee long-term protection to women and children, but it brings perpetrators into view quicker when they are subject to urgent parenting orders during the crisis.

How the family violence system is innovating and adapting

Despite the current challenges, there has been a prompt response from the family violence service sector to the changing environment. For instance, some men’s intervention programs are adapting their strategies to reach known perpetrators who otherwise would be unsupported.

The Men’s Family Violence Intervention Centre in Victoria, for instance, has moved all 200 men in its program to online or telephone services.

To replace MBCP group sessions, facilitators contact each man and conduct a 30-minute phone call to discuss topics usually covered in group, as well as other sources of stress (job loss, financial pressure, isolation at home).

Read more:
What governments can do about the increase in family violence due to coronavirus

A pilot MBCP for perpetrators with problematic alcohol or other drug use, developed by TaskForce Community Agency, has taken similar actions.

With a new, in-person group meeting unable to start at the moment, men who had been referred to the service are now receiving a combination of phone support and educational materials via group emails. This allows the agency to “check in” with known perpetrators and keep them “in view” until the next face-to-face group can start again.

There are likely many other examples of adapted and innovative practices in Australia, which has been a leading nation in family violence reform over the last five years.

It is essential the momentum of the work advanced nationally to keep perpetrators in view is not lost during the crisis.

There is no road map to achieve this. But it is clear we must prioritise and provide resources for the monitoring, assessment and management of family violence perpetrators during this time to keep women and children safe.

The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.The Conversation

Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Monash University; Jessica Burley, , Monash University, and Silke Meyer, Associate Professor in Crimninology; Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What governments can do about the increase in family violence due to coronavirus


Melissa O’Donnell, University of Western Australia; Aron Shlonsky, Monash University; Ben Mathews, Queensland University of Technology; Fiona Arney, University of South Australia; Fiona Stanley, Telethon Kids Institute; Leah Bromfield, University of South Australia; Rhiannon Pilkington, University of Adelaide, and Rhonda Marriott, Murdoch University

Tackling a health crisis such as COVID-19, with society in lockdown can’t help but place families under strain.

It’s been reported family violence notifications to police nearly tripled in some areas of China’s Hubei province (where SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 originated) during the lockdown in February.

Some family violence organisations in Australia are already reporting a rise in demand for services.

The federal government recently announced A$1.1 billion for mental health services, domestic violence support and Medicare assistance for people at home, and emergency food relief. This support is welcome but more practical and creative measures are also required to protect vulnerable families.

COVID-19 and vulnerable children

Prior to the pandemic, in 2018-19, about 170,000 children aged up to 17 years (around 30 out of 1,000) received child protection services. These services include investigations, which may or may not lead to substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect, care and protection orders, or out-of-home care placements.

Most of these children remain in their families of origin with social workers from government and community agencies, as well as teaching, medical and other professionals supporting these families and monitoring children’s safety.

But the social structures and services which normally support children and families – such as schools, parenting or mother’s groups, and family services – have been removed or are operating at reduced capacity.

Read more:
Coronavirus and ‘domestic terrorism’: how to stop family violence under lockdown

Reduced service provision will amplify the pre-existing and COVID-19 related challenges that impact children’s safety. These include parental substance misuse, mental health problems and neglect.

Hard-to-detect types of abuse, such as child sexual abuse, are likely to increase. Studies show social isolation increases the risk for vulnerable children, allowing perpetrators greater ability to employ grooming strategies.

Read more:
Grooming: what parents should know and what schools should do if they suspect it

Existing family stress will be magnified through widespread job and income loss, food security issues in regional areas and medication shortages. The need for families to spend extended periods of time together in confined spaces will only add to the pressure, testing relationships and potentially exacerbating mental-health issues and aggressive behaviours.

One concern is that as families become more isolated due to the pandemic, children already at risk will be hidden at the same time that they are facing heightened danger from violence, abuse and neglect in their homes.

A recently released Canadian review of the literature on child welfare issues during pandemics found a number of challenges will confront welfare, family and community services. These include:

  • a decrease in in-home family support services, which reduces chances to detect and respond to health and care concerns

  • limits on substance abuse and addiction services

  • reduced visitation and reunification processes with parents, for children in out-of-home care

  • substantial court delays, including with child protection orders to determine if a child will return home or remain in out-of-home care

  • a decreased capacity among the major agencies who report child maltreatment and domestic violence, such as education and health, resulting in decreased detection of serious safety threats

  • a reduction in the capacity of police and child protection services to investigate and respond to serious safety threats.

At June 2019, there were 44,900 children in out-of-home care. Most of these children were in home-based care, with just over half cared for by relatives, such as grandparents, who are at higher risk of more severe effects of COVID-19.

Around 30% of children in out-of-home care also live with a disability or mental health issue. These children require high levels of support, which places extra pressure on carers who may be homeschooling while coping with reduced childcare and respite support.

What needs to be done

Government and community agencies are facing unprecedented and significant challenges. There is a real risk of some services and supports, that are essential to child safety, being overlooked as our attention is focused on COVID-19.

Read more:
The coronavirus lockdown could test your relationship. Here’s how to keep it intact (and even improve it)

Governments can employ a number of strategies to minimise the risk of further exacerbating issues in vulnerable families. These include:

  • continued and sustained financial support for families who suffer income and job loss, through timely access to unemployment benefits. This support must be enabled as soon as possible to reduce heightened individual and family stress

  • online consultations for mental health and addiction, so service provision is broader than just tele-health but includes community based support services. This can assist families in self-isolation to reduce symptom escalation and enable triaging of in-person support for those who need it

  • provide urgent support to service providers to develop policy on how to safely sustain service provision in the event of a community “lockdown”. Like health services, social services are essential for maintaining child and community safety.

  • use creative strategies to provide refuges and emergency accommodation for those seeking safety. Empty hotels and Airbnb rooms could be used for women and children at-risk. Regional community strategies will also be required to address this need with restricted travel being imposed

  • restrict alcohol sales, such as in Western Australia, which has imposed limits on how much alcohol a person can buy.

  • create flexible, innovative strategies, such as respite services and child care provisions for in-home support for families and carers who are vulnerable or who have children with high care needs.

  • extend care this year for young people turning 18 so they can remain in out-of-home care placements with foster and relative carers. Currently children in out-of-home care are required to leave their placements when they turn 18.

  • increase the workforce capacity for welfare and community agencies – downturns in other sectors may enable a boost in this workforce. For example people working in youth recreation who have lost their jobs could assist in youth support agencies as they have working with children checks and youth experience. Training will be challenging but not impossible.

  • encourage everyone who can to provide support to neighbours and friends who may be struggling. A phone call, virtual chat or a food delivery can make a huge difference.

This is a challenging time for everyone, but especially so for those already vulnerable. Australia can employ innovative strategies to address the health and safety concerns for our most vulnerable children and families.

The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.The Conversation

Melissa O’Donnell, Senior Research Fellow, University of Western Australia; Aron Shlonsky, Professor, Social Work, Monash University; Ben Mathews, Professor, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology; Fiona Arney, Chair and Director, Australian Centre for Child Protection, University of South Australia; Fiona Stanley, Perinatal and pediatric epidemiologist; distinguished professorial fellow, Telethon Kids Institute; Leah Bromfield, Associate Professor and Deputy Director, Australian Centre Child Protection, University of South Australia; Rhiannon Pilkington, Postdoctoral research fellow, BetterStart Child Health and Development Research Group, University of Adelaide, and Rhonda Marriott, Professor Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing, Murdoch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Rugby league may finally have reached its tipping point on player behaviour and violence

File 20190221 120329 1no56ia.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Sharks’ Ben Barba (centre) was sacked by his club after allegations he assaulted his partner.
AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Jessica Richards, Western Sydney University; Eric Anderson, University of Winchester, and Keith D. Parry, University of Winchester

St George Illawarra and NSW State of Origin player Jack de Belin has become the first player to be banned under a new “no fault stand down” policy introduced by the National Rugby League (NRL).

This policy allows the NRL to stand down players facing criminal charges that carry a jail term of 11 years or more, pending the outcome. Players will remain on full pay and will be allowed to continue to train with their teams until the matter is resolved.

In December 2018, the NRL was urged to take “urgent action” after a spate of allegations of domestic violence and assault by players. The sport’s governing body was accused of failing to adequately condemn these acts of violence against women.

Could it be that finally rugby league is listening to the criticism?

Just a few weeks ago, Ben Barba was sacked by his NRL club following allegations he physically assaulted his partner and mother of his four children. After a history of off-field incidents, he was deregistered by the NRL. Despite one former player speaking out in support of Barba, he has been widely condemned by the NRL community.

Violence on the field too often translates to violence off the field. Barba’s sacking should herald a culture shift in the NRL away from versions of masculinity that are exclusive and threatening to women. The sport must move towards a culture that is better aligned with the values of society.

Rugby League – a bastion of masculinity

For many years, rugby league has provided an outlet for violence that allows masculinity to be performed.

Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, league epitomised orthodox masculine characteristics such as aggressive competition and toughness. Fighting, confrontation and belligerence has been revered in media coverage and by the wider public. For example, The Footy Show valorised versions of masculinity that portrayed men as hyper-heterosexual, stoic and aggressive. The hosts repeatedly demonstrated disrespect for women.

But in recent years, social customs, gender relations and the expectations of even hyper-masculine warrior athletes began to change. The Footy Show has been cancelled; and evidence from America’s most similar sport, American football (NFL), suggests that since 2006, there has been a slight decrease in players arrested for domestic violence.

Barba’s sacking appears to provide evidence of an emerging social contract with masculinity. No longer is men’s violence acceptable to the public. Rugby League — finally now — is taking action.

While player welfare is important, so is the welfare of women. The “boys will be boys” excuse no longer stands. NRL endorsed campaigns, such as Power For Change, an initiative described as “empowering young people to be leaders of change against domestic violence”, appeared hypocritical in the face of five sexual assault charges in the most recent off-season. On the sixth, the NRL took action.

It appeared the Australian sporting community had had enough. NRL fans, particularly, were fed up with misbehaving players and seeking significant change. Sanctioning players with bans and fines has proven ineffective.

In addition to introducing their “no fault stand down policy”, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg has called on other codes to honour the NRL-imposed ban. The Northern Hemisphere Super League has closed the door on Barba and Rugby Australia boss, Raelene Castle, said they would also respect the NRL’s wishes.

Inclusive masculinities

The NRL is today at a crossroads.

There has been a highly visible, and extensively documented phenomenon that millennial men reject orthodox notions of masculinity. They instead value intimacy among friends, tactility, respect for women, and disregard for violence. Much of the reason for this is considered to be related to changing mores surrounding male homosexuality. When this changes, so does everything about masculinity.

The sociological work on this suggests that when heterosexual men exist in a culture that maintains high antipathy toward gay men (as existed in the 1980s), they will try to distance themselves from anything associated with gay men. Thus, men revere violence and stoicism, and hyper-sexualise women. They are thought weak for showing emotions concerning care for other men, or fear of confrontation.

However, as cultural attitudes have shifted, making homophobia and not homosexuality stigmatised, heterosexual men have more social freedom to express gender in ways that were once taboo. So it becomes permissible to talk your way through a problem with another male instead of fighting.

Scholars call this inclusive masculinity, but more colloquially it might be understood as a highly revered, feminised masculinity. In the last few decades, we have seen wholesale shifts to adolescent masculinities, something epitomised by the burgeoning of the “bromance”.

Read more:
The bromance is blossoming, says study

The NRL has divided fans with its recent rule change. Although the rule change sends a strong message to players and clubs that violence will not be tolerated within the code, until the wider culture of Rugby League begins embracing alternative forms of masculinity, the cause of the problem will still remain.The Conversation

Jessica Richards, Lecturer Sport Business Management, Western Sydney University; Eric Anderson, Professor of Masculinities, Sexualities and Sport, University of Winchester, and Keith D. Parry, Senior Lecturer in Sport Management, University of Winchester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison promises $78 million for combatting domestic violence

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is committing A$78 million to protect women and children against domestic violence, in a Monday speech with the theme of “Keeping Australians safe and secure”.

The money includes $60 million – over the next three years – in grants for organisations to provide emergency accommodation for those escaping family violence.

The government says the program will build up to 450 places and help up to 6,500 people annually. It will be structured to get contributions from other levels of government and from private sources.

The other $18 million will go to the Keeping Women Safe in their Homes program, which provides security upgrades and safety planning for women and children who need protection.

“We can’t ask women and children to leave dangerous homes if they have no place to go. And where it is safe, women and children survivors should be helped to remain in their homes and communities,” Morrison says in his speech, a text of which was released ahead of delivery.

He foreshadows more initiatives to deal with what has come to be a central issue for the Australian community. “We have also listened to the front-line workers and survivors throughout the consultations this past year.

“That is why one focus of our measures to be announced soon will be on prevention – on changing attitudes to violence, and on helping those who think violence is an option to stop,” he says.

In his wide-ranging speech covering foreign, local and personal security issues and risks, Morrison says the government has shown “the mettle to make the right calls on our nation’s security”, including by

  • repairing Australia’s borders
  • investing in the defence forces
  • deporting violent criminals
  • taking on domestic violence
  • disrupting terrorist attacks, and
  • restoring powers and resources to police, security and intelligence agencies.

Morrison says the government’s plan to keep people safe and secure “builds on our achievements and addresses the new and emerging threats we face as a country, as communities, families and individuals.

“These threats are both external and domestic.”

He presents a long list: “Regional tensions between the world’s great powers; heightened global instability; stiff headwinds facing the global economy; foreign interference; radical Islamist terrorism; people smuggling; natural disasters; organised crime; money laundering; biosecurity hazards; cybersecurity; the evil ice trade; violence against women on our streets; online predators and scammers; cyber-bullying of our children and elder abuse”.

Our plans and actions are designed to degrade, disrupt and destroy the impact of these threats to our nation’s security.

The government sees the issue of security, in various forms, as a political strength for it. The security plan follows Morrison’s recent speech outlining an economic plan including a commitment to the creation of 1.25 million jobs over five years.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why are rates of domestic violence in Australia still so high?

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One in six Australian women have experienced partner violence.
Isaac Holmgren/Unsplash

Heather Douglas, The University of Queensland

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data released this week as part of the Personal Safety Study (PSS) reveals 16% of Australian women have experienced partner violence.

The 2016 PSS was conducted across Australia and surveyed around 21,000 people about their experience of violence. The PSS was last run in 2012, and before that in 2005, so it’s possible to make some comparisons across time.

The statistics show a mixed picture. Overall, the proportion of Australians who report that they experienced violence in the past year has declined from 8.3% in 2005 to 5.4% in 2016.

However partner violence remains high, especially towards women.


Around one in six women (16% or 1.5 million) have experienced physical violence by a partner, compared with one in seventeen men (5.9% or 528,800).

Read more: Study confirms intimate partner violence leading health risk factor for women

Women were much more likely to experience physical violence from a previous partner than a current one. Around 2.9% of women reported violence by a current partner, while around 14.6% of women experienced violence by a previous partner. There has been little change in the partner violence figures since 2005.

In the last few years, significant resources have been devoted to changing attitudes towards domestic violence – so why aren’t the numbers going down?

One answer may be that broader attitudes towards women and relationships need to change and this takes a long time. Campaigns like Let’s Change the Story and The Line focus on creating the deep and long-lasting cultural change that’s needed but it’s probably still too early to see results.

Another answer might be that some people are changing, and using violence less. But as we talk more about domestic violence, it loses the stigma historically attached to it. As a consequence, more people are prepared to name it and report it. This keeps the figures stable.

The ABS statistics show that some women* report violence by their intimate partners after separation rather than during the relationship. Of the women who reported experiencing domestic violence, 92.4% were living with their partner and 7.6% were separated.

This is no surprise. Leaving the relationship may threaten an abuser’s sense of control and violence may be one tactic used in an effort to reassert control or punish the victim for leaving.

Read more: Why doesn’t she just leave? The realities of escaping domestic violence

In 1990, Martha Mahoney coined the term “separation assault” in recognition of the phenomenon. Separation is now a well-known risk factor for heightened violence. In government death reviews, actual or intended separation is a characteristic of a high proportion of intimate partner homicides.

Risk assessment tools that police and support services use in safety planning now routinely identify separation as a key risk factor for further violence and death.

As we reduce the stigma of naming domestic violence we may see more women seek help.
Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Notably, while the ABS statistics have remained relatively stable, calls on services have increased significantly over recent years. Applications for domestic violence protection orders in Queensland have jumped from 23,794 in 2012-13 to 32,221 in 2015-16 – a 26% rise.

Similarly in Victoria, 74,551 family violence and personal safety matters were heard by the Victorian Magistrates Court in 2015–16. This was a 27% increase since 2011–12.

In Queensland, reports to police of breach of domestic violence protection orders have more than doubled between 2012 and 2017 and these have also increased significantly in Victoria.

According to annual reports, calls for support to Queensland’s domestic violence support line, DVConnect, have tripled between 2012 and 2016. Safesteps, Victoria’s domestic violence support line, has seen a similar increase.

Read more: Deaths after seeking help point to priorities in tackling domestic violence

Given the ABS reports that figures on domestic violence remain relatively stable, why is there such an increase in requests for support and services?

The ABS statistics are collected through a survey and include questions about seeking help.

The increased numbers of applications for protection orders, reports of breach of those orders and increased calls to support services might suggest that people are increasingly willing to seek help in response to the violence they are experiencing.

Perhaps some are choosing to leave their violent partners. Again, this increase in help-seeking may be explained in part by a reduced stigma associated with domestic violence and the increased willingness of people to name it.

Another explanation might be that services are improving their understanding of domestic violence and are getting better at screening for domestic violence and making appropriate referrals.

Whatever the reason for them, the relative stability of the overall statistics in the ABS study leave no room for complacency. The figures remain too high.

As we reduce the stigma of naming domestic violence we may see more women seek help, and when they do they will often be placing themselves at serious risk. We need to continue to develop and resource robust responses to individual perpetrators and appropriate support for victims.

The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

The Conversation* This article originally said higher number numbers of women reported violence by their intimate partners after separation than during the relationship. This has now been corrected. The article also been amended to reflect that the ABS survey included questions about help-seeking.

Heather Douglas, Professor of Law, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.