There was unanimous and resounding applause from the general community when on 26 January this year, domestic violence campaigner, Rosie Batty was made Australian of the Year. Out of the most unimaginable circumstances, here was a woman who was determined to do what she could to wipe out the scourge of family violence.
By 28 January, the Prime Minister announced a new Advisory Committee to advise the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on its work on violence against women and asked COAG to prioritise the implementation of a national Domestic Violence Order (DVO) scheme.
However, when the media began to ask questions, it took less than a few minutes for one journalist to ask Mr Abbott about the knighting of Prince Philip in the Australia Day honours. And once that bridge was crossed, there was no going back to the topic of domestic violence.
This event reveals very two very important issues.
The first is that many in the Australian media thought that Prince Philip was the bigger and more interesting story, despite the fact that between 80 and 100 Australian women die at the hands of their male partners or ex-partners every year. And that a woman in Australia is more likely to be killed in her own home by her male partner than anywhere else, or by anyone else. Already in 2015, 9 women have been murdered, apparently at the hands of their partners or former partners.
The second issue is probably more critical. While I recognise the importance of having a national Domestic Violence Order (DVO) system that allows women to cross state borders with their legal protections intact, this move to have such a system nationalised at COAG is a band-aid solution that only comes into effect once a woman is already a victim of domestic violence. And as Rosie Batty can attest, these are orders that are far too regularly breached around the country.
At the press conference one journalist asked if this wasn’t an issue of such importance that it warranted a ‘road safety campaign’ type intervention that focuses on prevention. In what could be seen as a parallel policy response to violence, efforts to reduce alcohol fuelled ‘one-punch’ attacks resulted in changes to hotel and pub lock out times. The impact has been extremely positive with a notable reduction in alcohol fuelled violent crime on NSW streets. And the focus on prevention was critical to its success.
So if female victims matter as much as male victims, then why isn’t domestic and family violence being treated with the same urgency?
With the issue at epidemic proportions across the whole country, why are we not acting as though domestic and family violence is now a national emergency?
While there are notable exceptions, such as the Victorian Government’s Royal Commission into Family Violence, which has been widely welcomed by advocates, there still seems to be a distinct lack of urgency in responding to this issue. This is despite the fact that the data clearly shows that intimate partner violence is the leading cause of preventable death for Australian women aged between 15 and 44.
It is estimated that violence perpetrated against women alone costs the Australian economy $13.6 billion each year. By 2021 this figure is predicted to increase to $15.6 billion.
When will we stop focusing on what women can do, when victims should flee, and why they stay with their abusive partner? Instead, when will we start looking at the behaviour of the perpetrators of violence, the role of men and how to break the stronghold of silence from our society?
At DCA, we recognise that employers can play a significant role in supporting and protecting victims of domestic violence in the workplace. Despite the best efforts of many victims to separate their professional or working life from their ‘private’ concerns, the reality is that our work and home spheres often blur.
Only a few weeks ago we heard in the media about 26 year old Leila Alavi who was found dead in the carpark of the Sydney shopping centre where she worked as a hairdresser’s assistant - her former husband has been refused bail after being charged with her murder.
Perpetrators of domestic violence may also make it difficult for victims to attend work, and abusive phone calls or emails are common ways that family violence is seen in the workplace. The strain of domestic violence may impact an employee’s performance, productivity or wellbeing. Colleagues and managers may also be targeted, posing both workplace safety and liability issues.
Yet as businesses and employers, we can make a difference.
Some of Australia’s largest businesses are leading the way in their support of victims of domestic violence. In 2013, NAB became the first major Australian bank to introduce a Domestic Violence Support Policy. NAB employees who experience domestic violence can access counselling and additional leave as required. They will also be offered flexibility in managing their work schedules, and if necessary, a change of work location.
In January this year, Telstra announced that any staff who are victims of domestic violence may access an additional 10 days of paid leave per year. This builds on their existing support for victims of family violence, offering silent phone numbers to domestic violence victims free of charge (normally, a fee is attached to requesting a silent number) and donating 5000 smart phones, each equipped with $30 credit, to domestic violence services across Australia. Given that many perpetrators use mobile phones to trace or attack their partners, Telstra donated the phones to allow victims access to a safe and protected phone line to seek help.
As two of Australia’s largest employers, these initiatives demonstrate how business can practically demonstrate their commitment to workplace safety, flexibility and gender equality.
It’s about time that finally, in 2015, domestic and family violence is increasing its profile on the national agenda, and hopefully, on the agenda in our workplaces.
Although long overdue, these winds of change will be warmly welcomed by Australian business, family violence campaigners and most importantly, by the victims that are living in communities everywhere. Victims like Rosie Batty whose horrific and heartbreaking stories we cannot ignore.
Resources for employers
There is a range of resources available for employers and employees to assist them in better understanding the issues surrounding domestic violence, and to support victims in the workplace.
- The University of NSW’s Gendered Violence Research Network provides a range of excellent resources on the issue of domestic violence and its impact on the workplace. There are resources focusing on workers experiencing family violence, advice for employers on how to create suitable OH&S policies with domestic violence reflected as well as tips for how employers can best support their staff in situations of domestic violence.
- Our Watch is a new community education initiative focused on addressing violence against women & children. Advice is available for employers to better support employees experiencing domestic violence.
- The Australian Human Rights Commission has developed 'Good practice, good business' resources to provide practical information for employers to ensure that Australian workplaces are free from discrimination and harassment.
- The White Ribbon Foundation is a national, male led Campaign to end men’s violence against women. A Workplace Accreditation Program is available which recognises workplaces that are taking active steps to prevent and respond to violence against women by accrediting them as a White Ribbon Workplace.
Chief Executive Officer
Diversity Council Australia
 The ABS Personal Safety Survey 2006
 Destroy the Joint web campaign
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Bridging the Data Gaps for Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence, Australia Commonwealth of Australia