Moo Baulch on domestic violence: We've finally admitted we have a problem - now what?

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Moo Baulch

"There are a number of significant challenges. There are still many stories that aren't being told," writes Moo Baulch.

"There are a number of significant challenges. There are still many stories that aren't being told," writes Moo Baulch. Photo: Stocksy

2015 is the year that Australians finally admitted that we have a serious problem. It is fatal, far-reaching and has reached epidemic proportions. It's devastating families in every corner of our country, it crosses all cultures and socio-demographics and impacts every community from those living in the most remote, isolated circumstances to the leafy affluent suburbs in our cities. It kills innocent people and leaves millions of others damaged and traumatised. The victims of this national disgrace are primarily women and children but men are also being murdered, stalked, harassed and intimidated. Our national problem, Australia's collective disgrace, is domestic and family violence.

There's been a huge media focus on domestic violence thanks to the profile of strong survivor advocates such as Rosie Batty, with prominent community leaders like Linda Burney sharing the most intimate details from their personal stories of survival and a long awaited shift in language and ideology from our political leaders. Destroy the Joint have been Counting Dead Women for some time now but in recent months mainstream Australians have begun to see these previously anonymous women's names, faces and stories. The cumulative stories of women killed by partners and ex-partners this year could fill a book. We can no longer claim that we don't know what domestic violence looks like; it has many faces. They are women from all walks of life.

The nation has also been witness to the impacts on the families of many of the 78 women who have been murdered to date in 2015. We've seen devastated parents and siblings grappling to understand senseless, brutal deaths and asking themselves whether they could have done anything to prevent them. Grandparents and children have made pleas for systemic, legal and political change so that the lives of these women will not have been lost in vain. A 14-year-old girl changed government policy after losing her mother to suicide as a result of domestic violence and calling for NSW schools to teach children about intimate partner abuse. Following massive popular support through an online campaign, "Rachel" was told that NSW schools would begin including domestic violence in the syllabus as of 2016. We have a long way to go but things are shifting.

<i>Sarah Ferguson: Hitting Home</i> airs on ABC tonight.

Sarah Ferguson: Hitting Home airs on ABC tonight. Photo: ABC

This week, the ABC will take us to places that cameras have never been able to film before. Earlier this year, Sarah Ferguson and crew spent six months working alongside refuge workers, police, court support and forensic medical examiners to tell the stories of those on the frontline of support services. In Hitting Home, we will see women who have just left the violence, children speaking eloquently about the impacts of growing up as witnesses to the abuse and hear the stories of power and control. We will hear from the men who harm them too. Later in the week, we will have insight into the world of men's behaviour change programs when Call Me Dad invites us to watch what happens when men who use violence attend groups which challenge their behaviour and the impacts of their violence.  

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Thanks to the combined forces of community, activists and the mainstream Australian media, women's domestic violence deaths now make headlines and front pages. The lucky country's well-hidden secret, the private violence that once existed only behind closed doors, is now out in the open and some days it's everywhere we look. But it's time to think about how we move beyond the voyeurism and tackle the problem as a nation.

What is the next step now that public awareness is almost saturated with images of women being killed by those who should love and respect them the most? Two weeks ago, the National Prevention Foundation, Our Watch, launched 'Change the Story', a framework collating the latest evidence on violence against women. Our Watch's research unequivocally demonstrates what feminists have been telling the world for decades - violence against women comes from gender inequality. The more equal a society, the less violence-supportive attitudes are socially embedded and perpetuated.

Moo Baulch, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW.

Moo Baulch, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW. Photo: ABC

There are a number of significant challenges. There are still many stories that aren't being told. When she shared her experiences earlier this year, Linda Burney talked about the significant number of Aboriginal women facing unimaginable levels of violence that are normalised because abuse is so widespread in some communities. Similarly, we know that people with disability experience violence at horrific rates in their homes, in institutional settings and when trying to access support. Transgender women experience increased rates of intimate partner violence and abuse in daily life. We need to better understand men as victims of violence and have conversations about male victims without the conversation being hijacked by the vitriol of men's rights activists. We are less comfortable confronting the realities of some community and individuals stories, perhaps because we are fearful that we don't yet have all the answers?

The solution is coordinated, long-term, collaborative work. This is no longer "just" women's business or solely the job of crisis refuges or governments and there are no quick, easy fixes. It's no longer good enough to look to others for reasons or solutions. Of course, we need long-term funding for well-resourced services that are specialised and experienced in working with women, families and communities impacted by violence and trauma. We have an incredibly stretched support system that has had to fight for decades for adequate funding and continues to be undervalued and under pressure. But this is only part of the answer. The long-term solution is intergenerational change that requires every man and woman, young person, celebrity and community leader to commit to challenging gender inequality and violence-supportive attitudes. It requires us all to be on the same page.

If the question this year has been "why?", then the answer to these unfathomable deaths lies in Australia's sports clubs, hairdressing salons, banks, building sites, real estate agents, multinational corporations and schools.

Moo Baulch is the CEO of Domestic Violence NSW. She will appear on a special episode of Q&A on Wednesday 25 November, following the conclusion of Hitting Home at 8.30pm on ABC.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au