Counting The Cost Of Violence Against Women

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Today, former South Australian senator and leader of the Democrats, Natasha Stott-Despoja AM, is in Canberra to meet with the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Senator Michaelia Cash.

Stott-Despoja is the chair of the newly created Foundation to Prevent Violence Against Women and their Children. The national foundation was established by the former federal Labor Government and the current Victorian Liberal Government. She writes on the importance of a bipartisan and well-resourced approach in order to tackle this confronting issue.

There is no single definition of violence against women.

The 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women described the term to mean “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.

Almost 20 years on this definition holds, not only in defining and describing the range of acts that may constitute violence against women but calling on state parties (countries like Australia) to condemn violence against women and pursue, by all appropriate means, a policy of elimination violence against women.

In Australia, violence against women is a well-recognised area of service response and public policy focus across governments and non-government organisations alike. The determined and persistent advocacy of women (in the community, in politics and in governments), women’s organisations and their supporters over many decades has ensured this outcome.

In 2011, Commonwealth, state and territory governments signed off on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, committing to a 12 year timeframe to reduce violence against women and their children in this country.

This policy platform draws on the UN definition of violence against women as gender based violence. Through this commitment, all governments were aligned in recognising the unequal impact that violence has on women in Australia and on particular groups of women.

For women in Australia the prevalence of sexual assault, and domestic and family violence (as the more common forms of violence against women), harms and limits the lives of about a third of Australian women — not to mention the children and young people for whom they are likely to be the primary carer.

As the National Plan recognises, violence against women in Australia takes many forms and has multiple impacts (at individual/relationship, organisational, community and societal levels). Effective prevention requires continued public policy efforts in a range of areas including homelessness, family law reform, child and family welfare, and Indigenous disadvantage.

Singular definitions of domestic and family violence, and sexual assault do not exist — as an experience and offence, they are described and defined differently in policy and in legislation throughout Australia — but their impact is undeniable.

Reports estimate the cost of violence against women and their children to the Australian economy to be $13.6 billion and calculated to rise to $15.6 billion by 2021-22 without appropriate action. Of these future costs, the largest cost category of pain, suffering and premature mortality is borne by victims/survivors and comprises 48 per cent (or $8.1 billion) of the total cost. The next largest cost burden is on governments at 19 per cent ($2.9 billion) with employers bearing a 3 per cent (or $456 million) proportion of total cost.

The Victorian Health Promotion Foundation researched (pdf) the health burden of intimate partner violence in the state of Victoria. It found this violence contributes 9 per cent to the total disease burden of Victorian women aged 15 to 44 years. Of this total disease burden 60 per cent is due to mental health problems. This violence was the leading contributor to illness, disability and premature death for this group, over and above other known risk factors of obesity, high cholesterol and blood pressure and illicit drug use.

Some of the fatal consequences of domestic and family violence are recorded and analysed in the National Homicide Monitoring Program of the Australia Institute of Criminology. Of the 185 domestic homicides recorded between July 2008 and June 2010, 66 per cent were classified as intimate partner homicide.

Consistent with previous homicide monitoring reports females continue to be overrepresented as victims of intimate partner homicide comprising 73 per cent of intimate partner homicide victims for the reporting period.

Not all violence and abuse is criminal or results in loss of life. Yet it is well recognised that the intention and impact of violence against women and children is to control through fear and place their safety and wellbeing at risk, both immediately and over the long term.

Violence against women is increasingly accepted to be grounded in the way our communities and institutions form and value the roles and contributions of men and women. Views about gender, whether personal, shared or institutional, matter. If you agree with the statement that discrimination against women is no longer a problem in the workplace in Australia or that on the whole, men make better political leaders than women, these are indicators of holding “violence-supportive” views about violence against women.

In terms of community attitudes, on the face of it, it is a big step forward to know that a majority of Australians consider violence against women to be a serious issue and understand what it looks like and who it effects. However, unpicking the views and associated behaviours that diminish and demean women’s contributions and citizenship, and which are the core of permitting violence against women to continue, is the heart of our challenge.

If we are going to make a real and lasting difference in reducing the experience and impact of violence against women and their children across our nation then a mature and assured conversation about men and women, our roles, rights and responsibilities is what needs to be encouraged.

The vision of the organisation I now head as inaugural Chair, the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children, is that all Australians reject violence against women and their children. 

New Matilda national affairs correspondant Ben Eltham is on leave. NM has invited a range of former politicians and commentators to write in his absence.

New Matilda

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