The research, Landscapes of Violence: Women Surviving Family Violence in Regional and Rural Victoria, recommends a range of measures to be considered over time, but calls for an immediate urgent increase to funding for services, including legal and criminal justice agencies and housing.
The report from Deakin’s Centre for Rural and Regional Law and Justice, released today, also recommends governments at all levels take immediate measures to adopt a more holistic community response to violence and a focussed approach to address the growing incidence of technology-facilitated abuse and stalking.
Deakin researcher Bridget Harris said the report found women in rural and regional Victoria experienced both geographical and social isolation and were more visible and exposed to risk within their communities compared to women in metropolitan regions.
Dr Harris said the Deakin research was the first to look at technology-facilitated abuse and stalking in a geographic context.
“The majority of the 30 survivors interviewed during the study, from five rural and regional Victorian towns, experienced technology-facilitated abuse and a significant number experienced technology-facilitated stalking,” she said.
“But it was rare that they felt this was adequately recognised and responded to by police and magistrates. Many survivors felt this was a serious failing of the justice system.
“Technology-facilitated abuse can extend geographic and social isolation. It is spaceless, so even if a woman escapes violence and relocates, she can still be exposed to it.
“Aside from emotional and psychological tolls, there is evidence that women and their children are in much greater danger of being seriously or fatally harmed if they are experiencing technology-facilitated stalking.”
“Safety and security at court and variable police responses are also issues of concern. Some survivors had extremely positive experiences with police, while others were extremely negative.
“This suggests that the Victoria Police Code of Practice for the Investigation of Family Violence has not been uniformly implemented.”
The report found specialist family violence courts and family violence police were highly regarded but not easily accessed by survivors in regional and rural areas.
Fellow Deakin researcher and lawyer Amanda George said another key issue found in the report was that despite the introduction of the Victorian Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) some police and magistrates did not recognise, validate or understand the occurrence and impacts of non-physical violence.
“To overcome this and to better respond to family violence, we need social campaigns and a holistic approach, such as involving GPs and schools,” Ms George said.
She said despite the high profile family violence received after the tragic death of 11-year-old Luke Batty at the hand of his father, government cuts to family violence and legal services placed regional and rural women and their children at greater risk.
“Cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support services will also place further pressures on already over-burdened and under-resourced agencies and have wide-ranging and devastating repercussions,” Ms George said.
“To increase access to justice and reduce the harms, incidence and costs of family violence we need further resources and strategies to overcome barriers faced by regional and rural survivors.
“Apart from the enormous social cost of family violence, the impact on the Victorian economy is around $4 billion a year. Governments need to do more to support survivors and agencies that respond to this scourge within our communities.”
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