More needs to be done to end domestic violence, especially in regional and rural Australia

29 NOVEMBER 2019

Professor Deborah Warr’s research has focused on a wide range of health and social issues, including domestic and family violence, and she firmly believes more needs to be done to end domestic violence, especially in rural and regional Australia.

Professor Deborah WarrIt’s November and the annual 16 Days Of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign, which Charles Sturt University (Charles Sturt) publicly supports, has come around again. Coordinated by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, the campaign presents an important opportunity to reflect on the progress we, as a global community, are making towards our goals of eradicating violence against women and children in our communities.

The success of international campaigns such as 16 Days requires national, regional and local efforts. That is why it is important for local communities, particularly in regional and remote areas across Australia, to support the international efforts aimed at reducing gender-based violence.

Family, domestic or intimate partner violence remain the most common forms of violence experienced by women in Australia, and children are frequently caught up in their harmful effects. A report from the Australian Institute of Family Studies shows that women living outside of capital cities are at higher risk of experiencing violence from their partners compared to those living in a capital city.

This higher rate of family, domestic or intimate partner violence in regional areas has been attributed to a range of factors. These include concerns that there may be higher risks of family violence among Aboriginal women, who are more likely to live in a regional area, compared to non-Aboriginal women. Other factors include social and geographic isolation, and stressors associated with ‘natural’ disasters such as fires, floods and drought. Gender relations and practices that endorse men’s sense of authority and entitlement to control women in intimate relationships are also key.

Although these stressors and gender practices provide many insights, they cannot explain what causes some men to use violence against their partner. Most men, many of whom may have experienced these stressors, do not use violence, and while domestic and intimate partner violence is strongly gendered, it can also be present in same-sex relationships.

Community tolerance of family violence is slowly declining and governments are being put under pressure to reform service systems, improve response capabilities, build workforce capacity and develop effective approaches for primary prevention.

There are ongoing challenges in adapting these strategies for regional and rural settings. Services remain thin on the ground and specialist services are particularly scarce. This is unlikely to change so we need to innovate by developing tailored and hybrid approaches to support women and children to escape and recover from family violence.

A recent study found that ‘hub and spoke’ models that combine crisis responses, outreach activities and community development can best meet the needs of women in diverse circumstances. Local participation in designing and refining these models is critical.

Encouragingly, the study found geographic isolation and small populations are not barriers for women getting access to family violence services. Social isolation among women, however, was a significant factor. Some commentary suggests higher rates of gun ownership may also deter women from seeking help. The lack of privacy also discourages victims, and perpetrators, from seeking help. A lack of services and programs for perpetrators are critical gaps in regional and rural service systems.

Extended family are important sources of support and assistance in dealing with family violence, especially for Aboriginal women, so ensuring community access to accurate advice and information is key. Education for rurally-based professionals is important when dedicated services are not locally available.

Given the higher rates of domestic violence in regional and rural communities, it is important for organisations in these areas to take a stand in eradicating gender-based violence. The statistics around violence in Australia, particularly in regional and rural areas, is just one of the reasons Charles Sturt has publically pledged its commitment to the 16 Days campaign and to ending gender-based violence. The University understands its responsibility to promote gender equity and challenge gender-based violence in the communities in which it operates.

There remains much work to be done in reducing violence against women and children in regional and rural areas, and it requires ongoing commitment, cooperation and resourceful thinking.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or the Respect national hotline on 1800 737 732.

Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Professor Deborah Warr, contact Rebecca Tomkins at Charles Sturt Media on 6365 7111 or news@csu.edu.au

Professor Deborah Warr is a sociologist and Senior Principal Research Fellow at Charles Sturt University’s Three Rivers University Department of Rural Health

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