Family violence in Victoria: a mainstreamed multicultural response

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This month family violence prevention came a long way here in Victoria. Not only were the 2000+ pages of the Royal Commission into Family Violence findings handed down, the government took immediate action by allocating half a billion dollars to address 65 of the 227 recommendations. Many of us have sighed with relief. Many of us have celebrated. The decisive cultural shift that brought us to this watershed moment is going to be translated into practical strategies.

We can now see a future in which women and children are valued enough that they can find redress and safety if they are subjected to violence. We can even look forward to a future in which family violence is eliminated altogether.

The most urgent actions that flow from the Commission’s report are in the area of crisis response for women and children in danger and in need of emergency and transitional housing. There will be a more effective and immediate response in the area of support, police and housing, as well as a coordinated approach to information sharing across services.

Less immediately, but equally importantly, women will have better access to information about family violence through an expanded website, and a new support system through support and safety hubs across Victoria. These hubs will provide single-entry points into all of the services that women and children need, from specialist family violence support to perpetrator programs.

The myriad initiatives (and so far in this little summary we’re only up to recommendation 37) will transform the policing and service landscape over the coming years of implementation. Longer term, the Commission requires a significant investment and focus in the area of gender equality and violence prevention.

How will all of this imminent change impact on immigrant and refugee communities in Victoria? The Royal Commission found that immigrant and refugee women are disproportionately affected by family violence and that there exist serious barriers to family violence service access. Drawing heavily on our ASPIRE research, the Commission report identified that family violence is facilitated and exacerbated in the lives of women and children from immigrant and refugee communities by factors such as immigration policy, social exclusion and isolation, poor interpreting services and a lack of culturally appropriate support.

It is incumbent on us now to join the dots between the process of transforming the family violence system and knowing what will work well for immigrant and refugee women. In multicultural Victoria – with 46.8% of the community either born overseas or with one or both parents born overseas – we clearly must see the needs of immigrant and refugee communities as being a central part of a mainstream response. In fact, it should be the mainstream response.

A new web site, for example, must be multilingual and culturally meaningful if it hopes to meet the needs of all women. We should recognise too that for many women and for many reasons, a website can be as difficult to access as a real life service: complementary ways of providing information must also be developed if we hope to reach all Victorian women, regardless of their education, financial position, age and ability.

Similarly, we must ensure that safety and support hubs are accessible and equitable for every woman. This is more than the hubs being open to all: women need to know what and where a safety hub is, and need to trust that they will find cultural, as well as physical, safety. To ensure this, we must harness the expertise of Victoria’s multicultural women’s specialist services and the vital linking work of the bicultural and bilingual workforce. This is not only key for response, but will pave the way for wins in the area of gender equality and primary prevention in the near future.

At this amazing juncture we are proud to be a part of the positive change happening in Victoria. The community has expressed a recognition of the value of women and children’s health and safety, and the importance of gender equality. It is our profound hope that this point in time is inclusive and intersectional – a point in time that transforms lives for all women and children in Victoria.

What does the Royal Commission into Family Violence mean for multicultural communities?