The fact that Victorian police attended more than 50,000 family violence incidents in 2011 – 2012 is no cause for celebration. But, according to their Annual Report, the dramatic rise of 43.3% in the number of reported family violence related assaults should actually be seen as a positive, because “it indicates greater confidence and willingness on the part of victims to report such incidents”.
Given some of the truly shocking statistics on violence against women in Australia, the police may have a point. In a recently published report the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) reminded us that almost every week in Australia one woman is killed by her current or former partner, often after a history of domestic violence. If an increase in reporting leads to a decrease in family violence then count us all in — particularly considering that one in three women has experienced physical violence and that three quarters of these assaults occur in the home.
But hang on, are we all in? Are we all counted? The statistics are shocking but, on some subjects, they are also silent. One of the key issues raised by the AHRC Report is the number of barriers migrant and refugee women face in reporting their experience that place them outside the reach of ‘mainstream’ services. Lack of awareness that the violence they are experiencing is unlawful, fear of consequences for their community or for their place in it, fear of authority, racism and a lack of culturally and linguistically accessible information and services are all factors which make reporting among migrant and refugee women an even greater issue. Without reporting, the real statistics on violence against migrant and refugee women, and on women in Australia as a whole, remain mere speculation.
Women’s confidence and willingness to report is one side of the story. Structural and policy mechanisms that support more vulnerable women to report is the other. Both make up the whole picture that, combined with our old friend prevention, will pave the way for a future free of violence against women. That will really be something to celebrate.