“Women Can’t Keep Dying At This Pace.” Tackling Australia’s Domestic Violence Crisis

women protest at a women's march in sydney

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When it comes to the domestic violence crisis, we are caught in a devastating loop.

High-profile incidents attract a great deal of media attention, there are rallies, politicians say things, and then… not much happens. And the cycle starts again. Throughout, however, women are killed by intimate partners at an alarming rate.

Last year, the number of women killed in a domestic violence incident increased by almost 30 percent. This year, 28 women have died. There have been high-profile cases, a terrorist incident, and people showing their outrage outside of Parliament House. Women are sleeping in tents and cars to escape dangerous living situations. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called an emergency cabinet meeting and announced a plan, which has been described as lacking urgency. (He also appeared a bit defensive when speaking to the rally, which was not appreciated.) 

To get some perspective on this crisis — and to be reminded of what really matters — we spoke to Amanda Greavey, General Manager of the Lou’s Place, a crisis centre that provides a variety of services to women in need.

Nick Bhasin, Junkee: How have you and your team been managing, given everything that’s been going on recently?

Amanda Greavey: It’s raised a number of different emotions. The Bondi attack, all of the deaths in this past year and before… the pace at which women are dying… it’s very difficult to deal with because it’s the work that we do. And we see women all the time who have experienced domestic violence. We’re a women’s drop-in centre, so we have a domestic violence service, but that’s not all we do. We have 40-plus women here on average that come here every day and I would say conservatively 80 percent of them have experienced domestic or family violence or sexual assault.

On one hand, the recent media attention has been heartening. I’m hopeful that it will drive action and bring about some change because something’s got to happen. Women can’t keep dying at this pace. We have to do something to stop that. But the other side of that is, with the Prime Minister saying he wants to do a Royal Commission… that will take years and we already know what works. Just having a bit of a talk isn’t enough. That’s what concerns me. 

I hope this [recent attention] will bring about some type of change. But is it actually going to do that or is it just going to be more talking and lots of media hype and then it’ll just die out? That’s my fear. We’ve got so many domestic violence plans and national strategies and women are still dying.

There does seem to be a cyclical aspect to the way we talk about these things, as if it’s the same conversation over and over again.

That’s what bothers me because when we’re not talking about it, it’s still there. Domestic violence is still happening. This is not a new thing. [Meanwhile], services have been crying out for extra funding for years. They’re constantly in a position where they just can’t support the women who are showing up to their door saying ‘Please help’. 

As someone who works at Lou’s Place, do you experience things like the reported 30 percent spike in women killed by an intimate partner more immediately?

I definitely do. I do think there has been an increase, [but] I don’t know what that’s about. I’ve worked directly with the women and the patterns and the stories of the women’s lives… that hasn’t really changed. But in saying that, honestly, when we’re walking around the community, we may not know that we’re talking to somebody who’s experienced domestic violence. But we all are. 

What do you think of the Leaving Violence Program?

Well, if the women get the $5,000, that’ll be a great help. But in the past, what I’ve seen play out is they will say, ‘No, you can’t have this because you need to spend it this way’, and they put a whole lot of specifications around it. It makes it almost impossible to access that sort of support. We spend a lot of our time trying to work out how to reestablish women in homes. Mind you, $5,000 does not establish a home for you when you’ve left everything behind, particularly if there are children involved. You still have to have a relationship with this person and this person is still finding ways to financially control you. Honestly, it’s better than nothing, but it doesn’t really do what it needs to do. Maybe I’m cynical. That’s just my experience.

Are there changes you would prefer to see?

Look, honestly, the $5,000 is great. I think the way that it was pitched was that it would encourage women to leave often. Sometimes finances are absolutely a reason [they can’t leave], but there are a lot of other reasons, including the fact that the risk goes up.

[I’d like to see more] services, somewhere for women to go, so they’re not getting turned away, so they can be supported. I’ve run services where women  have ended up in a motel and then they don’t know where to go from there. Now there are a couple of services that actually have dealt with that but they don’t get enough funding. Lou’s Place doesn’t get any government funding.

[Also], train the people that deal with domestic violence. Make it easier, if there’s an AVO in place and they are breached then breach them and have that mean something. Houses for women to go to. It can take up to 20 years to get into housing. If there’s domestic violence, sure, [things move more quickly], but that’s still years. There’s nowhere to put people. 

It starts with getting people with lived experience and actually listening to what they will find beneficial — instead of a Royal Commission.

While the conversation around support for victims is very important, it feels like people also want more education and awareness and more of a focus on perpetrators as well. 

Absolutely. I’m an extremely big advocate for that. I’ve got a son and not all men are perpetrators of violence. However, we do need to support men in the community from a very young age, help them to deal with their emotions and get to the bottom of that power and control impulse. And support other men to call it out and make it not okay.

Women do a lot already to protect ourselves everywhere we go. It’s second nature. And men also need to make that known. That education is absolutely pivotal. And it’s micro things that we don’t even realise that we do. I think we’ve gotten better, but we still don’t seem to value women as much as we value men. 

What was the reaction to the PM’s controversial speech outside Parliament House on April 28?

It has quite an impact on the women when all of this stuff happens. It brings stuff up. As women we build all of these protections for ourselves, psychological protections. And one of those is that I minimise my experience. So when all of this stuff comes up, it has quite a large impact, and takes quite an emotional toll. 

What is your overall impression of leadership? What would you like to see from the PM?

I’d like to see him take this seriously. It has to be more than just talking. It needs to be more than that. Just the Royal Commission thing… maybe that speaks to a man who doesn’t know where to go, but you’re the Prime Minister. 

Domestic Violence NSW put out a whole list of all of the different strategies. I was reading and thought, ‘Oh, that’s right. We did that, that domestic violence plan, that national strategy…’ There’s this massive list. You almost get a little exhausted from it. You’ve got all of these. Don’t create another bit of paper. Don’t go away and tell us that you’re going to take years to do something. You’re the Prime Minister. Just make it happen. He says, ‘Oh, we’ve put this amount into funding and we spend all of these dollars on funding and aid…’ Yeah. You do. But it’s not enough. It’s still not having the effect that’s required. There are services screaming that they can’t meet the needs of women.

Does it leave you with the impression that there’s mainly a lot of talk, rather than action?

Absolutely. That’s what it feels like. It just feels like a lot of lip service. Doing a Royal Commission… they’re just trying to delay things. ‘Oh, we’ll do this and we’ll make this promise. And then once we’ve done that, then we will look at it’. Well, that’s two years at least before you do anything.

That can leave people with the impression that there’s a lack of courage and decisiveness.

I think so. I’m looking for [the PM] to step up and be brave, and make some decisions and implement some stuff, put some money into services. You’ve already looked at law reform… Stuff’s already there. Do it. 

The Royal Commission thing just makes me a bit angry.

Well, even after a Royal Commission, there’s no guarantee the recommendations will be implemented.

Right. We know that if they do a Royal Commission, it’ll take forever and then there’ll still be a lot of monkeying around. It will get really watered down and more deaths will happen and we’ll end up having the same conversations. 

That’s how people get cynical.

That’s how you get women like me sitting here going, ‘No, it’s not good enough.’ On the news, when I see that another woman has been killed, I just assume it’s domestic violence. I’m almost a bit surprised if it isn’t. That’s not how it should be.

If this article has brought something up for you, or a loved one, please call:

1800 FULL STOP (1800 385 578)

1800 Respect National Helpline: 1800 737 732

Sexual Assault Helpline: 1800 010 120

Women’s Crisis Line: 1800 811 811

Lifeline (24-hour Crisis line): 131 114

Mensline: 1300 789 978

13YARN: 13 92 76, to speak with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Crisis Supporter

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Image: Getty