It’s been a big week in the long journey towards putting a stop to domestic and family violence in Australia. There has been good news, horrible news and, for me, two big take outs.
Firstly, this country is finally ready to take seriously the huge task of tackling crisis levels of domestic and family violence.
And secondly, we cannot continue to assume that the support services women escaping domestic and family violence need are the same support services that children need.
My heart sank when I saw the news of a 12 year old girl murdered in the Hunter region, allegedly by her de facto stepfather. My sadness quickly turned to anger that this continues to happen, and almost fury when I saw it referred to as a “domestic incident”.
Murder is never a “domestic incident” and we are not allowing the gravity of these atrocious acts to be fully felt when language like that is condoned.
Days later, in a high for the thousands of Australians who have been calling for action to stop crisis levels of domestic and family violence, the Prime Minister stood up and stated that it was time to acknowledge that violence against woman stems from gender inequality and that it has no place in our communities.
This was followed by the announcement of an investment of $100 million to improve frontline services response to domestic and family violence, for initiatives to develop resources for teachers, parents and students on respectful relationships and support for a broader national campaign to shift attitudes that perpetuate this violence.
The need to genuinely grapple with what it will take to break the cycle of violence, to ensure women get the support they need and that they are safe is finally hitting home to our leaders. This commitment and first step is great to see.
But I cannot stop thinking about that 12 year old girl and that what we are overlooking when it comes to strategies around domestic and family violence is dedicated support services for children.
We know how badly domestic and family violence affects children, they are experiencing trauma and the effects of that trauma without the proper support and intervention can be long-lasting.
But we also know that access to the right support services can make a world of difference.
Women's refuges pioneered in this area - picking up on the need for dedicated child support workers and incorporating activities and safe spaces into refuges for children to build their confidence, learn new things, express themselves and make new friends. Other types of specialist children's therapeutic services similarly exist. But it's slim pickings in this delicate and specialist area where unmet need exists.
While support services for women will naturally have flow on benefits for children, these responses alone are not enough. Children need comparable specialised responses as much as women do and while the package announced this week was a fantastic beginning, I yearned for some targeted commentary and commitment for our children.
I wonder if that little girl had anywhere safe that she felt that she could go, any choice or alternative? In these situations as vulnerable as women are, children are even more so.
At best, experiences of domestic and family violence have impacts on health, development and wellbeing. Without ongoing support the problems can compound over time, impacting on every aspect of children’s lives.
At worst, children’s lives are in grave danger.
At what feels like the precipice of real change and real progress we mustn’t let this crucial piece of the puzzle slip - the opportunity we have is too great and the potential losses too dire.