While yesterday's news from the NSW State Government is definitely reason for celebration, the proposed new NSW Domestic Violence Framework is largely the same old story when it comes to ignoring the plight of male victims of family violence and abuse.
Here's a lovely example of its philosophical underpinnings - how these can possibly be applied to the one-third of victims of family violence that are male is anyone's guess:
The NSW prevention strategy has been informed by the theoretical framework developed by VicHealth which draws on the socio-ecological model. The key social and economic determinants of violence against women have been categorised as:
- Belief in rigid gender roles and/or weak support for gender equality, masculine sense of entitlement, and male dominance and control of wealth in relationships (individual factors).
- Culturally-specific norms regarding gender and sexuality, and masculine peer and organisational cultures (community/organisational factors).
- Institutional and cultural support for, or weak sanctions against, gender inequality and rigid gender roles (societal factors).
The Framework documents clearly state that one of the issues it was supposed to address was the lack of programs for male victims:
The case for change
Two reviews of the domestic and family violence service system in NSW - one by the NSW Parliament’s Standing Committee on Social Issues and the other by the NSW Auditor-General - identified a number of issues preventing a robust response to domestic and family violence, including:
- Agencies trying to work together to prevent and respond to domestic and family violence are doing so without a common framework for their activities, and without common goals or objectives.
- Organisations don’t identify or assess risk in any common way – which means that victims of violence can fall through gaps between the agencies.
- There are significant barriers to sharing information between agencies. Sharing information is important if we are to help people stay safe from violence.
- There are few programs that seek to change behaviour in perpetrators and few programs for male victims of domestic violence. [emphasis ours]
Unfortunately there is very little whatsoever in the Framework that addresses the lack of programs for male victims of domestic violence.
There is also nothing in it for female perpetrators. A new Men's Referral Service is to be established for male perpetrators only:
As part of the reforms, a Men’s Referral Service will be established as a dedicated telephone counselling, information and referral service for men and family members who are concerned about their behaviour. This will increase perpetrator accountability by expanding opportunities for men to take responsibility for stopping their abusive behaviour, regardless of whether they are in a criminal justice process.
For those of you who think "men and family members" might mean both male and female perpetrators, sadly no:
The service will also offer support to women and family members, as well as neighbours or colleagues, who are concerned about the violent behaviour of a male partner or family member.
What possibly reason can the government provide for not establishing a referral service for all perpetrators of family violence and abuse, regardless of gender? Are they worried that the referral service might be overwhelmed by violent women asking for assistance? We very much doubt it.
The only part of the entire Framework that specifically mentions supporting male victims is:
Strategy 1.3 Immediate referral to victim services
All victims will be immediately referred to a local Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (WDVCAS), by a police office that attended the event, before the end of the officer's shift.
Where no WDVCAS is available or for male victims, victims will be referred to the Victims Access Line (VAL) who will coordinate access to local support. The VAL will facilitate support and information before court and provide support to access counselling, financial assistance and referral to local services. [emphasis ours]
Referral arrangements will take into account the availability of local services, and new pathways that are agreed through local implementation of the NSW Domestic and Family Violence Framework.
The purpose of the referral is to ensure that victims have information, support and advocacy to ensure they are able to participate in the legal process, their needs and safety are assessed, and they have access to support as soon as possible. Each local area command will have a referral agreement with WDVCAS or an appropriate local support service.
The question, as always, is "what services will the VAL refer male victims on to when there are simply none available?!".
Kudos once again to Minister Goward for opening up the Start Safely program to male victims of domestic violence. However, the serious shortcomings detailed above must be addressed by the government if they are serious about meeting the needs of male victims of family violence and their children.
Readers who wish to comment upon the proposed Framework can do so at engage.haveyoursay.nsw.gov.au/it-stops-here. We strongly recommend you do so.