Contextualising sexual assault and domestic violence in Australia
“For every person that wants to hurt me, there are more who want to help.”
– Chanel Miller (survivor advocate)
The National Plan
The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022 was released in February 2011, aiming to connect the work of Australian governments, community organisations and individuals to reduce violence (against women and their children, obviously). The twelve-year Plan has been delivered in four three-year Action Plans that build on each other. Each Action Plan also had an Implementation Plan, and later, a Progress Report.
It had six national outcomes:
- Communities are safe and free from violence.
- Relationships are respectful.
- Indigenous communities are strengthened.
- Services meet the needs of women and their children experiencing violence.
- Justice responses are effective.
- Perpetrators stop their violence and are held to account.
The twelve-year Plan has been delivered in four three-year Action Plans that build on each other. Each Action Plan also had an Implementation Plan, and later, a Progress Report.
The COAG Women’s Safety Council oversaw the implementation of the National Plan. In May of 2020, the Prime Minister also announced the establishment of the National Federation Reform Council (NFRC) and a NFRC Taskforce on Women’s Safety, which consists of Commonwealth, state and territory Women’s Safety Ministers and is co-chaired by the Commonwealth Minister for Women and the Commonwealth Minister for Families and Social Services. The Taskforce’s work encompasses driving and reporting on actions under the Fourth Action Plan, and developing and implementing the new National Plan.
The Fourth Action Plan
At the time of the creation of the National Plan, the Fourth (and final) Action Plan was expected to see the delivery of tangible results in terms of high-level indicators of change – reduced prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault, reduced proportions of children witnessing violence, and an increased proportion of women who feel safe in their communities.
Supported by $328 million, the Fourth Action Plan was informed by a statement by delegates at the 2018 Council of Australian Governments, which called on First Ministers for specific action on areas such as primary intervention.
Due to COVID-19, there was no new data available to provide an update on progress against the six national outcomes.
Report of the Inquiry into Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence
In April 2021, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs published the Report of the Inquiry into Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence, to reflect on the national plan so that the next national plan leads to a meaningful reduction in the unacceptable rates of family, domestic and sexual violence.
The report was focused in two main ways – big picture, systemic issues that are essential to ensuring effective national approaches to preventing and responding to family, domestic and sexual violence, including coordination between the governments; and new or emerging issues relevant to family violence such as manifestations of violence such as coercive control and technology-facilitated abuse, and the impact of COVID-19.
The 2022-2032 Plan
Ironically, drafting of the new plan has already faced criticism – its short consultation period has been extended to a minimum of six weeks after callout from community leaders.
Underpinned by five-year action plans, including five-year Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander action plans, the new plan is expected to focus on primary prevention.
Jurisdictional Strategies and Initiatives Addressing Sexual Assault and Family Violence
Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) is an initiative of the National Plan, aiming to produce a growing evidence base supporting policy and practice in reducing violence against women and their children.
ANROWS has a Register of Active Research to provide a comprehensive research landscape of projects currently underway, and also produces Australia’s National Research Agenda to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (ANRA), which is updated biennially.
The ANRA 2020-2022 raises several new priority research topics for academics, researchers, research funding bodies and governments, such as:
- The prevalence and nature of adolescent intimate partner violence
- The impact of coerced pregnancy
- How systems can guard against being exploited by perpetrators of coercive control
- The effectiveness of primary prevention programs, and barriers to implementation
Some recent reports include Economic insecurity and intimate partner violence in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic and “Chuck her on a lie detector”: Investigating Australians’ mistrust in women’s reports of sexual assault.
Our Watch is an independent not-for-profit organisation created under the National Plan that aims to drive nationwide change in the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia.
It works in the following areas:
- Providing policy advice, support and input to governments, decision-makers and policy processes to influence public policy, systems and institutions to drive societal-level change.
- Developing communications and social marketing campaigns that aim to shift attitudes and behaviours that drive violence against women.
- Developing the primary prevention workforce and working with other organisations, networks and communities to build a movement for change.
- Producing free research-based tools and resources to help others embed gender equality and prevent violence in settings like education, workplaces, sporting clubs and the media.
- Leading a public conversation that keeps violence against women on the national agenda with a focus on primary prevention.
- Monitoring and evaluating prevention efforts from a program level to the national level.
The National Women's Safety Alliance
The National Women’s Safety Alliance is one of six National Women’s Alliances advocating for the rights of women in Australia, and collaborating with policymakers to protect those rights.
Established in August 2021, it plans to provide government with advice from services and experts in the women’s safety sector, including those with lived expertise.
The Alliance hosts three committees:
- the Policy & Advocacy Advisory Committee
- the Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Working Group
- the Sexual Harassment Working Group
While a promising endeavour, many victim-survivors would prefer a body of this sort must exist separately from government.
The Personal Safety Survey
The ABS Personal Safety Survey (PSS) collects information about the nature and extent of violence experienced by men and women since the age of 15, including their experience of violence in the 12 months prior to the survey. It also collects detailed information about men’s and women’s experiences of current and previous partner violence, lifetime experience of stalking, physical and sexual abuse before the age of 15 and general feelings of safety.
The PSS was last conducted in 2016, and is next due to be conducted in 2021.
The National Community Attitudes Survey
The National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS), tells us how people understand violence against women, their attitudes towards it, what influences their attitudes, and if there has been a change over time. It also gauges attitudes to gender equality and people’s preparedness to intervene when witnessing violence or its precursors.
The first NCAS survey gathered data in 2016 from over 17,500 Australians 16 years of age and over.
Results are analysed for:
- the Australian community as a whole
- each state and territory
- young people
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
- people from non-English speaking backgrounds
- other relevant demographic and contextual indicators.
The NCAS is conducted every four years, meaning data was gathered in 2021, to be published in 2022.
In addition to the 2021 survey, ANROWS received funding from the Australian Government Department of Social Services (DSS) to conduct two qualitative research studies investigating concerning findings from the 2017 results; a ‘Mistrust study’ which has already been published (titled “Chuck her on a lie detector”, one can imagine the study results) and a study of young people’s attitudes about relationship norms.
Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy is a survivor-focused, evidence-based reform-oriented organisation. Led by survivor advocate Saxon Mullins, RASARA works to improve legal and community responses to sexual violence. They are behind the affirmative consent law reforms, and have produced a consent toolkit headed by researcher Katrina Marson. RASARA have written many submissions to state law reform commissions and are regularly asked for comment on issues such as sex education, the mistake of fact defence and criminal justice reform.
ARC Centre of Excellence for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
The Centre of Excellence for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is an initiative of the Australian Research Council announced at the end of 2022. Opening at Monash University under the leadership of Professor Jacqui True, the Centre will receive $35 million over 7 years to dive into the problem of violence against women and address the structural drivers that cause and compound it. The Centre will bring together a wealth of expertise: 14 Chief Investigators from eight Australian universities, 17 international partner investigators, and 32 Australian and international partner organisations.