Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Domestic violence in rural Australia

An Epidemic of Violence:

The Australian political landscape is obsessed with tackling domestic violence in all its contexts.  In February 2015, the Queensland state government commissioned Not Now, Not Ever: Putting an End to Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland.  The report was commissioned, in part, by a dramatic rise in the number in reported domestic violence incidents--from 58,000 in 2011-2012 to 66,000 in 2013-14, or more than180 incidents a day.  Across Australia, a women is killed by her partner on average, once a week.

After the report was issued, it a took a "horror week" for the Queensland government to fast-track the 140 reforms suggested by the report.  The week in question saw 2 women and a 6-year-old girl killed in separate incidents.  One of the instances involved a former partner ramming the woman's car off the road and beating her to death with a steel pipe.

Outside of Queensland, other Australian states have seen similar increases in violence.  In Victoria, familial violence increased from 735 per 100,000 incidents in 2010-11 to 1,195 per 100,000 incidents in 2013-14.  Of the 70,911 reported incidents, more than 75% involved a female victim.

Clearly, domestic violence is on the rise, and the Australian political climate is unwilling to tolerate it.  But, what are states doing, and more importantly, how does the rise, and the state response, impact domestic violence in Australia's vast rural spaces?

Federal and state responses

The opposition Labour Party wrote newly elected Prime Minister Martin Turnbull reiterating support for eradication of domestic violence in Australia.  The Labour Party wants to hold a national summit on the issue, an idea backed by the Queensland Premier, while the Liberal Party remains noncommittal on the usefulness of the summit.  Former PM Tony Abbot was open to the concept, but was ousted before any more was said on the matter.  Shortly after Turnbull's election, the government announced $100 million for domestic violence programs.

Outside of the federal response, Queensland is fast-tracking reforms (see above).  On October 13, New South Wales initiated a $60 million program to focus on domestic violence prevention and minimize reoffenders.  The funding includes a police team to keep tabs on high-risk perpetrators.

Finally, Western Australia is implementing a $3.1 million program to tackle domestic violence in Kimberley. Kimberley is a remote territory on the northwest coast of Western Australia, with a population of about 34,000.  Only 3 towns have a population over 2,000, and none of those exceed 13,000.  The program is focused on the the problem of domestic violence in Aboriginal communities: about 40% of Kimberley's population is Aboriginal.  And indigenous women are 3 times as likely as other women to be assaulted.  The program is supposed to be grounded in Aboriginal law & culture.  And don't worry, a full post dedicated to rural issues surrounding Aboriginal communities in Australia is coming Monday, November 2.

Domestic violence in rural Australia

Australia has a domestic violence problem-from Sydney to Kimberley--and the federal and state governments are addressing it in the only way large scale institutions know how: talking and throwing money.  But, how does that money trickle down into the rural areas?  And what unique challenges do domestic violence victims/survivors confront in rural Australia?

Of the $100 million dollars announced by the federal government, $15 million will establish 12 hubs or "hotspots" around Australia.  These are collections of lawyers, social workers, health professionals, and cultural liaisons to aid survivors.  Of those centers, 6 will be in regional/rural areas.  Well, thank goodness the federal government realizes that domestic violence is a serious issue in rural communities.

And a quick word on the terms regional, remote, and rural. Standard Australian statistical practice defines remoteness using road distance from services.  There are: major cities, inner regional, outer regional, remote, and very remote regions.  The map attached to the link will help give you an idea of how these regions are distributed throughout Australia.  As of 2009, 69% (15.1 million) of Australia families lived in major cites, 20% (4.3 million) in inner regional areas, 9% (2.1 million) in outer regional areas, 1.5% (324,000) in remote areas, and 0.8% (174,000) in very remote areas.

Unfortunately, Australia's national data does not help place domestic violence in a geographical context. The last federal government report I was able to find is over 15 years old.  And the rate for domestic violence against women in remote areas was 20.86/1000.  In rural centers or rural areas, it ranged between 6-9.95/1000. In urban areas, that number ranged between 4-5/1000.  In 2000, domestic violence occurred nearly twice as often in rural areas, and nearly 4 times as often in remote areas, as it did in urban areas.  As domestic violence rates have increased in the past 15 years, I shudder to think what those numbers look like now.  The report then analyzed the contributing factors to increased incidences in rural violence, with the insights being:

  • isolation 
  • firearms
  • inaccessible legal systems and responses
  • under resourced small police stations
  • fear
  • economic insecurity
  • lack of dedicated social services.
This reads like a list that I, and perhaps most readers, would intuitively associate with rural America.  So it seems that domestic violence, no matter what nation it occurs in, becomes exacerbated by the spatial and institutionalized (the inability of government to adequately provide services comparable to more densely populated areas coupled with residents' self-sufficient mindsets) isolation of the rural.

Despite the lack of government statistics and resources (and hopefully, that changes as both the federal government and state governments pour resources into rural and regional centers), several non-profits, like the National Rural Women's Coalition currently help rural domestic violence survivors, primarily through information distribution.  That organization is dedicated to helping bridge the isolation felt by rural women, and they have a handy fact sheet for domestic violence survivors.  It describes the physical obstacles: gates, bulls, dogs, more gates, and guns, faced by responders to domestic violence.  It describes community attitudes (small town gossip, conservatism), high demand for services, underfunding, spatial distance between communities, and access to information as primary issues.

I can only imagine what rural women go through when faced with domestic violence--the paltry resources available, coupled with the sheer distances involved in rural Australia, is shameful.  And, with the factors enumerated by the both the government and NRWC for the increased incidences of violence in rural communities, I am sure it is a scenario that plays out across rural areas around the world, including here in the United States.  What remains to be seen is how best to allocate resources to ameliorate the isolation and lack of access to services.

For more on domestic violence and sexual assault in the American rural context, read: this (it also helps keep you up on pop culture--I won't do that) and this (its not only indigenous Australians who experience a disproportionate amount of domestic violence).  For a fantastic paper on the subject, read Lisa Pruitt's "Place Matters: Domestic Violence and Rural Difference," available here.

1 comment:

Dakota Sinclair said...

6 whole centers in rural Australia! How exciting!

That is appalling. Forgive my sardonic tone but I truly am astounded. Australia is a vast continent and I would have thought the national government would have applied micro centers for victims of domestic violence, rather than just drop six centers in and hope that fixes the problem.

I agree that the government appears to be handling the matter in the standard big government way: throw money at the problem and it will go away. If it doesn't throw more money at it. This is a disturbing thing because there is less thought put into what drives domestic violence. Poverty? Unemployment? Mental illness? This isn't looked into, the victims are patched up and we move forward is the mentality.

It is interesting that many aspects of rural America appear in rural Australia. I find it interesting that the report included the presence of firearms as part of rurality. The week of horror had no mention of firearms, what is the annual average for related deaths?

The gossip factor should be considered. People love to talk and gossip, regardless of gender. In small communities someone who goes for help is exposing herself to criticism and being ostracized. The "hotspots" would have to be a significant distance away from most rural communities, meaning that the neighbors will notice someone leaving town for hours at a time. This could create a stigma issue, a facet that the Australian government doesn't appear to have thought through fully.

Perhaps if they want to throw money out they should include more for social pariah/stigma issues and how to help resolve those.