Speech by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

Home Truths Stop Sexual Assualt and Domestic Violence – a National Challenge Conference

Location: Sheraton Towers, Southgate, Melbourne


I am pleased to be here at the Home Truths Stop Sexual Assualt and Domestic Violence – a National Challenge Conference.

Sexual assault and domestic violence definitely are a challenge for us all.

Unfortunately, domestic violence and sexual assault remain very significant social issues in Australia.

Statistics about the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault in our community are sobering.

The 1996 Womens Safety Survey found that:

  • 23 per cent of women who had ever been married or in a de facto relationship had at some time experienced violence or abuse by a partner;
  • Approximately one in six Australian women (16 per cent) reported that they had experienced sexual assault at some time since the age of 15.

And we know that in the overwhelmingly majority of instances the victims of violence are women.

This is very disturbing.

And we know that these statistics are probably understated, as many women do not report episodes of violence and sexual assault.

For many women it is a terrifying experience to admit or even recognise that they have been the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.

Confidential support and assistance has been provided to women via the Violence Against Women. Australia Says NO! Helpline which was launched in June.

There have been over 30,000 calls to the helpline.

This campaign is clearly providing people with someone to talk to and a way to seek assistance, especially for people from rural and remote areas.

I have been told that many of these women have never confided in anyone that they have been the victims of domestic violence.

Raising community awareness is vital. The campaign has done this through advertising and a booklet to all households.

I was recently at a function where I was told about the effect that this campaign is having. In a cinema when the ad was shown, and the male said “I was only a slap” the audience hissed at the screen. They all then chanted “violence against women. Australia says NO”.

The campaign has clearly touched a chord with the Australian community.

There is still more to come with the campaign. A schools kit aimed at identifying and preventing abusive relationships is in the final stages of development.

This film shows the tragic true-life story of a young girl who was critically and permanently injured by her boyfriend.
Domestic violence and sexual assault is not just an issue in Australia

The United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Program instigated the first International Violence Against Women Survey.

This survey is part of the United Nations initiative to provide new data on the level of victimisation experienced by women in Australia and abroad.

I am pleased to say that Australia is the first country to publish the results of its part of the Survey in full.

The study has found one in ten women in the past twelve months and one in three over their lifetime have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence.

Younger women reported higher levels of physical violence than older women.

The surveys will be used to make international comparisons on the levels of violence against women around the world and to assist us to improve our response to this serious issue.

These results reinforce the importance of government and community action that sends the message that violence against women is totally unacceptable.

The issues of domestic violence and sexual assault are above politics.

It is an issue which requires bipartisan support and cooperation between all levels of government and the community.

In recognising the need for governments to work together, the National Womens Safety Taskforce was established and met for the first time in October 2003.

The group has been established to address the three issues of womens safety: sexual assault, domestic violence and indigenous family violence.

The Taskforce is made up of officials with responsibility for these areas across Commonwealth, state and territory governments.

The aim of the Taskforce is to identify opportunities for strategic collaboration.

The Partnerships Against Domestic Violence programme has also seen successful collaboration between the Australian Government and state and territory governments.

Partnerships has seen over 230 diverse and innovative projects at the local, regional and national level and has supported the development of research and the documentation of good practice.

Priority areas included educating the community and protecting people at risk, including women and children.

Even corporate Australia has been targeted. One of the projects which I launched recently is a resource kit to assist in identifying and managing domestic violence in the workplace. Seminars with Business and Human Resource Managers are being held in each State.

Family violence in Indigenous communities is also a priority.

There is an alarmingly high level of violence in Indigenous communities.

It was for this reason the Prime Minister convened a national summit on Indigenous family violence in July last year to discuss the problem of family violence in Indigenous communities.

In the 2004 –05 Budget an additional $37.3 million over four years for the Family Violence Partnership Programme has been committed.

This programme will be supporting a number of State and Territory and local projects which address these issues, particularly in remote areas.

An additional $22.7 million over four years to expand the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services programme from 13 to 26 services in rural and remote communities was also committed.

This will assist Indigenous adults and children who are victims of family violence or those who are at immediate risk of such violence.

It will address an identified need for specialist services, particularly for women and children.

Services provided will include case work, legal assistance, court support and crisis counselling.

Another program, The National Initiative to Combat Sexual Assault funds a range of national projects to improve our understanding of sexual assault issues.

The Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault has been established under this program to provide a dedicated research centre and information exchange with a focus on preventing and reducing sexual assault.

And as I previously announced in May, there will be a repeat of the 1996 ABS Safety Survey. This was funded in the last budget and is currently being developed. The data will be gathered next year and the results reported in 2006 – so it will give us comparative data 10 years after the 1996 Survey.

The National Framework for Sexual Assault Prevention, which has been developed in consultation with key stakeholders, highlights the need for a whole of community approach.

This issue provides a long-term challenge for all of government and the community.

The framework will be a useful working document for all of us to use in future policy making.

We all need to be committed to eliminating violence against women.

Our message needs to be clear and unequivocal –
To Violence Against Women, Australia says NO!