Most of us cannot imagine what it would be like to be a victim survivor of family violence. Of the terror that comes with a partner who is physically, emotionally, sexually or economically abusive. And of the difficult decisions many face in leaving. As former Australian of the Year and family violence campaigner Rosie Batty said only two weeks ago, “There’s nothing more overwhelming and frightening to think if you leave you’ve got nowhere to go” (The Mercury 24/03). As a society we must ensure that there is always a safe place for victim survivors to call home.
Over the last five years, the State Government has focused on strengthening Tasmania’s legislative framework to make it easier for victim survivors to tell their stories and improve the way our justice system deals with perpetrators of family violence. An offence of persistent family violence offender has been introduced which makes for more expeditious identification in future family violence and other legal proceedings. Residential tenancy agreements are able to be ended without penalty ensuring that both the victim and perpetrator can start afresh. More recently, a Bill was passed by the House of Assembly to introduce a standalone offence of strangulation and to clarify the definition of consent in relation to stealthing. As well, costs associated with the filing of family violence applications have been waived. In sentencing, the Government has invested heavily in electronic monitoring of family violence offenders with a recent review finding that victim survivors are less likely to experience violent contact with perpetrators fitted with an electronic monitoring device and are therefore safer while participants remained in the trial.
But legislative and justice reform alone will not reduce family violence. All victim survivors must be reassured that the Government has safe and secure accommodation for them to move into if they leave their abusive relationship. Sadly, in the provision of housing the truth is that in the we are badly failing victim survivors. Recently, we requested data of the number of people seeking housing because of family and domestic violence in Tasmania. The data demonstrated that around 1550 people requested housing due to family violence between 2017/18 and 2019/20 but this jumped to 2,391 in 2020/21, a significant 53 per cent increase in just one year. The data also demonstrates that over the last four years there has been an 8 per cent increase in the number of victim survivors who are homeless when they request housing assistance. And most worryingly, the number who remain homeless after requesting assistance has risen from one-third (34 per cent) to more than half (51 per cent).
We cannot be satisfied with legislative and justice responses that continue to fail victim survivors who feel that they have no choice but to stay in abusive relationships. As Rosie Batty made clear in Hobart two weeks ago, “Unless you want to find yourself without a roof over your head, you have no option but to stay.” (The Mercury 24/03). There are no options when there is a scarcity of Government funded housing available for victim survivors and rents in the private rental market have risen in Southern Tasmania by a staggering 45 per cent over the last five years. If we are serious about tackling family violence, legislative reform must be in tandem with a commitment that there will always be a safe, secure home for anyone and everyone who needs it.
Benedict Bartl is a Policy Officer with Community Legal Centres Tasmania and the Principal Solicitor with the Tenants’ Union of Tasmania.
This opinion piece was published in The Mercury on 8 April 2022.