News and Events

Push to criminalise ‘revenge porn’

By Emma Weaver, Health Promotion Worker – Policy and Development


Women’s Health West congratulate the Australian Labor Party on their commitment to improving the response to ‘revenge porn’ across Australia, via the legislative reform proposed in their Crime Code Amendment Bill for 2015.

‘Revenge porn’ occurs when a person distributes sexually explicit images and/or videos without the consent of the individual in the footage. It is a form of violence against women. It is also a gendered phenomenon. Revenge porn objectifies women (and in some instances men) as sexual objects that exist for men’s desires and needs, and perpetuates gendered stereotypes and negative social norms that position women and girls, and images of their bodies, as the property of men.

Victorian research has shown that women and girls are particularly vulnerable to revenge porn. The gender-based power inequities that exist between men and women have an impact on a woman’s ability to negotiate and make decisions about her sexual practices, such as participating in sexting behaviour and sharing private sexual images online. Research has also shown that young women and girls are increasingly expected to engage in ‘sexting’ or sharing sexual images via mobile devices. This behaviour is portrayed as a normal part of sexual behaviour and relationships among young people.

Recognising the gendered expectation of sexting and revenge porn, and how this phenomenon disproportionately affects the health and wellbeing of women and girls, Women’s Health West supported the amendment to this bill to criminalise the distribution of such material without consent. We encouraged the government to take a human rights approach, recognising the rights of an individual to be free from mental, emotional and physical violence, the right to privacy and the right to bodily integrity. In tandem with law reform, we also supported preventing revenge porn by giving young women and men opportunities to learn about respectful, gender-equitable relationships.

The amendment bill has been introduced into parliament, but at this stage the Turnbull Government has given no indication as to whether it will support the bill. It has, however, been backed by several MPs, including Karen McNamara.

To find out more about ‘revenge porn’, you might like to read these articles from The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/news/revenge-porn/

Sisters Day Out at Deer Park

By Ngahina Waretini, Sexual Health and Reproductive Health Promotion Worker

sisters day out

Last week, on Tuesday 6 October, over 100 Aboriginal women attended the 98th Sisters Day Out event hosted by Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention & Legal Service Victoria (FVPLS) in Deer Park.

Ngahina Waretini, Health Promotion Worker in Sexual Health and Reproductive Health at Women’s Health West, and Maureen Smith, Western Family Violence Regional Integration Coordinator for the Western Integrated Family Violence Committee, were invited along. This provided an opportunity to distribute sexual health education resources, promote related services and programs of Women’s Health West and meet women attending the Sisters Day Out.

Sisters Day Out is a one-day community event for Aboriginal women, focused on starting conversations about family violence and supporting Aboriginal women and families to overcome barriers to reporting violence and accessing support services. These events provide a culturally welcoming and culturally safe space for Aboriginal women to come together.

On the day, both Maureen and Ngahina were interviewed by ‘Women on the Line’ community radio show about the importance of the Sisters Day Out workshops. The full podcast is available via 3CR.

The Sisters Day Out workshop program began in 2007 and has reached over 7,000 Aboriginal women in Victoria to date. These informative events answer an urgent need: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence, and 10 times more likely to be killed as a result of violent assault. Aboriginal women are also the fastest growing group in Australia’s prison populations, and there’s a strong connection between the high levels of family violence experienced and criminalisation and incarceration rates.

Unfortunately FVPLS Victoria has not secured ongoing funding for this essential preventative program. FVPLS is currently crowd sourcing funding to save Sisters Day Out workshops.

Ngahina and Maureen and their stall at the Sisters Day Out in Deer Park last week.

Police response to family violence

Last week on Monday 3 August, Jacky Tucker, Women’s Health West’s Family Violence Services Manager, together with Fiona McCormack, CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria, gave evidence at the Royal Commission into Family Violence hearing on the initial police response to family violence.

Jacky’s witness statement and a full transcript of the hearing are available online. Here are a few edited extracts from Jacky’s responses on the day.

On changes in culture

I have been working in the family violence sector for over twenty years and I would describe the changes in the last ten years as dramatic.

Leaders in this state are really clearly saying that family violence is unacceptable in our community.

When Ken Lay was Victoria Police Chief Commissioner, he made strong public statements about how police should respond, which helped build a sense of trust in the community and women to make that phone call.

We have seen the dramatic impact made by leaders in police stations, including senior sergeants, station senior sergeants, police advisers and family violence liaison officers.

On police training and incident response

I am a really strong supporter of the Victoria Police family violence units, but not at a cost to the general policing’s understanding of family violence and responding to it. We’re unlikely to gain the number of family violence units needed to cover every family violence incident in the state.

So we have to put our trust in the training and professionalism of those front-line officers. The way they approach the scene, the way they investigate the incident, the way they engage with both the respondent and the woman or other family members involved in the incident is critical.

At the time of the incident police rarely photograph women’s injuries or damage to property. This means that if the case does not proceed to assault, there is no evidence to track what happened.

The result is that responsibility of collecting evidence of future incidents is transferred from police to the woman. Why is it a woman’s responsibility to collect evidence to prove the criminal act of breaching an intervention order?

Yes, it’s part of your work that you treat people with respect, listen and have empathy, but it’s also your remit to prepare the scene, collect the evidence and build a case for future prosecution, whether it’s going ahead this time or next time.

In June we received 57 referrals from police identifying the woman as the respondent. After assessment and conversations with the women, we identified six of those as perpetrators of family violence.

We recognise it may be difficult for police to ascertain who the primary aggressor is when they attend an incident, but I think police need support and training to accurately identify the perpetrator.

There’s a myth that women who are victims of family violence will present as submissive … and often, when a woman is angry, that anger is wrongly used to identify her as the perpetrator.

On the increasing demand and Women’s Health West’s response

After the introduction of the Code of Practice in 2006, Women’s Health West received 708 referrals in one year. In this past year we received 8,170 referrals from police.

We currently receive L17s [police referrals] via a fax. The crisis response team collects the referrals and we triage based on the police code.

[Part of the L17 documentation enables police to tick the kind of violence that called them to attend; codes 1 to 14 represent conduct that would be capable of being criminal conduct as well as being family violence, codes 15 to 20 are non-criminal forms of family violence.]

Our response to 1 to 14 codes is different to 15 to 20 codes. Staff are automatically allocated the 1 to 14s to follow up with a phone call, that’s the first triage.

The second triage happens when the coordinator applies her experience and expertise on managing or understanding risk to the 15 to 20s and decides whether or not the person will get a service and be re-entered into the system.

In June this year we received 733 referrals. About 295 of those were coded 15 to 20. We did not call 90. So we are trying really hard to make sure that the pile that ends up not getting a response are assessed at low risk.

We used to send those women a letter but unfortunately we are no longer have time to do that because demand has increased again this year by 34 per cent. We are hoping to introduce a system that will allow us to at least text an acknowledgement message.

We use case management funds to provide this service as we’ve never received any formal funding for it. The department recognised that we had moved case management dollars to the front end to support the police response, and provided us with two extra EFT to replace those case management positions.

On following up cases with the police

We record all the L17s [police referrals], whether we have been able to successfully make contact with her, a summary of the conversation, what supports were offered, whether she had been through our intake service … whatever involvement she’s had with Women’s Health West.

We keep police informed about the status of all L17s. We CC the police liaison officer and we will inform the police adviser if we identify particular issues. If we identify a particular level of risk but have not been able to contact the woman, we will inform police directly.

Occasionally, if a woman is at imminent risk of further violence, we will escalate the response to ‘extreme risk’, which requires a regional response.

Escalating means making quick recontact with police, putting measures in place. Not all women make the choice to leave the family home, so it’s about talking to police and organising drive-bys, ‘Can you go and knock on the door, make sure she is alright’.

We can put all sorts of things in place, including making sure the safety notice or the interim intervention order is in place. The police are then able to follow up with the perpetrator. They generally make it a priority to speak with him and say, ‘You’re on our radar, we’re concerned’.

Since 2008 the western region has had an extreme risk strategy in place where police and family violence services, including men’s services, can identify families at extreme, immediate risk to come together and develop a plan to respond to that level of risk.

In a year we generally have somewhere between 8 and 12 escalated cases.

The planned introduction of the Risk Assessment Management Panels (RAMPs) … will introduce some really good initiatives about how we manage those people at the higher end of risk.

On contacting women and sending the right message

From the perspective of a family violence service that speaks every day to women who have recently had police at their door because of a family violence incident, it’s absolutely important for women to be sent the right messages.

They get phone calls from police about statements. But when a family violence service is responding, the conversation is really about getting a more fluid representation of her experiences. It’s also talking about her options and where she is now.

We build a relationship with women so that they are more likely to engage with the service system more broadly.

For women who haven’t had previous contact, first we tell them we are calling because the police have provided us a referral. Then we very gently ask her to disclose what happened … getting information from her about the perpetrator, which is the cornerstone of all risk assessments, ‘Where is he now? Did he come back last night?’, that sort of thing.

If she wants support for her partner we provide her with information about the local men’s behavioural groups. We also talk with her about how she would approach her partner about taking on some responsibility. Some women feel quite comfortable about approaching him. We talk to other women about how safe it is to challenge her partner about his violence.

Even when a woman says, ‘No, thank you very much, I don’t need your support today’, we have sent the right messages to her that: one, violence is not acceptable in our community and, two, that services like Women’s Health West are available, that the violence is no longer invisible, that she can call us any time she wishes during business hours and that if it’s at 2am she can call Safe Steps.

If you are in immediate danger call the police on 000. If you, or someone you know, is experiencing violence, call Women’s Health West on 9689 9588 or Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre on 1800 015 188 after hours.

Practicing self care: make a sparkle jar

By WHW Children’s Counselling and Group Facilitation Team
This post uses text from an article written by Aoibheann for whw news


‘Mindfulness’ is a term popping up in fields like education, medicine, business and mental health. Professor of Medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn, often credited as one of the contemporary champions of mindfulness, has defined it as ‘paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally’.

This can mean paying attention to a thought, emotion, bodily sensation or whatever you are noticing in the present moment. Non-judgementally refers to noticing what is happening and then choosing how to respond to it.

Research shows that practicing mindfulness can reduce stress and depression, help manage chronic pain, and support relief from trauma. Anecdotally there is also mounting evidence that practicing being mindful can bring relief to busy minds, help with focus and attention, increase immunity, lead to a greater sense of relaxation and increase our overall wellbeing.

A sparkle jar is a great tool to practice feeling calm and being mindful. A bit like snowglobes, sparkle jars are full of glittery, colourful water which you shake up and then watch as the glitter slows and settles.

It’s a metaphor for all the emotions, thoughts, and sensations swirling around when we feel upset, angry, scared or overexcited. If we pay attention, we can see the swirling glitter start to slow down and settle – just like our minds and bodies can learn to settle down.

Recently Stephanie from the children’s counselling team at Women’s Health West ran a self care workshop where she invited other staff to make a sparkle jar. If you come and visit the office you might notice them sitting on people’s desks as you walk around.

We’ve been getting a lot of feedback from our staff saying how much they love using their sparkle jars. If you’d like some help practicing mindfulness and managing stress at work, it’s really easy to make your own.

How to make your own sparkle jar

  1. Take a clean jar with a tight lid
  2. Add some glitter glue and loose glitter. Only a small amount – less than a centimetre!
  3. Add warm water until jar is two-thirds full and stir to melt the glitter glue
  4. Adjust glitter and glitter glue amounts until you’re happy with the colour and how quickly or slowly the glitter settles
  5. Top up the water so jar is full and place the lid on the jar tightly. You can use a hot glue gun to secure the lid in place.

Your sparkle jar is ready to use – shake it up and watch what happens! Regular practice will give you the most benefit.


For more information

The WHW Children’s Counselling team use mindfulness tools like sparkle jars with children who may be learning to deal with difficult emotions. All of the children we work with have been affected by family violence so there are big emotions involved. There is an excellent short film from the USA called ‘Just Breathe‘, which includes children speaking about their thoughts on mindfulness and their sparkle jars.

If this topic interests you, we suggest these links for further reading:

Standing up for human rights

By Fiona, Family Violence Outreach Worker

Protest_Parliament-House11072015-AbbieJedwab_SMSaturday’s protest on the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne.
Photo courtesy of Abbie Jedwab.

Last Saturday (11 July 2015), over 300 concerned community members, including Women’s Health West workers, teachers, social workers, ex-detention centre workers, and health professionals, came together for a silent protest on the steps of Parliament over the new laws designed to mute reports of violations of asylum seekers’ human rights.

The Human Rights Commission inquiry, The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (2014), headed by Professor Gillian Triggs, exposed the living conditions of asylum seekers on Manus Island, Christmas Island and Nauru.

The Federal Government responded to the revelations by seeking to silence the professionals assisting them. Instead of investigating reports of abuse, significant barriers to safety and serious hygiene conditions, and rectifying their neglect of children, on 1 July 2015 the government instead introduced the Border Force Act. This act forbids health workers, teachers and other professionals from reporting human rights violations against asylum seekers in detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island.

Despite a professional and ethical mandate to report abuse and neglect, particularly of children, workers who do so will now be punished with up to two years in prison.

The seriousness of the Federal Government’s human rights abuses has led Federal MP Andrew Wilkie to formally request that the International Criminal Court prosecuting authority investigate the Federal Government’s treatment of people seeking asylum, and its contravention to international law.

The ‘We won’t be silenced’ petition has gathered over 500 signatures so far. Please sign and spread the word.

Twitter: #WeWontBeSilenced

Facebook: Health Workers, Teachers, and Community Against the BORDER FORCE ACT