News and Events

Because it’s not acceptable

Final Pic

By Lucy Padula, 16 Days Activist

I am doing the 16 Days Activist Challenge because it is an absolute necessity and it is something we should be unconsciously doing 365 days a year. According to VicHealth, family violence is the leading preventable contributor to death, disability and illness in Victorian women aged 15–44, being responsible for more of the disease burden than many well-known risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking and obesity.

This is not acceptable

Although talking about violence against women is important, talk alone will not change this. There is so much in the media about family violence, but little about services available to assist women and children. It is for this reason, and the upcoming UN-declared International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women, that I have decided to run two events to raise funds for Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre, as part of my #16DaysActivist Challenge. I invite one and all to come along.


The theme of these events is “Empower Me”:

1. “Empower Me information session day” Friday 27 November
2. “Empower Me Family Fun Day” on 29 November 2015

I believe that knowledge is power. At the Empower Me Information Session Day there will be numerous speakers, including myself running 30 minute presentations about various matters including: – practical steps to take if you are separating, preparing for family dispute resolution (to discuss care arrangements for children), family violence and intervention orders, Xero for small business, dealing with anxiety and the path to financial independence. The fee for each session will be $20 with all profits going to Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre.

The Empower Me Family Fun Day is about bringing the community together in saying no to violence. It is about raising funds and awareness for Safe Steps. The more awareness that is raised, the more likely it is that a woman and child’s life could change for the better becoming aware of services available to help them. There will be lots of fun activities for the children on the day including dance class, play based learning, art classes, fairy floss among other things

As Malcolm X stated, ‘when “i” is replaced with “we” even illness becomes wellness’. Change can happen, but WE must ALL raise our voices AND act. Talking alone is not enough. Do something. Get involved. Come along to the Empower Me Information Session and learn something, and refer the day to someone who may benefit from it. Show your support at the Empower Me Family Fun Day.


There’s a few ways you can get involved:

  1. Go to the Empower Me events
  2. Check out her Empower Me Facebook page
  3. Find out more and register for events at her website


The Preventing Violence Together (PVT) partnership’s 16 Days Activist Challenge runs from 25 November to 10 December 2015. Take the challenge and be a part of the #16DaysActivist conversation

Lucy Padula is an accredited family lawyer based in Melbourne’s west.

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.

Equal Pay Day and economic participation for all women

By Nirvana Bhandary, Health Promotion Worker

WHW_FLP_ERITREA_0074Participants from the most recent financial literacy program

Today (Friday 4 September) is Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day is calculated every year and is indicative of the extra days that women, on average, would be required to work from the start of the financial year on 1 July to earn the same as men.

Australia’s national gender pay gap is currently at 17.9 per cent. This means that women are earning just over 82 cents for every dollar their male colleagues earn. And it means women, on average, need to work an extra 65 days to earn the same as men.

Frustratingly, the gender pay gap hasn’t changed much in the past few decades. The Diversity Council of Australia are urging organisations to take action.

Advocating for structural reform to reduce the gender pay gap is critical for all organisations, including Women’s Health West, but on Equal Pay Day it’s important to remember that for many women living in the western region, even basic economic participation, such as finding employment, is a significant challenge.

Migrant and refugee women, in particular, face a complex and diverse range of barriers to economic participation. And because ‘economic participation’ includes direct and indirect activities that produce financial and other essential resources, facing barriers to economic participation affects women’s health and wellbeing.

Barriers for women include complex Centrelink procedures; racial and religious discrimination by employers; expectations of English proficiency irrespective of the nature of the job; precarious, casual and low-paid employment; exploitation in the workplace; and entrenched gender inequity resulting in unequal access to resources and power.

Women’s Health West has been running financial literacy programs with migrant and refugee women in the west for years, aiming to increase women’s skills and knowledge to effectively engage with economic systems and institutions in Australia.

Through consultations with communities and service providers in the west, we’re trying to better understand the complex experiences of women and the expertise of community workers in this area for a research project in partnership with Victoria University.

The project will seek to identify what advocacy and program responses would best support migrant and refugee women to better engage in Australia’s economic systems. We aim to develop an advocacy strategy and toolkit which can be used by the community service sector. The final report will be launched in February 2016, so keep an eye out for updates!

And in the meantime, this Equal Pay Day, the least we can do is acknowledge the different barriers that stop diverse groups of women from earning a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work in Australian society.

For further information regarding financial literacy or economic participation please contact Nirvana Bhandary on 9689 9588.

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.