Olivia lives with the rare Kleefstra Syndrome.

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Family violence royal commission a unique opportunity for change

Today’s commencement of the Royal Commission into Family Violence is the beginning of a process of investigation and discovery that will likely have profound implications for how we respond to this pervasive issue in Victorian society. It also presents a series of profound challenges for government, the courts, the police and the frontline services which support women and children to remain safe.

In announcing the commencement of the Royal Commission, Premier Daniel Andrews, told media: “We have to get to the core of this, intervene early, prevent family violence and make sure that we protect the vulnerable, and more effectively punish those who are guilty of this crime”. He, along with Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Fiona Richardson, also announced the state government would put $40 million towards the operation of the royal commission, including $4 million to go towards support services to cope with expected increases in demand.

VCOSS welcomed the broad terms of reference for the Royal Commission earlier this year, noting it would look not only at how Victoria responds to family violence, but how we stop violence from occurring and keep women and children safe in the first place. The focus on people at higher risk of family violence, including Aboriginal women and children and women with disabilities is another important recognition.

The commencement of the Royal Commission and the increased support for organisations to be able to cope with increased demand is welcome news, yet it remains uncertain exactly how the commission process will work and how the extra funding will be allocated.

One of the lessons from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been the need to factor in the increased demand for services and requests for support from the public that organisations have experienced during its operation. In 2013 services such as the Centres Against Sexual Assault reported increases in demand for services from “10-25 per cent across the state” attributable to the work of the Royal Commission, at a time when federal funding for services was also under a cloud.

Today, Victorian family violence services and the peak bodies that support and represent them are expecting a similar public response to the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Already, since the Royal Commission was first announced late last year, services and peak bodies are reporting increased requests for support and advice on how to engage with the Commission. The No More Deaths coalition of family violence services and peaks expect this will only increase once the Royal Commission process begins in earnest.

It is enormously important that the voices of people with lived experience of family violence are heard, but women and children who choose to tell their stories will need access to support and advice throughout the Royal Commission process.

No More Deaths says that ensuring the safety of women and children and providing the right crisis support, housing services, legal support, accessible and culturally safe services, and specialist family violence counselling and support will all be needed.

The Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Fiona Richardson, said it was vital women who share their experiences of family violence with the royal commission feel supported and safe. What form that takes would be decided by Commissioner Marcia Neave, who will be able to assign the commission funding as she deems appropriate, Ms Richardson said.

The government has taken a strong stance against family violence in establishing the Royal Commission with appropriate terms of reference and a commitment to acting on all its recommendations. The challenge now is to support everyone affected by family violence to be able to tell their story safely during that process, and to ensure that critical services can cope with the increased demand. VCOSS is looking forward to working with the government and the community sector on this once in a generation opportunity to make our community safer for women and children.