Family Violence should be treated as the serious human rights violation that it is

The Victorian Government has human rights obligations to prevent violence against women, to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators, and to provide reparations to victims, the Human Rights Law Centre has said in a submission to Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence.

 Ruth Barson, HRLC senior lawyer, said preventing violence against women is one of the world’s most pressing challenges and that human rights law provides an important framework for addressing the issue.

 “Violence against women is a serious human rights violation that requires a sustained, well-resourced and multifaceted response. One of the first ports of call should be ensuring women have equal access to justice, which requires adequately funded women’s specific legal and social services,” said Ms Barson.

 The HRLC’s submission highlights the importance of a whole-of-system response that focuses on prevention and provides for structural change, community engagement and individual remedies.

 “In addition to the Government’s obligations to address individual acts of violence, the Government must also put in place programs to address the underlying structural inequalities that facilitated the violence in the first place. This includes education programs that address the ways negative gender stereotypes sustain women’s social and economic inequality,” said Ms Barson.

 The HRLC highlighted that it is in the interests of eliminating violence against women that offender rehabilitation be the essential aim of punishment, and that the Commission should be cautious before recommending more punitive responses. It further highlighted the importance of long-term support for victims, in recognition of the deep trauma caused by violence.

 “The criminal justice system’s ability to fully address violence against women should not be over-emphasised. The criminal justice system often fails to rehabilitate offenders, and likewise fails to provide proper justice to victims. A criminal justice response should therefore exist alongside other equally important measures, like early intervention programs, restorative justice conferencing, long-term counseling services, and broader community education”, said Ms Barson.

 The HRLC’s submission also recommends that the Government not only look at the issue of violence against women through a gender lens, but that it take account of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, like racism.

 “Indigenous people have far higher rates of both victimisation and imprisonment than the general population. It is critically important that Indigenous people have a central role in decision making around responses to family violence which impact their communities,” said Ms Barson.

 The HRLC submission can be viewed here.

 For further information, please contact Ruth Barson via