Stop endangering domestic violence victims through couples counselling

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Couples counselling is unsafe for victims of domestic violence. Survivors have told the Government this themselves, as have the specialist women's safety services and advocacy groups that support them.

Even those with expertise working with men who use violence and their representative bodies have told the Government that couples counselling is unsafe and ineffective as a response to domestic abuse.

Yet, the Government has pushed ahead with its controversial decision to invest $10 million of taxpayers funds to expand what it calls a "whole of family approach" to domestic abuse which includes couples counselling.

This intervention could see women and their children placed in situations where they have no control over their own safety and are at increased risk of serious injury and homicide.

Domestic abuse survivor and CEO, Rachael Natoli says it all with this statement: 

“In an abusive relationship we learn to manage the behaviour of the abuser to stay safe and protect the children, and we do that the best that we possibly can. But [in couples] counselling you don't have control over what is discussed. In this case, one of two things will happen- either you’ll say something and be punished, or you’ll lie and it is a complete waste of time.”

Sign the petition to tell the Prime Minister couples counselling is not safe for victims of domestic abuse and that you want this decision urgently reversed. These funds must be invested in the services women and children need to achieve safety.

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Shockingly, the announcement to fund couples counselling was made under the National Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children.

Yet, the women's safety practitioners and advocates advising the Government on the National Plan never recommended this.

In fact, due to serious concerns about women and children's safety and in response to a public outcry, the Government was advised against the move, but pressed ahead regardless, and the new Minister for Families and Social Services, Anne Ruston has doubled down. 

Concerns were raised by the women's safety sector that despite being named "Specialised Family Violence Services" the grant guidelines contained no specifications as to specialist domestic and family violence knowledge or expertise nor the need to employ domestic and family violence safety mechanisms.

Indeed the listed organisations eligible to apply for the grant were largely faith-based services delivering family relationship services and not specialist domestic and family violence services and there has been no consultation or transparency with the sector as to how these organisations were selected. No reference was made in the grant guidelines as to any requirement to meet the National Outcome Standards for Perpetrator Interventions which were developed under the National Plan to ensure perpetrators are held to account through effective interventions that stop their violence.

Psychiatrist Dr Karen Williams from Doctors Against Violence Towards Women holds grave concerns about the plan to expand couples counselling in a domestic abuse context:

"We know that the majority of women who are affected by domestic violence are already not disclosing violence due to fear of the consequences- they are left in violent situations for far too long as it is and do not need further encouragement to remain with their abusers."

Dr Williams is particularly worried about whether the services are to be delivered by appropriately qualified specialists: 

"The risks of couples counselling is injury and death, so any type of intervention in these settings should only be performed by specialist practitioners."

Women’s Safety NSW and Doctors Against Violence Towards Women, along with partners in the women’s safety sector are calling on the Government to listen to survivors of domestic abuse and to the specialist services that support them, and to act in accordance with the evidence of interventions which are proven to be safe and effective in addressing domestic abuse.

These are women's specialist services providing information, support, safety planning, referrals, court advocacy, case management, supported accommodation and counselling, as well as accredited men's behaviour change services. Also essential are culturally safe and specific services for Aboriginal, CALD and LGBTIQ communities for equal access to crucial supports.

It's time to speak up. The cost of inaction on this critical issue is too great. We cannot ignore the shocking statistics and the names, faces and experiences behind these statistics anymore. Let's join together to send a clear message that we, as a community will no longer tolerate, accept or condone violence against women and children in our society.