Just last week in Australia six women were killed in a matter of seven days. So it’s fair to say that the appointment of the Respect Victoria board, an independent family violence authority, couldn’t be timelier.
Created under the Prevention of Family Violence Act (2018), the agency’s focus is on addressing and preventing all forms of family violence, including that against women, men, children, youth, elderly, people with a disability, LGBTIQ, and from CALD background. Led by Chairperson Melanie Eagle, amongst those appointed on the board last week was Greek Australian Liana Papoutsis.
Aside from her extensive CV as a highly experienced human rights, international relations and law academic, Ms Papoutsis also brings her own first-hand experience of domestic violence to the table, an invaluable insight when talking about prevention as highlighted by the Royal Commission into Family Violence in March 2016.
“I think it’s vital to have the lived experience in such bodies,” she told Neos Kosmos.
“Often people with lived experience are really in the best place to identify the gaps … I think that it speaks volumes about where Victoria is headed in the way it deals with prevention.”
What makes Respect Victoria particularly promising from the get go is that after 18 months of lobbying, it has been made an independent statutory authority.
This ensures the agency will have the authority to hold both government and the Victorian community to account on taking action to stop violence before it starts, while also having sustained funding – meaning longevity, which Ms Papoutsis says is extremely important when it comes to prevention.
“Prevention is a long-hauled generational type endeavour. It’s not ‘hey we can put these messages out and tomorrow it’s all going to stop’, which would be utopia. But that is not going to happen,” she says, likening it to the Quit campaign, which has been going for 25-30 years, and has only been seeing real results in recent years.
Family violence is an increasing issue in Australia, and Ms Papoutsis says that research indicates that it is largely underpinned by gender inequality.
“The evidence base is overwhelming,” she says. “Basically it’s sort of things like where people condone gender stereotypes, that the female should be this and the man should be that, and when there’s that rigid adherence to those stereotypes and they don’t call it out, that is clearly a problem.”
With Australia considered a highly patriarchal society, Ms Papoutsis says this prejudice is something we see clearly played out in many areas of society, from simple things like who does the cleaning up to the gender pay gap and the global movement of #MeToo. In fact children are already ingrained in gender stereotypes well before they even get to school.
“We see it in everyday society: the pink, the blue, the cars, the dolls. Which is fine; it’s not an issue about what a little boy or girl is playing with. It’s about choice for children, and it’s about not shoving preconceived ideas down their throats of ‘if you’re a boy be a man, you’re not supposed to cry’ and ‘if you’re a girl you’re supposed to be fluffy and pretty and soft’. These are the things we need to smash,” she says.
Family violence is one that touches all communities, regardless of socio-economic status. When it comes to the Greek community, which is undoubtedly also heavily patriarchal, she says the main problem is the lack of dialogue surrounding the matter.
“We’re not talking about family violence much, whereas in more mainstream community we are. What I’d like to see in the Greek community is a lot more discussion about it,” she urges.
“Early migrants from the 50s and 60s, a lot of women in those particular age groups suffered for many, many, many years in silence. Unfortunately they had nowhere to go, there were no resources for those women – in fact there were hardly any resources for any woman, let alone one from a CALD background.”
But Ms Papoutsis says things are slowly, but surely, changing thanks to younger generations being made more aware.
“What we’re seeing now is a trend whereby these women are now older, and they’ve got adult children who are saying ‘hey you’ve put up with this for so long, you need to get some protection’. We’re seeing a lot of women now in their 60s going to court and obtaining family violence intervention orders against their current husbands after 40 years of marriage for example.”
In reference to the Family Violence Protection Act (2008), Ms Papoutsis says it’s important to remember the definition of family violence goes well beyond the physical, and can be anything from economic control, isolation from family and friends, and emotional/psychological.
Ms Papoutsis is unreservedly committed to what she refers to as “life’s work”.
Aside from her prevention work being key to breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma in children, and being a positive role model for her own child, she says it is a chance to fully acknowledge that everyone’s experience of family violence is tinted by lenses of culture, gender and sexual identity – something she realised through her own experience of family violence when seeking help.
“As a Greek Australian woman it is an opportunity to bring out the voices of Greek women, not just of the older generation, but also women just like myself who were born here but didn’t really fit anywhere,” she explains.
“I didn’t fit in the mainstream, I didn’t fit in the newly arrived communities, and I sort of kept falling through the cracks because it was difficult for the services to understand the lived experience of a Greek Australian woman. I still had the cultural nuances on my shoulders.
“That’s one of my aims – to be able to reach out and bring diversity to the table of prevention, not just from my own perspective, but understanding my own diverse background and bringing other diverse perspectives into the room.”
For more information, visit respectvictoria.vic.gov.au