Changing the culture, changing the system


The following is an edited extract of a speech about tackling family violence, given by Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay at the 2014 VCOSS Summit in May.

“One of the key social policy issues we face in Victoria is family violence.

I want to explore how we can collectively lead change to tackle this, because we have a problem with family violence in Victoria and it’s a problem both sides of politics recognise.

I very much welcome Premier Denis Napthine’s announcement of a $30 million investment over four years to help protect and support women and children at high risk of family violence.

I especially welcome the additional funding into the Risk Assessment Management Panel (RAMP) program and the practical support given to women and children at risk.

This is a fantastic announcement.

I also acknowledge the Opposition’s commitment to a Royal Commission into the issue, if successful at the next election.

These are significant commitments by both parties at this time of budgetary restraint, a time when we must find creative solutions to tackle complex problems.

And family violence is one of the most complex problems we have in this state.

But I think if we tackle four key issues, we will go a long way to helping rid society of this terrible, terrible issue. But these are not small issues, they are large and difficult, and go to the heart of our culture and cut across our institutional boundaries.

So let me pose these questions to you:
Do we take a whole-of-community approach to this issue, where not only government, or specific agencies, the courts or police are held accountable for dealing with family violence, but all of us together: every single Victorian?

Do we need to overhaul our whole system; to put the victim at the centre?

Do we need to integrate our system to improve our response?

How do we change our culture to change the way men treat women in society?

I want you all to imagine something with me.

A young woman calls police and in halting English asks to speak to someone. She is nervous; she comes from a Middle Eastern country. She manages to communicate to the officer that she is scared, her life is in danger.

The first thing she needs is a translator. And after a number of phone calls from police, one is found.

“As she describes the hitting, the kicking and the humiliation she suffers on a daily basis, she begins to weep.”

A petite, softly spoken woman, she whispers to the translator that she came to Australia five years ago after marrying her husband.

Through her translator, this brave woman says that her husband started abusing her on her honeymoon. As she describes the hitting, the kicking and the humiliation she suffers on a daily basis, she begins to weep.

She tells the police officer she wants to leave her husband, take her daughter to a safe place, away from the horrific violence and the humiliation she experiences everyday in the family home.

But the woman has limited options. As she tells our member, she has little English. No job. No money and no family or community support. She is stuck.

Can you picture it?

Now picture the response.

Can we find safe accommodation for her and her daughter?

Yes, but only sometimes.

Can we give her easy access to a comprehensible and supportive legal system?

Many would argue…no.

Can we ensure the full range of community sector support is focused on her situation so she has options to leave this abusive, degrading relationship forever?

Sometimes. It depends where she lives, we don’t have basic services for women and children available 24/7.

In fact some services are only accessible 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, and do we really think family violence is restricted to office hours?

If this young migrant mother came to us for protection from a violent partner, could we be 100 per cent certain that we could keep her safe?

I think we all know the answer to that question is ‘no’.

But who is responsible?

I think the answer is we all are: government, agencies, the community, every individual.

The buck stops with us all.

“We all need to take responsibility, to challenge ourselves, to test ourselves, and to hold all parts of the system accountable; because it might be that the whole system needs an overhaul.”

We all need to take responsibility, to challenge ourselves, to test ourselves, and to hold all parts of the system accountable; because it might be that the whole system needs an overhaul.

From start to finish, we need to change the way we deal with victims.

Let me explain why, by sharing with you a story of my own.

Whilst I have not personally been a victim of family violence, a friend of mine has. Like so many others, I was completely unaware of her life behind the doors of the family home. But she finally took the courageous step of stopping the situation, by taking the matter to police.

A highly intelligent, successful and resilient woman, the story of her experience through the system horrified me.

She was forced to give some of the most intimate details of her 25-year marriage to total strangers. Strangers who were mostly men, and she had to do it time and time again.

She had to explain and justify her actions, as well as the abuses within her marriage, repeatedly, to complete strangers who again, were mostly men; men who sometimes seemed to neither sympathise or care.

Her experience of the court system was long and protracted, and it was incredibly humiliating. Towards the end she looked me straight in the eye, and said she would never do it again.

Let me be clear, this is an intelligent, articulate and strong woman.

Our systems and processes around this issue are so difficult and without feeling, that after years of abuse and finally violence, my friend did not believe dealing with the
issue through the system was worth it.

Let me ask you this, if a highly educated, professional and brave woman can’t deal with our systems and process around family violence, what does that mean for the newly arrived migrant with little English?

Or the woman who left school at 15?

Or the most vulnerable members of our community?

This is an issue for the whole system, from the start to the end and everything in between. The system needs to be taller. It needs to have the capacity to cope with the issue.

But the system also needs to be broader and take into account the difficult and complex aspects such as: what do we do with the perpetrator?

Jail is often not the answer.

The system is clearly neither big enough nor comprehensive enough to cope. Neither is it always understanding of what is happening in the family home, despite all our best efforts; and I know so many people work so very hard in this sector.

If we are going to make these changes, do we need an integrated response?

It seems we need to find a better way to share information about risks and the safety of victims.

RAMP funding will definitely help, but is legislative reform, or the co-location of services by expanding the number of Multidisciplinary Centres an option?

I do not have all the answers, but together we can work out the right direction.

And finally, to the small issue of changing society and a culture. How men relate to women is fundamental to everything I have been speaking about. It goes to the heart of why some men think it is ok to treat women in an abusive way.

Some of you may have read a column, published in April in The Age by the ‘Secret Footballer’, where he portrayed women as possessions or “loot” to be claimed as-of-right by the gods of football and used anyway they see fit.

“Our systems and processes around this issue are so difficult and without feeling, that after years of abuse and finally violence, my friend did not believe dealing with the issue through the system was worth it.”

But the Secret Footballer is not alone in his skewed view of masculinity. All of us have seen the misogyny and disrespect some men display towards women. These attitudes hang over our community like a dark shadow.

Some of our men learn disrespect for women from their fathers, their brothers, at school, the footy club, work, or from their mates at the pub.

Wherever they learn their disrespect is irrelevant. It leads fundamentally to some men finding an inherent endorsement to hit, bash and abuse women.

This culture also endorses violence as an acceptable way to resolve conflict.

And if anyone doubts that, think back again to May, to the headlines over two mates”, James Packer and David Gyngell, having a brawl on the streets of Bondi.

You couldn’t miss it, it was everywhere.

It was widely reported in the Australian media and drew comment from a wide cross-section of our community, including me.

Newspapers across the country ran headlines like “Packer Packs a Punch”, “Billion Dollar Biffo” and “Packer Whacker”.

But most inexplicably to me, Bob Katter, an experienced and long serving politician condoned the street fight as the “Australian way”.

I find it astounding that such a comment from a senior politician like Katter would go unchallenged and pass largely without criticism from the Australian media.

If Bob Katter can condone the street fight between James Packer and David Gyngell as “the Australian way for settling differences”, then perhaps we need to redefine
‘the Australian way’.

This tolerance of male aggression goes to the heart of why some Australian men have an inability to deal with conflict, be it with a mate, a wife, a child or a parent, without reverting to violence.

This inability was again brought into stark relief by a report in the Herald Sun.

An article described the tragic case of Jeffrey Keith Impey, who killed his father with a single punch to the face during an argument. A judge said the blow had been a spontaneous reflex action and the case was tragic.

It was tragic, a tragic example of a man settling his differences with violence.

In my mind, the inability of some men to control their anger has directly contributed to violence against women and children in our community.

So how do we change this culture? Do we need an advertising campaign such as the TAC has run on unsafe driving to change these attitudes?

Whatever we do, it won’t be an easy task, but men in particular need to start a conversation about how we can, because it won’t change itself.

I know you have all heard these numbers before; that in 2012-13, there were approximately 60,800 recorded incidences of family violence in Victoria, more than double the rate in 2003-04.

Last year, there were 44 deaths directly attributable to family violence, 29 of those were women and eight were children.

So yes, we do have a problem and it is very real and very ugly.

But these are numbers – they don’t illustrate the horror women experience living and dealing with unpredictable, violent men. They don’t describe what my members see when they push open a front door. The terror-stricken faces, the blood, the busted ribs and the traumatised children.

We are searching for answers, but we need look no further than the victims. They speak of the abuse, the intimidation, the terror and the bashing.

They speak of the frustration of the inconsistent responses from those agencies, police included, the failure to link-up; the failure of the system to protect them.

So in conclusion, let me again pose these questions to you.

How can we all stand together, take collective responsibility and work harder and better to reduce this scourge in our community?

“Last year, there were 44 deaths directly attributable to family violence, 29 of those were women and eight were children.”

Do we need to overhaul the system and boost it, most importantly putting the victim at the centre of everything we do?

Do we need to integrate our systems, share our information and co-locate so we can do our jobs better?

But fundamental to all of this, is how to change the way many men in Australia relate to women.

We have all felt the collective grief this year when we have read and seen cases on the front pages of our newspapers and on our televisions.

Something has got to give.

It will require some brave and decisive decisions from the agencies, from the community and from government if we are to stop this pain.”


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