The conversation we need to have: Victoria has made progress on tackling domestic violence, but there is still much to be done

The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence has sparked an important national debate, but that needs to be backed up by work that responds to violence in the community, and a strategy to stop it before it starts, Brigitte Lewis, Lisa Harris, and Georgina Heydon write.

After the Royal Commission into Family Violence released their findings in March this year, the Victorian Government committed $572 million towards implementing 65 of the 227 recommendations they came back with.

Innovative ideas and approaches to address family violence are urgently needed, and there are several new initiatives already doing important work.

In 2014, Victoria Police set up a specialised family violence unit called Taskforce Alexis which was trialled initially in southeast Melbourne. Taskforce Alexis provides an holistic approach to responding to family violence with both family violence specialists and police working in a single team. It has proved a resounding success with a drop in repeat offenders reported and is exactly the kind of partnership and cross-agency co-operation that the Royal Commission recommendations advocate. Following this, in 2015, Australia saw its first Family Violence Command rolled out and headed by Assistant Commissioner Dean McWhirter which provides high-level oversight of police responses to family violence.

The use of technology has also created space for innovative responses to family violence, with the SmartSafe+ mobile app winning the Victorian Premier’s iAward for Public Sector Innovation in June this year. Developed by the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, the app enables women to keep an online diary using written, pictorial, video, and audio entries that are then stored on a cloud account to enable security. Similarly, The Neighbourhood Justice Centre is trialling an online intervention order app which includes plain language explanations to help improve access to justice. Such technical innovations further demonstrate collaboration in action, with tech experts working together with the domestic violence sector to develop safe options for victims.

Existing specialist family violence court divisions have also been a success. Yet with more than 46,000 intervention orders finalised in 2015, more specialist court services are needed across the state, with only two operating at present.

However, there remain many other challenges to address…