Fury as Government funds couples counselling for families dealing with domestic violence

Updated April 09, 2019 18:08:02

A Federal Government decision to fund couples counselling and mediation for families dealing with domestic violence has been slammed by advocacy groups.

The Government announced a $10 million funding package for Specialist Family Violence Services in the Federal Budget as part of a broader domestic violence initiative.

Organisations that provide family relationship services, including broad-based counselling and dispute resolution, have been invited to apply for a grant under the scheme.

But the Director of the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, Hayley Foster, said it is an ill-informed initiative that could risk more lives.

Ms Foster said there had been an outcry on social media over the funding decision, with some citing examples of how mediation with an alleged abuser led to retribution.

“We had one woman who was on Twitter saying she supported a woman on the weekend who had had her finger burnt to the point where she had to have it amputated because according to her partner, she had ‘won’ that mediation session.

“A woman will feel that she is not able to be honest or speak up in those sessions for fear of retribution afterwards.

“And there are many cases, countless cases where women are in a mediation situation where there’s retribution either on herself and or the children,” Ms Foster said.

‘I needed to be a better wife’: Survivor’s mediation experience

A woman who said she was in a violent relationship where she was beaten and strangled said her self-esteem was so eroded after being referred to couples counselling that she saw “death as likely.”

“The glare in his eyes as I spoke bore a hole in me,” said Rebecca*.

“I could see that he wanted to kill me.”

Rebecca said she grew increasingly concerned for the welfare of her children and was told to “work harder” on her relationship while undertaking counselling.

“I was part of the problem that needed to be worked through, I needed to be a better wife,” she said.

“I needed to be more understanding of the pressures he was under.

“I stayed for nine more years despite my fears, because I was told I was part of the reason for the abuse.”

Focus needs to shift to safety

Wollongong Psychiatrist and member of Doctors Against Violence Towards Women, Karen Williams, has joined calls for a review of the funding.

She said dispute resolution does not work.

“It’s dangerous,” Dr Williams said.

“Couples counselling by nature attempts to understand both perspectives from a neutral position, while in reality, nothing justifies abusive behaviour.

“This dynamic fails to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions, whilst encouraging guilt in the victim and delaying her willingness to leave.”

Dr Williams condemned the Government’s policy as showing disregard for the safety of women and children.

“If a woman is asking for help, safety needs to be the priority — not couples counselling or mediation,” she said.

In a statement the Minister for Families and Social Services, Paul Fletcher, did not address the specific criticisms by domestic violence groups.

“Specialised Family Violence Services provide voluntary support for individuals, couples, children and families who have experienced or are at risk of domestic and family violence,” Mr Fletcher said.

“Support includes counselling, child and youth focus groups, education, family relationship building, advocacy and support, and relies on a safety first approach.”

Topics: domestic-violence, federal-government, crime, wollongong-2500, nt, qld, sa, tas, vic, wa, nsw

First posted April 09, 2019 14:53:28

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