Forming a partnership to fight domestic violence

Prof Kelsey Hegarty, Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, Prof Jane Gunn and Prof Cathy Humphreys at the GP Awards in 2015

Researchers who have dedicated years to family violence prevention, service response and advocacy are pleased the issue has finally broken into the mainstream media and that community and government sectors are actively engaging to break the cycle.

An anti-violence alliance will encourage interdisciplinary research across the University and its partners to keep women and children safe.

Researchers who have dedicated years to family violence prevention, service response and advocacy are pleased the issue has finally broken into the mainstream media and that community and government sectors are actively engaging to break the cycle.

It stems from the tireless campaigning of Rosie Batty, whose son Luke was murdered by his father in 2014, and the inquest into the death of Darcey Freeman, who was thrown from the West Gate Bridge by her father in 2009. July and August also saw hundreds of community experts appearing at the Royal Commission into Family Violence public hearings.

Previously dismissed as tragic events committed by those with mental health problems, the voices of loved ones from family violence tragedies did not cease.

Even before the tragedy of Luke Batty hit our homes, family violence was gaining traction in the public space. The World Health Organization announced family violence as a global public health epidemic; there was bipartisan support for the National Plan and Our Watch; VicHealth developed a national framework and national survey on attitudes, not to mention the countless community-led prevention and support projects.

By the time Batty became 2015 Australian of the Year, family violence was too public to be silenced or ignored.

"People in the family violence sector have worked on this for decades when people did not want to know," said Batty to a group of GPs and students at the Department of General Practice awards night. "But while I am the Australian of the Year, I'm going to make sure that everyone knows this is their business."

Primary care researcher Professor Kelsey Hegarty and social worker Professor Cathy Humphreys, at the University of Melbourne, announced the Research Alliance to End Violence against Women and Children. The Alliance is designed to encourage interdisciplinary research across the University and its partners to keep women and children safe.

Professors Hegarty and Humphreys have collaborated on family violence for a number of years and understand how and where their expertise intersects and complements each other's.

"This area has been very isolating," says Professor Hegarty. "It's hard to believe now. To cover a social issue in medicine initially was very isolating.

"I like to think of this as a 'two of us' story," says Professor Humphreys. "We were both Brisbane girls who came to Melbourne and found each other both working on researching family violence and with a shared understanding and commitment to the area.

"It is complementary but not competitive. There is strength in working not just collaboratively but in a non-hierarchical way," says Professor Hegarty.

This is at the heart of what the Alliance means: bringing together all the current research to reduce violence against women and children, and getting the issue as a major focus for the University.

Professors Hegarty and Humphreys have worked on earlier inceptions of the Alliance. Family violence Actioning Interdisciplinary Research (FAIR) in 2011, built the foundations on which the Alliance now forms.

Professor Bernadette McSherry, Director of Melbourne Social Equity Institute, is proud to support the Alliance. "It provides a wonderful opportunity for researchers across the University to work on interdisciplinary, community-focused projects that can make real differences in the lives of women and children.

While the double-act of Professor Hegarty in primary care intervention research and Professor Humphreys in social work response is an obvious pairing, the Alliance embraces research across all disciplines to address this epidemic.

From challenging gender roles and effectiveness of first line response, to pathways to legal support and safe housing, the Research Alliance to End Violence against Women and Children will break down all silos of research clusters.

"We see ourselves as part of this social movement," says Professor Humphreys. "How do we contribute to a social movement to keep women and children safe? You have to hold that as your raison d'ĂȘtre."

By Lisa Mamone

I-DECIDE is an online interactive tool for women in unhealthy or unsafe relationships that provides practical and confidential and self-managed support.

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

This article originally appeared in Voice, Volume 11 Number 8. View the original here.