How philanthropy can help tackle the scourge of family violence

In the wake of the murders of Hannah Clarke and her young children, Emma Morgan from The FV Philanthropy Collaboration Project shares thoughts on the role philanthropy can play in a coordinated community response to family violence.

Over the last two years, Domestic Violence Victoria (DV Vic) has worked in partnership with a committed group of philanthropists to support their contributions to the implementation of the Victorian government’s Royal Commission into Family Violence recommendations. On 19 February I met with this group to plan the next phase of our work. That afternoon the reporting came through about the murders of Hannah Clarke and her young children Aaliyah, Laianah, and Trey. 

Emerging from this high-level conversation to see such horror unfolding in real-time was incredibly disorienting and distressing. Like many of my colleagues at DV Vic, I felt overwhelmed by a sense of inertia following this act of terror and the devastating public conversation that accompanied it. How could this happen? Are we making any difference at all? 

As we collectively re-group and strengthen our resolve for change there are some key themes that came out of our conversation that day, about the role philanthropy can play in a coordinated community response to family violence that I think will be valuable to share.

Ending family violence in our communities is legacy work requiring long-term commitment, vision and leadership. 

We need to establish realistic and commonly understood expectations about the time and resourcing it will take to truly end family violence in our communities. This stands at odds with the reactive political landscape we live in and the expectation for results in the short term. You cannot apply a market logic to social problems. You can invest in improving the generation and use of evidence and data in our decision making and the way we talk about this problem.

Let’s lift our gaze from the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. 

The short-term costs of investing in prevention and improving responses in the face of complexity and uncertainty can be overwhelming, while the long-term impacts and costs of not investing in change remain invisible. It is important we make these invisible costs tangible and shift our thinking. We need to resource a system that can intervene early and address the drivers of family violence, as well as a system that can meet the current demands.

We need to understand the breadth and depth of this wicked problem and resist the urge to chunk it down into palatable pieces. 

Family violence is inextricably linked with social inequality, housing affordability, the economic marginalisation of women and the gendered performance of family. The social net we understand as a fundamental right in this country has shrunk after decades of under-investment. We watch as demand rises and response systems groan, effectively under siege – housing, health, mental health, AOD, justice, child protection, family violence. With the recent bushfires and unfolding situation with COVID-19, 2020 may be the year we start to see the strains of this become visible in new and urgent ways. 

Complex problems are not solved in isolation – you can invest in collaboration, partnership and connecting different kinds of knowledge and authority to support innovation. We also need state and federal governments committed to resourcing the needs and safety of its citizens.

We need a better public conversation about family violence than we have seen in recent weeks. 

Family violence occurs at the unique intersection of the personal with the political, contributing to our instinct to push it away from view, to see it as an aberration even as we manage our own private experiences of trauma. We all need to bring self-awareness to this, and also hold to account those who influence the public narratives about family violence – the media, our politicians and our police. You can make significant investment in changing public attitudes and public conversations about gendered and family violence.

Family violence is a product of power structures embedded at all levels of our society, all of us are impacted by and implicated in this. 

We need to unpack the structures of power and privilege within philanthropy and influence those with real decision-making power to understand that family violence is a social problem, not an individual pathology. Create opportunities for subject matter experts to come and speak with your trustees and executive about this, in order to support better decision making and to keep family violence on the agenda.

Lastly, respect the expertise and the value of those with lived experience and those who work most closely with victim-survivors on the ground. 

The continued scourge of family violence in our community is an indictment on our society, not on the services doing the work every day. It’s important to be clear about the real progress that has been made, and value the experience and expertise of those who have made it possible.




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