Trigger warning: This article contains references to violence against women.

The number of women killed in violent attacks in Australia is trending back up after a record low two years ago and needs “active activism” to raise awareness and push for a better response from government, campaigners say.

With a bit over a week left in 2023, already 62 women have been killed, five more than last year and 20 more than the 42 killed in 2021, which was a low in the 12 years Destroy the Joint’s Counting Dead Women project has kept figures. Prior to that it had been in decline since a high of 84 deaths in 2015.

In seven days in November alone, six women died as a result of violence.

Jenna Price, co-founder of feminist advocacy Destroy the Joint, told Central News the statistics revealed only a fraction of the problem.

“People always focus on the fatal violence, but we have to also recognise that women are hospitalised every single day as a result of violence against them,” said Price, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.

“It’s also the injuries before those events take place, so it’s the beatings and the brain injury and the incapacity to work… in Australia, that part of it, particularly the injury part of it, does not seem to be abating in any way.”

Violence against women is a human rights violation that takes many forms and can leave lasting physical or psychological effects.

Our women experience violence from men from many different cultures and backgrounds

The National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women found major misconceptions about the issue, including that two in five Australians mistakenly thought men and women committed equal levels of domestic violence.

While revealing improved understanding of sexual, family and domestic violence across respondents, the survey showed concerning attitudes about where violence occurs. Over 90 per cent of Australians recognised violence against women is a problem in Australia but less than half believed it is a problem in their own suburb or town.

Such attitudes, campaigners say, are problematic because violence against women is not restricted to certain locations, taking place across all communities, with certain groups at greater risk due to the intersection of violence with other factors.

First Nations women are one such group disproportionately impacted because of their gender and race.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 33 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence than other women, and eight times more likely to die as a result of violent assault than other women,” said Antoinette Braybrook AM, the chief executive of Aboriginal community organisation Djirra.

Djirra, based in Victoria, provides legal and non-legal support for Aboriginal people experiencing family violence.

“We knew right from the beginning that the vast majority of people accessing our services would be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children,” said Braybrook.

“[Djirra’s] foundation is unapologetic in its commitment to putting Aboriginal women and children’s lives first.”

Djirra staff and allies holding a banner at Victoria’s annual Walk Against Family Violence. Photo: Djirra

According to Our Watch, the media often implies violence against First Nations women is always perpetrated by Indigenous men. However, the perpetrators are not exclusively Indigenous and there is danger in viewing this solely as an ‘Aboriginal problem’.

“Our women experience violence from men from many different cultures and backgrounds,” said Braybrook. “The gendered nature of violence must be acknowledged when it comes to Aboriginal women and we must stop labelling it as violence in Aboriginal communities.”

Instead, she called for more focus on the barriers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women face in this crisis, including challenges within the child protection and imprisonment systems.

“In our work we see how mums are blamed and punished for the violence they experience, and their children removed. We see how family violence is both a cause and consequence of Aboriginal women’s imprisonment … we see women choosing the violence over homelessness – a choice that should never have to be made,” she said.

Since Djirra began in 2002, more than 13,000 Aboriginal women have participated in their early intervention and prevention programs.

“We have always known that women will not just turn up to a Djirra office and disclose violence … our programs that we deliver across Victoria are what build the trust and confidence for women to reach out for our services,” Braybrook added.

Djirra recently advocated for change by launching a ‘16 Days of ACTIVEism’ campaign, which formed part of the annual global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence movement led by the United Nations. Its campaign officially launched on November 24 at Victoria’s annual Walk Against Family Violence, and concluded on December 10 to mark World Human Rights Day. It involved an inaugural event at Victoria Park “to celebrate Aboriginal women’s wellbeing, resilience and the importance of being an active activist.”

Djirra staff and allies marching at Victoria’s annual Walk Against Family Violence. Photo: Djirra

Braybrook said the solutions lie within Aboriginal communities and to achieve action, “we must get active in our activism”.

“Aboriginal women continue to be rendered invisible by policy and decision-makers. The intersectionality between sexism and racism creates barriers that can seem insurmountable … the more we stand up and speak up, the more awareness we can bring to what’s happening and what’s needed.”

The government released the latest National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children last year. This included a dedicated action plan to address First Nations women, which Djirra welcomed after a decade of activism for an inclusive plan.

But a year has passed since the plan began and another 62 women are dead. What needs to change?

In her address to the National Press Club last month, consent activist Chanel Contos said a key consideration is missing in our conversations.

“Whether in the home, in the media or in Parliament, we fail to acknowledge a vital piece of information,” she said. “That is who is committing these acts?

“We have the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children, not a National Plan to End Male Violence, although 97 per cent of perpetrators of sexual violence are men.”

There needs to be genuine punishment and holding people to account and supporting people who do the right thing

In order to end violence against women, Contos said: “[We need] mass public education, policy and law changes, disincentives and a value for quality of human life.”

Price believes children will need to be raised differently, beginning with a shift in prenatal classes where parents can discuss how they will act as role models to their children so they can “expect and accept equality”.

As adults, she says sexual harassment and sexual assault must not be tolerated in the workplace.

“There needs to be genuine punishment and holding people to account and supporting people who do the right thing … we also have to find ways to encourage and support women speaking up about this kind of behaviour,” Price said.

The way the media reports on this issue is also a powerful opportunity to make change, particularly when choosing the language to describe a victim or a perpetrator.

In 2014, journalist Jane Gilmore started the FixedIt project to rewrite headlines that blame victims and fail to hold perpetrators to account.

But it’s not only Gilmore’s role to call out complacency and OurWatch‘s national guidelines and tips for reporting on violence against women are aimed squarely at journalists.

New initiatives continue to raise awareness and offer solutions to this entrenched problem.

This month, 1800RESPECT expanded its helpline to include a text messaging service for users who may be unable to access support over the phone.

The NSW government, in partnership with Monash University’s XYX Lab and CrowdSpot launched the Your Ground project last month to improve women’s safety. The project asks women and gender diverse people to anonymously identify areas where they feel both safe and unsafe.

The importance of spreading the word and having conversations with families, friends and colleagues about this issue cannot be underestimated.

In doing so, Contos said: “Be ruthless with systems. Be kind with people.”

Need to talk? Help is available.

  • If you or someone you know is experiencing, or at risk of experiencing sexual, family or domestic violence contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or text 0458 737 732
  • First Nations Australians can access culturally safe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander crisis support 13YARN on 13 92 76
  • For men seeking support and counselling for their own violent behaviour call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491
  • In an emergency, call 000

Main image, from left to right: Vicki Ward MP, Minister for Prevention of Family Violence and Minister for Employment in Victoria, Antoinette Braybrook AM, CEO of Djirra, and Rosie Batty OA, a domestic violence campaigner and 2015 Australian of the Year. Supplied by Djirra.