Deborah Di Natale comments on Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence in the NT

This opinion piece featured in the NT News 12 September, 2021

Two weeks ago a woman was murdered in Darwin.

It didn’t make national news. People didn’t take to the streets in protest.

The police arrested a man for ‘murder and domestic violence’.

In January of this year in Alice Springs, a leading campaigner against domestic violence was murdered in what police called ‘a domestic violence incident’.

Late last year a woman was stabbed to death on a busy street in Darwin. The police arrested a man for murder, but also with contravening a domestic violence order.

Three women murdered in a handful of months. Three women who represent thousands more caught in domestic, family and sexual violence in our Territory communities.

Earlier this week, the Federal Government held the Women’s Safety Summit to discuss with services and survivors around the country about what is needed in the next 12 year National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children. Attendees were angry, passionate but also hopeful that this was indeed a moment for national leadership and action.

Spoiler alert : it wasn’t.

The NT Council of Social Service joined with 15 other Territory delegates to advocate for improved regional and remote services, building on community designed, culturally appropriate responses. We also called for national funding for domestic, family and sexual violence services to be allocated on the basis of need, not on the size of our population. The NT has long had the worst domestic, family and sexual violence rates in the country – but resources are not matched to that.

Whilst many experts shared powerful advice, wisdom and recommendations; the opportunity for contribution at the Summit by the hundreds of invited delegates was limited. The agenda was narrow, the process was exclusionary, and the space was tightly controlled. The Summit failed to meaningfully include many marginalised groups; and a number of key advocates, including survivors, were not invited to contribute.

But the NT delegates are still hopeful. There is no way to continue to do what they do, day after day, year after year, without hope.

We know that our communities have the answers and expertise and they know what works best for them. We know community-led initiatives need sustained, long-term funding to address our high rates of domestic, family and sexual violence.

In Alice Springs, the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group works in Town Camps on early intervention and prevention of domestic, family and sexual violence. They are women with lived experience of violence and they are invested in finding systemic solutions to the issues of family violence, because it is their home, their community, their family and their future. The Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group is an example of what can happen when we not only centre the voices of those with lived experience, but value their specialist knowledge.

As Shirleen Campbell, co-coordinator of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group, said at the Summit. “We have the expertise. We are embedded in our communities. We know what we do works. We just need the ongoing support to do it.”

These are the voices that need to be heard. Theirs is the wisdom that needs to drive the drafting and development of the next National Plan. We need action.

Before the hope runs out.