2019-20 Bushfire Events
It has been a devasting start to 2020 for many Australians. From September 2019 fires heavily impacted various regions across Australia. In New South Wales more than 100 fires burnt across the state. In eastern and north-easternVictoria large areas of forest burnt out of control for weeks. Significant fires occurred in South Australia. In Queensland affected areas included south-eastern Queensland. Areas of south-western Western Australia, and a few areas in Tasmaniaand the ACT were also impacted. Over this period, it is estimated that 1 billion animals have perished, 18.6 million hectares has been burnt, 2,779 homes have been lost, and over 30 people killed. Concerns also remain as to the effects of the prolonged smoke inhalation.
The recent bushfire events serve as a sharp reminder of the different issues affecting women and families including healthy and safe environments. During disasters, people experiencing family or sexual violence may have additional marginalisations including isolation, homelessness, disability, being culturally or linguistically diverse, or being LGBTQI+. Families experiencing violence before the fires may face increasingly frequent violence post-disaster, when trauma, grief, financial stress, and loss of a home or employment may escalate their partner’s perpetration. Women and their children may also find themselves separated from extended family, friends and other protective networks.
With research and some organisations suggesting that gendered violence may peak during stressful events it is vital that government and those at the coal face deliver timely education and information relating to family violence. In this context a checklist has been developed to support community workers and individuals responding to the bushfire event. The “Checklist to Keep Women and Children Safe after Natural Disasters” comprises a gendered lens and can be found at (https://www.whealth.com.au/documents/publications/is-57116-Women_Disaster_Snapshot4.pdf). Other resources that may be accessed by women following the 2019-20 bushfire events include:
- Find a Bed (http://findabed.com.au/)
- The Australian National University has produced a factsheet on how to protect yourself and others from bushfire smoke (https://rsph.anu.edu.au/phxchange/communicating-science/how-protect-yourself-and-others-bushfire-smoke)
- The Australian Psychological Association has provided information on how to psychologically prepare and recover from bushfires – including advice for those looking after children affected by bushfires (https://www.psychology.org.au/Australian-bushfires-2020)
- Website Ask Izzy provides general information on local supports (https://askizzy.org.au/bushfire-support)
- ANROWS has done up an opinion piece on trauma and children with a back to school focus on children’s needs who are traumatised not only by the bushfires, but also family violence (https://www.anrows.org.au/opinion/thousands-of-kids-are-going-back-to-school-traumatised-and-not-just-because-of-the-bushfires/)
- The Monash University (Disaster Resilience Initiative) have drafted a factsheet on how to ask if someone is experiencing violence during a natural disaster (https://www.genderanddisaster.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Disaster-is-no-excuse-for-violence-edited.pdf)
- Telstra is supporting a complimentary phone top up scheme for those affected (https://www.infoxchange.org/au/telstra-top-up?utm_source=Infoxchange+news+and+updates&utm_campaign=db63e045ae-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_01_08_04_11_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5c9798fcd8-db63e045ae-45619929)
A recent investigation by the ABC found that police reject 1 in every 12 reports of sexual violence as “unfounded”. The investigation analysed 140,000 reports Australia wide between 2007 and 2017 and found that 12,000 had been rejected. This disbelief of victims remains rooted in societal attitudes around false allegations, with 42% believing that sexual assault allegations are used to get back at men, even though 9 out of 10 sexual assault survivors don’t report, and false reports are rare (ABS, 2017).
The Queensland Government is delivering the Queensland Violence against Women Prevention Plan 2016-22 and the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Strategy 2016-2026, and in 2019/20 will provide over $100,000 in one-off grant funding for activities and events aimed at helping to stamp out sexual violence in all Queensland communities through the Sexual Violence Prevention Grants Program. Along these lines the consultation period on Queensland’s review of laws relating to consent and the excuse of mistake of fact, closed on 31 January 2020 and submissions are now being considered. These are all important steps in the generational process of changing individual attitudes around sexual violence.
Family Violence and Homelessness
In Queensland there are over 72,000 social or affordable homes, with a further 5,500 under construction. However, 10% of the waiting list is known to be those at risk of family violence (2,200 out of wait list of 22,000). There is no doubt many more who are not registered. Coercive and financial control are driving factors behind homelessness which forces some women and their children to live in cars or motels. These women need not only proper shelter, but also access to services long term that will support their safety, stability, and recovery.
Family Violence and Disability
Submissions are open for the Royal Commission into violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation of people with disability. For more information go to their website (https://disability.royalcommission.gov.au/submissions/Pages/default.aspx).
In the November 2019 report I discussed the national plan aimed at implementing an endometriosis education program in schools for girls in Years 9 and 10. To update I share that the NCWQ are now in the process of writing to the Queensland government requesting that they now take the necessary steps to secure funding under this plan. It is vital that maintaining good health be the primary focus of everyone.
In conclusion, our thoughts remain with those who continue to be affected by the 2019-20 bushfire events. In January 2020 the National Mental Health Commission made mental health recovery a priority by announcing an investment of $76 million (AUD) to support the recovery of families affected by the 2019-20 bushfires. It is important that affected individual’s access, or that we continue to support others to access, the relevant support services.