Family violence and homelessness: context and the facts

Changing attitudes towards women is essential to preventing family violence. A recent VicHealth survey on community attitudes towards violence against women showed that a staggering 20 percent of people thought that in some circumstances violence against a woman could be partially excused, for example if she was drunk or if the perpetrator was angry. In fact the survey showed that since 2009, respondents had become more accepting of violence against women.  It also showed that one quarter of respondents believed men made better political leaders and that one in five believed men should be the head of the household. These general attitudes must also be considered when looking at the relationship between family violence and homelessness, with family violence being the single biggest trigger for homelessness in Victoria (here I’ll use family violence to cover both family and domestic violence).

The relationship between family violence and homelessness is complex, as it is underpinned by many other non-housing related factors such as socioeconomic disadvantage and gender inequality. However, it’s important to note that not all women who experience family violence will become homeless. Those with better social and financial resources may be able to avoid homelessness even if they have to leave their home, reinforcing the connection between homelessness and another social issue – poverty.

As promised in an earlier blog, CHP will be putting together fact sheets on a range of issues and how they intersect with homelessness. The first one in this series is on family violence, and it is hoped this can be used by anyone wanting to learn more about the issue. 

Another recent incident of family violence making it into the news was the footage of NFL footballer Ray Rice punching his now wife Janay Palmer in the face, and dragging her unconscious out of an elevator. The footage went viral. But quickly the mass and social media questions turned to Ms Palmer and why she didn’t leave him, rather than the actions of Rice. This prompted author and family violence survivor Beverly Gooden to start the twitter tags #WhyIstayed and #WhyIleft, which are now trending on social media, to open up the discussion on why women decide to stay or leave abusive situations.

The Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria is running an election campaign called No More Deaths that aims to put family violence at the top of the 2014 state election agenda. The campaign calls on political parties to commit to a range of policies across multiple portfolios that will help keep women and children safe. One of the key elements to the campaign is around housing, recognising that keeping women in safe housing is essential to ending violence against women. Until social attitudes change significantly and people no longer believe that violence against women is excusable, family violence will continue to be a complex and significant trigger for homelessness.