There has been real progress in the inclusion of victim survivor voices in the reform, and the operation of the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council has evolved and been strengthened since its establishment. In speaking with Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council about its operation and individual members’ involvement in reform governance groups, many examples of positive improvements have been identified, including:
- The provision of pre-briefings in advance of formal engagement sessions to assist members to understand the issue they are being consulted on (particularly where there are complex written materials provided) and support their considered contribution to the consultation.
- The work of the secretariat, provided by Family Safety Victoria, to create consistency in the approach to managing engagements, including assisting departments and agencies bringing matters to the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council on how they engage with members.
- Inclusion of two (rather than individual) Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council representatives on governance groups for support and to increase the diversity of victim survivor perspectives brought to the meetings.
The Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council members were uniformly positive about the support provided by the Secretariat, and also of the respect and welcome shown in their presence at governance groups, which can often feel daunting to attend. One member commented:
‘…[the Secretariat] live in the world of bureaucracy and have to deal with non-bureaucratic people. They need to be praised for the approach that they take with us.’
There is also now a greater diversity of voices included on the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council; for example, there has not previously been a sex worker representative. However, having a council of 15 members as the primary mechanism for including victim survivor voices can limit the diversity of the lived experience expertise that is accessed by government. The Royal Commission recommended that victim survivor voices be included in policy design and service delivery, not that this be delivered through a victim survivors’ council. Under the ‘council’ model there is a challenge for the single representatives of broad communities with diverse experiences such as LGBTIQ+, disability and youth. Members feel the responsibility of representing those communities as best they can but cannot bring the full range of experience to their roles. Some members also commented that their experience of the family violence and justice systems was some time ago and, while they still bring a valuable perspective, there needs to be a place for the voices of those with current experiences. There was consensus among members of a need to bring in the voices of a wider range of victim survivors to properly reflect the diversity and currency of experience in family violence reform work. As one member stated:
‘We are some voices, we are not all voices.’
We have highlighted examples of victim survivor inclusion across different areas of the reform in previous Monitor’s reports, and other examples are provided in the government’s Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023.20 We concur that within government there is an important opportunity to build on the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council and develop additional mechanisms for engaging a wider range of victim survivors in reform implementation and oversight across government. We note the work underway within Family Safety Victoria to develop — in partnership with the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council members — a lived experience strategy to ‘build on the knowledge and insights gained through the formation and strengthening of Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council to support the workforce to embed lived experience’21 initially within Family Safety Victoria and then more broadly across government. The inclusion of more diverse voices will add greater depth to the work and broaden reach to other vulnerable women, children and communities.
Certainly, in our monitoring, having Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council members facilitate access to other victim survivors with recent experience of the issues we are examining has been of enormous value, and is one potential mechanism [relates to action 9].
Additionally, there is value in considering separate approaches to hear the perspectives of those who have used family violence in developing perpetrator responses. As one Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council member commented:
‘...[perpetrators are] the problem and need to be part of the solution.’
We support this sentiment, noting that there is real complexity in how to do this in a way that ensures victim survivor safety and maintains accountability for those who have used family violence. Although, we are not aware of existing models in Victoria or other jurisdictions where perpetrator perspectives have been included in a range of family violence research work.22
We also spoke with Berry Street’s Y-Change Lived Experience Consultants, who are a group of young people who work to challenge the thinking and practices of social systems through their lived experience, advocacy and leadership. They continue to advocate for partnerships with children and young people in the ongoing development of the reform and expressed frustration that decisions that affect children and young people continue to be made without their direct involvement. This is a missed opportunity to meaningfully engage and partner with children and young people to create policy and service responses that work for them [relates to action 9]. The Y-Change Lived Experience Consultants also highlighted the importance of taking the time to build ongoing relationships with children and young people to build trust and reciprocity. In doing so, this does their experiences justice by advocating in partnership with them.
The Y-Change Lived Experience Consultants particularly highlighted that service responses for victim survivors are not designed for children and young people as individuals in their own right, only as an extension of their parent or caregiver. This issue will be further explored in our subsequent victim survivor response report. Two other areas were raised with us where collaborative partnerships with children and young people would be especially beneficial to ensure the responses developed adequately cater to their needs and concerns: service responses for adolescents who have used violence in the home; and primary prevention relating to consent and respectful relationships, including in settings outside of schools given that many children and young people in vulnerable situations are excluded from education. While the Department of Education and Training’s inclusion of student voices in its governance for the implementation of the Respectful Relationships program in schools is a positive development, there is an opportunity for this work to go further through working with victim survivors to develop guidance and resources for schools on supporting children and young people experiencing family violence. As an example, Y-Change Lived Experience Consultants partnered with Safe and Equal to develop a recently released resource to help family violence practitioners better support children and young people with experiences of family violence.23
In respect of the approach taken by departments and agencies to engaging with the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council on aspects of the reform, there remains some inconsistency in the depth of consultation and in reporting back on what has happened as a result of the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council involvement. Some engagements continue to present to the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council about what is happening rather than genuinely seeking members’ involvement in understanding the issue and shaping the approaches to address it. Members explained that this makes them feel they are being consulted out of obligation rather than a genuine desire to ground the work in victim survivor experience or that they are expected to support a predetermined position. There is a strong desire among members for genuine co-design to happen more frequently, and would result in more meaningful development of priority work across government. When consulting the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council, departments and agencies should ensure they provide feedback on how members’ contributions have been used and what the outcomes have been [relates to action 15]. Other examples given to us of how engagement with the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council and other lived experience groups can be enhanced include providing clear consultation questions, writing up themes, consolidating findings and ideas from consultations to take back for validation and further development, and co-developing position papers resourced by the areas consulting.
Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council members also expressed a strong desire to have more autonomy in establishing their work program; to be able to raise issues that matter to the communities they represent and contribute to the relevant areas of the reform, rather than have their involvement determined by the matters that departments and agencies choose to bring to the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council [relates to action 8]. Such a role is in keeping with the government’s commitment to hearing the voices of lived experience and understanding how victim survivors experience the system in progressing the reform program.24
20 Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (2020): Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023: Lived Experience. Available at vic.gov.au/family-violence-reform-rolling-action-plan-2020-2023/reform-principles/lived-experience (accessed 5 December 2021). There are other examples of committees and governance structures that include people with lived experience of family violence, such as the Victims of Crime Consultative Committee (VoCCC) Victims of Crime Consultative Committee, Victims of Crime Victoria, which includes members with lived experience of family violence and sexual assault, and the Legal Services in The Orange Door Network Project, which embeds lived experience in both the Project Team and Project Control Group.
21 Family Safety Victoria: Lived Experience Strategy Concept Brief Draft, November 2021(unpublished).
22 See for example, the Centre for Innovative Justice (2018): Bringing Pathways Towards Accountability Together – Perpetrator Journeys and System Roles and Responsibilities. Available at cij.org.au/cms/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/bringing-pathways-towards-accountabilitytogether-perpetrator-experiences-and-system-roles-and-responsibilities-170519.Pdf; ANROWS (in progress): Transforming Responses to Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence: Listening to the Voices of Victims, Perpetrators and Services. Available at anrows.org.au/project/transforming-responses-to-intimate-partner-and-sexual-violence-listening-to-the-voices-of-victims-perpetrators-and-services/ (accessed 5 December 2021).
23 Safe and Equal: Support for Children and Young People. Available at safeandequal.org.au/resources/support-for-children-and-young-people/ (accessed 10 February 2022).
24 Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (2020): Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023: Lived Experience. Available at vic.gov.au/family-violence-reform-rolling-action-plan-2020-2023/reform-principles/lived-experience (accessed 5 December 2021).