Greater resourcing for prevention programs rather than jail cells are the recommendations Latrobe Valley family violence experts hope a Royal Commission into Family Violence will give.
Targeting the largest contributor to preventable deaths and disability in women under 45, the commission will begin shortly, after its terms of reference were announced on Monday.
Latrobe Valley based family violence experts are hoping the commission will address the need for resources to facilitate prevention programs, rather than exploring the possibility of harsher penalties, which they believe could make perpetrators worse.
Between October 2013 and September 2014, there were 852 family violence assault offences, an increase of 75 cases from the year before, according to Victoria Police.
The terms of reference will find the most effective ways to prevent family violence, improve early intervention to identify and protect those at risk, support victims, make perpetrators accountable and improve the way government and society work together.
Latrobe Valley family violence experts echoed the need for greater prevention strategies and programs aimed at improving gender equality in communities.
Gippsland Community Legal Service acting principal lawyer Jessica McCartney told The Express perpetrators should be held to account, but through strategic programs.
Federation University senior lecturer in community welfare and counselling Dr Chris Laming echoed Ms McCartney’s concerns.
Dr Laming said combating family violence was about challenging offenders and giving them hope of change.
“Locking up is not the answer, it’s about challenging the bulls**t, challenging the excuses or the denial and enabling them to have hope that they don’t have to be like that,” Dr Laming said.
“Men are no more born violent than women, they learn or are given messages or are socialised into thinking this is not only normal but okay.
“Most men who are violent are ashamed of what they are and do, they look in the mirror and are ashamed.”
Dr Laming said a major pitfall in the system which dealt with offenders was a lack of funding which often meant men referred to behaviour change programs did not attend them.
“The men’s programs are just not resourced enough to deal with those referrals, the man gets the message that it doesn’t really matter and does the same thing,” he said.
With 20 years’ worth of experience working with family violence offenders in the Valley, Dr Laming said only five per cent of men were unable to change their behaviour.
“About 95 per cent of men, if you give them the opportunity to get their act together, to start to actually change those behaviours that scare their wife or have them living in fear like a domestic terrorist, they will,” Dr Laming said.
“We have to get more serious about prevention and that includes early intervention so kids have programs they see respectful behaviours, not bullying behaviours that gets you what you want because you’re stronger and you’re a male.”