Fearless take on domestic violence

On average one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner. One in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them. One in five women over the age of 18 have been stalked in their lifetime. Domestic violence is the principal cause of homelessness for women and their children. These figures are confronting and they should be.

On 28 February 2015 Canberra's Tara Costigan was killed by her former partner with an axe as she held her eightday-old baby girl. Both of Tara's sons were powerless to stop the attack and her 18-year-old sister and boyfriend were injured as they fought off the attack. This tragedy saw the creation of the Tara Costigan Foundation in her honour. Each year thousands of Canberrans get together at Lake Burley Griffin as part of Tara's Walk for Change. This walk has been going for three years. I've proudly taken part in each walk over the three years. I've joined thousands of other Canberrans who have sent the strong message that they have zero tolerance for family and domestic violence.

Domestic violence is one of Australia's most pressing issues and the numbers that prove it are alarming. For every woman who comes forward there are so many who won't have their story heard. They suffer in silence. A recent report published by the Women's Centre for Health Matters found that here in the ACT most women experiencing domestic violence are staying in their homes post crisis and not accessing the crisis system. This means that they're not accessing homelessness services and do not have access to the support systems available to others. Many of these women are middle-income earners and are employed full time. They are not able to access financial assistance and support because they don't qualify for hardship provisions or loans. So it's not just a case of women being afraid to leave; in these circumstances they can't leave, because there's nowhere for them to go.

Our culture needs to change. Not only should we call out domestic violence when we see it but we need to empower women with the tools to be able to leave a violent relationship. That means providing them with the support systems, and that means providing them with housing assistance. The 2015 Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, said, 'We shouldn't be happy to live in a community where the prospect of returning to violence is better than having nowhere to go.' That's what so many of these women face.

One fearless woman in the Canberra community, Juliet Moody, is leading the way for change. Last year she launched the Fearless Comedy Gala as part of her Fearless Initiative. We know domestic violence isn't a laughing matter, but Juliet tackles the issue through comedy. She puts the spotlight right on the issue when sometimes the community is too afraid to speak out. Juliet is the survivor of a violent relationship of more than a decade ago and uses her annual Fearless Comedy Gala to raise crucial funds for services here in Canberra. This year, the gala's second year, the gala raised nearly $40,000, almost $10,000 more than last year. That's nearly $40,000 going to the Domestic Violence Crisis Service and Toora Women right here in Canberra. I want to thank Canberrans for getting behind the Fearless Initiative in such a strong way and at such an early stage, and for supporting it in so many different ways.

Sexual violence is an important issue that I've been strongly advocating against in the broader Women, Peace and Security agenda of the United Nations. Like domestic violence here in Australia, we should be speaking out about sexual violence and we should be holding perpetrators to account, no matter where they are, which is why I'm such a strong advocate of the 'Prosecute; don't perpetrate campaign'—getting those foreign fighters back here and getting them prosecuted under sexual violence and conflict legislation and norms.

In 2008, Dassi Erlich and a number of other students at the ultraorthodox Jewish girls school Adass Israel in Melbourne disclosed that they'd been sexually abused by Malka Leifer, the school principal. Leifer almost immediately fled to Israel, with the assistance of the school board. She was later charged in Victorian courts with 74 counts of sexual assault and rape. In 2014, the Australian government applied for Leifer's extradition to Australia to face these charges, but so far she's managed to avoid them. So I'm calling on the Israeli government, the Israeli Minister of Justice and the Israeli judicial system to consider a fair, independent evaluation of the accused so that she can be returned to Australia to face these charges.

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