0808 GMT December 14, 2019
“Our ultimate aim is to write ourselves out of existence,” Respect Victoria chief executive, Tracey Gaudry, told Guardian Australia.
“But we know that’s a long game.”
Gaudry is a former Olympian and was the first female chief executive of an Australian Football League club. In this role, she is leading an agency that will be written into law — becoming one of the world’s first statutory authorities dedicated to preventing family violence.
The agency was a recommendation of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence.
The agency’s opening could not be more timely. One day last week, news stories about the deaths of four women in the Australian state of Victoria — separate cases of violent crime — dominated headlines.
“What we’ve seen in the media more recently [brings] to the fore the fact that the predominant form of family violence, unfortunately, is gender-based violence of a male against an intimate or former intimate female,” Gaudry said.
“This type of recognition is hard and it’s harsh, but it’s real. And it’s real people we’re losing.”
While many of the existing organizations focus on intervention and treatment, Respect Victoria will grapple with the more long-term challenge of changing attitudes, social norms and culture in the state. Central to that is an emphasis on gender inequality and its link to family violence, a key finding of Victoria’s royal commission into the issue.
In June, there was a hint of the conversations to come. As the city mourned the death of comedian Eurydice Dixon, government-funded ads were screened in Victoria encouraging men to call out sexist behavior in public.
Legislation to enshrine Respect Victoria in law as a statutory authority is still to pass parliament. When that does occur, the agency will also be responsible for scrutinizing the performance of the government and other organizations in reducing family violence. That will be done through research and advocacy.
Across Australia, at least 40 women have died as a result of violence so far in 2018, according to Counting Dead Women project. In 2017, the total figure counted by the project was 51.
And unlike other long-standing organizations that seek to change behavior, such as health or road safety authorities, Gaudry acknowledges that the cultural change Respect Victoria is seeking will not be easy. Attitudes are entrenched.
“It goes back through the ages and tens of thousands of years. We’ve got tens of thousands of years of gender-based discrimination to make up for,” she said.