Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

Better urban planning can reduce the tragedies of domestic violence

Three shocking incidents, in which three children and one adult died, have dominated the news in Melbourne in the past two months. On Easter Sunday, Indiana and Savannah Mihayo were murdered in their grandparents…

Good urban planning and support services can make a life-and-death difference to victims of family violence. Denizo71/Shutterstock

Three shocking incidents, in which three children and one adult died, have dominated the news in Melbourne in the past two months. On Easter Sunday, Indiana and Savannah Mihayo were murdered in their grandparents' home in Watsonia. Two weeks ago, Fiona Warzywoda was murdered on a busy Sunshine shopping street in front of her son. And two months ago, Luke Batty was murdered on a cricket field in Mornington.

These tragedies have three things in common. First, the alleged murderers appear to be men who were intimate partners or fathers of the victims. Second, the killings grabbed public attention at least in part because two of the incidents happened in public, instead of the “privacy” of someone’s home, and all involved children. Third, the families lived in outer suburban “struggle towns”.

These murders have once again thrust the often hidden issue of domestic violence to the fore. In Australia, intimate partner violence is the biggest health risk to women aged 15 to 44. In the first national survey of violence against women in Australia, almost one in four women who had ever been married or in a de facto relationship experienced violence at some time in that relationship. Of women who had experienced partner violence since the age of 15, 36% per cent reported violence during pregnancy; 18% experienced domestic violence for the first time while pregnant.

If strangers committed this violence, the public and politicians would probably be demanding tougher sentencing, tighter parole, more police, more CCTV. But it would be far too costly to “lock up and throw away the key” every man who has ever threatened his wife and children – that would be hundreds of thousands of men across Australia. It would also be unrealistic to deny every father with a history of violence any access to their children.

Risks rise in outer areas

Unlike the stereotype of criminal violence being concentrated in the big bad central city, rural areas and outer suburbs have higher rates of domestic violence in every Australian state. Luke Batty was murdered in an urban fringe area with one of the highest police-reported rates of domestic violence in Victoria. Other urban fringe areas such as Whittlesea in Melbourne’s northern suburbs record much higher rates than other parts of the city.

Many outer suburbs lack refuges for victims of domestic violence. Tony Phillips/AAP

Outer suburbs concentrate three types of risk. Women who are pregnant or have young children are most at risk from male partners and often find it most difficult to escape violence. While housing stress is no excuse for violence, it does exacerbate family tensions and lack of affordable housing makes it more difficult for women to get away from abusers.

And outer suburbs are critically lacking in the kinds of social support services – health, legal, emergency shelters, family counselling – that might make a life-and-death difference.

Yet, according to several recent reports, federal funding for these services – housing in particular – has been cut. Federal funding under a homelessness prevention initiative (most homeless women are victims of violence) was due to run out in June.

A recent report on unmet needs of women who are homeless as a result of domestic violence identified legal aid shortages in many places, including Mornington. Funding for risk assessment panels, which might help identify the most concerning cases of men committing domestic violence, is also uncertain.

Good urban planning saves lives

According to international research, wrap-around services for women and children at risk of violence from the men in their lives, and for men seeking help for their violence problems, can save lives.

If local schools and health services identify violence and risks of further violence; if legal aid, specialised court services and counselling (including the capacity for supervised visits with children) can be provided conveniently and compassionately; if emergency housing and housing assistance allow women who have pressed charges to stay at home with additional security or move to a secure location without overly disrupting their children’s lives, then there is a better chance that domestic violence will not lead to further tragedy.

At present, we are allowing very high rates of growth in outer suburbs, without the critical infrastructure people need to live healthy and safe lives. Schools, health and social services, and emergency housing need to be provided, just as much as water, sewers, roads and rubbish collection.

In residential areas that are already service-rich, more affordable housing needs to be provided so that poorly serviced outer suburbs are not the only choice for young families. Co-ordination of service planning with land use and transport planning has never been more necessary.

While these measures are not “quick-fix” solutions to a complex and deep-set health and social problem, they are needed in the long term to prevent unnecessary death and suffering.

Articles also by This Author

Sign in to Favourite

Join the conversation

27 Comments sorted by

  1. Graham Bell

    Scrap-heaped War Veteran

    Thank you very much for bringing this very real issue out into the public gaze .... I do hope the mainstream media pick up this article and run with it, even if some of their advertisers may not like its implications.

    Your suggestion of having AFFORDABLE housing in those areas with a lot of necessary services and facilities already present is not only excellent in itself - but it would have unexpected and beneficial multiplier effect of enriching the lives of everyone in those areas, including the lives of the wealthy living in those areas.

    All you have to do is to overcome the illogical prejudice against people who are not "people-like-us". Once this exceedingly difficult and counter-productive mental barrier is overcome, your efficient concept will develop its own momentum. Best wishes for your inevitable success

    .

    report
  2. Enda Crossin

    Senior Research Fellow

    Where is your evidence to suggest that Watsonia is "struggle town"? Census data shows that the median household income in Watsonia is $1170 and is only slightly lower than that of Melbourne ($1,333). Residents within Banyule (within which Watsonia is located) also appear to have a better societal outlook, including a high willingness to intervene in domestic violence (2011, VicHeatlth indicator surveys). I would argue that Watsonia is not an outer "Struggle town" suburb. What the cases show is that domestic violence is not just occurring in outer suburbs; it occurs everywhere. I should know, I live in the same street in Watsonia. It's not struggle town.

    report
  3. Colin MacGillivray

    Architect, retired, Sarawak

    Good article but it really stretches the definition of Urban Planning.
    "Good urban planning saves lives- wrap-around services for women and children at risk of violence ..... legal aid, specialised court services and counselling ..... emergency housing and housing assistance ......."
    Urban planning is town planning which is land use, roads and bike and footpaths and other transportation links, reserves, open space, zoning and their environmental effects.

    report
    1. Reg Olives

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      In one technical sense you are correct. But there is also the 'strain' of urban planning that sees it as a discipline with some social purpose as opposed to a technical policy compliance exercise. As you are probably aware, planning has a significant influence on urban form, but urban form I would conjecture can create/reinforce structural (dis)advantage or otherwise influence social behaviours.

      At some level I would hope the strategic urban planner understands and can guide local planning (presuming they can influence policy and the ideology of the government of the day, and of course can insulate themselves from personal bias) to break disadvantage and help to prevent tragic outcomes as indicated in this article.

      report
    2. Graham Bell

      Scrap-heaped War Veteran

      In reply to Reg Olives

      My oath urban form can create disadvantage! Many years ago, I lived in an army married quarters block set in the midst of a high-rise housing development and so became an unintentional participant observer. The housing development was set next-door to one of the wealthiest suburbs in Australia, full of wonderful services and facilities (the approval stage for that development must have been a barrel-of-laughs, given the number of eminent QCs living in the area).. I had to go into that wealthy part almost every day and although there were no check-points with barbed wire and savage dogs, each time I crossed the not-so-invisible barrier, a little question kept nagging me, "Is this how Apartheid started?". Yes, urban form can create disadvantage.

      report
    3. Ash Parajuli

      Graduate student undertaking a Master of Urban and Regional Planning at School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management at The University of Queensland

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      That's a very broad definition of urban planning. This is a very specialised area of study which can be categorised under land use planning. Urban planning also takes into consideration social effects as much as it does the environmental effects on society and cities.

      report
  4. Stephanus Cecil Barnard

    Town planner and freelance writer at Kalahariozzie

    Interesting take on planning. As a practicing planner we deal with two harsh realities on a daily basis: (i) NIMBYS, yes those lovely well meaning people wanting everything but not in their backyard; and (ii) money. Town planning is not sexy, it does not have TV shows glorifying it like law has, yet we pull a heavy weight as you highlighted.
    Whether better planning could have prevented these tragedies remains to be proven. I doubt it. The issues here seem to be two fathers who due to marriage break-up saw no other way out. You have to present a better argument to show planning could prevent it.

    report
    1. Lorraine Dupree

      Project Manager

      In reply to Stephanus Cecil Barnard

      I am astounded by how often I read the comment that men who murder their partners or children is about: 'fathers who due to marriage break-up saw no other way out" or similar incarnations of the same comment. As though somehow, marriage breakdown leads to violent men who then abuse and murder those they purport to love or have loved. Can we not acknowledge that some marriages indeed break down due to violence and abuse? Can we not also acknowledge that the majority of men in marriages or whose marriages have broken down do not abuse and murder their loved ones. Marriage breakdown or any other relationship issues (such as nagging wives and the myriad of other excuses men make for being violent) is not the cause of men who use violence and abuse or murder their partners and children, violent and abusive men are.

      report
    2. Stephanus Cecil Barnard

      Town planner and freelance writer at Kalahariozzie

      In reply to Lorraine Dupree

      Yes, I agree with you. I was divorced and would in no way have hurt my ex, and yes I agree many relationship rightfully so break up due to violence.
      I admire women who have the guts to pull stumps and leave a violent / abusive relationship, I also acknowledge that sometimes people snap, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the suburb you live in.
      It is an interesting proposition put by Carolyn, but the more I consider it, the more it seems far-fetcehed.

      report
    3. Lorraine Dupree

      Project Manager

      In reply to Stephanus Cecil Barnard

      I don't disagree. Far fetched in our current frame of reference. However, if every profession with the capacity to do something to make a difference in the lives of people were to consider serious issues such as these in their line of work and collaborate across sectors perhaps we could build more positive, sustainable, connected and safer communities. I like her thinking. I hope it catches on :)

      report
    4. Graham Bell

      Scrap-heaped War Veteran

      In reply to Stephanus Cecil Barnard

      Stephanus, I don't think urban planning alone, in isolation, could have prevented these tragedies - but, I do believe urban planning TOGETHER WITH other hitherto unrelated disciplines certainly would have reduced the likelihood of having such tragedies happen. That's why I like Carolyn Whitzman's novel approach here. It might not work at all - but let's give it a go - what do we have to lose?

      b.t.w., thanks for mentioning NIMBYs: if you would be so kind as to put up the gallows, I'll bring the cat-o-nine-tails and the rope .... grrrr.

      report
  5. JB Rawson

    Writer

    This is a really interesting perspective on this issue, but I do take issue with calling Sunshine an outer suburb. Unless Balwyn is also an outer suburb...

    report
  6. Carolyn Whitzman

    Professor of Urban Planning at University of Melbourne

    I hope it is okay if I respond to all 7 posts so far at once. First off, thank you for contributing to the debate/Conversation about the role of planning. I think that debate is sorely needed.

    There are two issues brought up. First, my characterization of areas. Yes, Enda, Watsonia's average income is only slightly lower than metro Melbourne average, and its unemployment only slightly higher. I was taking a rather large view of 'struggletown', but I recognize that sometimes in Australian…

    Read more
    1. Colin MacGillivray

      Architect, retired, Sarawak

      In reply to Carolyn Whitzman

      Carolyn, I was being a bit picky! You may be interested in Urban Planning in West Malaysia in the 90's. Developers proposing new housing projects were obliged to provide 15% open space, some of which could be rain retention ponds, and playing fields, land designated for a Surau (small mosque), kindergartens, schools, commercial areas sewage treatment and of course roads and varieties of housing types. Everything was specified by the State Planning Authority "rulebook". Made life for planners much easier. And gave officers very little leeway to relax the rules. Each Planning submission had an accurate summary of every landuse.

      report
    2. Stephanus Cecil Barnard

      Town planner and freelance writer at Kalahariozzie

      In reply to Carolyn Whitzman

      Ironically, just as I was reading the comments, I received a sms from my wife in South Africa, asking did I read the news.
      A lady who we know, a well educated, well healed ex-South African woman, who was living in London UK, murdered her three young children, who were suffering from 'spinal muscular atrophy'. Is this then related to the suburb they are living in (New Malden, South London) or is Carolyn's assumption of violent behaviour only reserved to men?
      I would like to understand more about this specific point of view as set by Carolyn, I do not disagree with the extreme importance of good planning.

      report
  7. Lynne Black

    Latte Sipper

    How about instead of looking for solutions to domestic violence in urban planning, we start to address the real issue - and that is to stop men from wanting to hurt their partners and their children in the first place. Yes, that will be more difficult as we are dealing with thousands of years of evolution that predisposes men to be violent, and the misogyny that goes with that. But we need more than bandaid solutions when we are dealing with a problem that seems to be getting worse, if Victoria police statistics are anything to go by.

    report
    1. Reg Olives

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Jack Ruffin

      You're spot on, Jack.

      Apart from changing the building code requiring glass houses (I'm being silly, but perhaps visibility into what goes on behind brick walls might help) the urban planning angle I think prof Whitzman might have been highlighting is to provide facilities, spaces and suitable transport options that promote social connectedness as a buffer to disarm the potential for violence or if it happens early warning. The geographer in me would want to map the incidents of domestic violence…

      Read more
  8. robin linke

    stamp dealer

    In my opinion more attention should have been directed to the causes of marriage break down and domestic violence. Geographical location may be more a symptom than a cause. And do more Govt services reduce the causes?
    I believe no fault divorce laws drafted by Justice Elizabeth Evatt 40 years ago are a major cause. This meant millions of children have been without a father and we are now learning that the effect on boys can be profound. Those boys (and girls) grow up in partially dysfunctional…

    Read more
    1. robin linke

      stamp dealer

      In reply to robin linke

      Continued: The failure of indigenous policies is profound. To reduce the damage of alcohol on families welfare recipients should hold a debit card where alcohol cannot be purchased except for very low alcoholic beverages. Ditto for high fat, high sugar and high salt foods.

      The Carolyn Whitzman article in my opinion concentrated too much on symptoms and not enough on causes and solutions. But I accept that political correctness inhibits debate in many tertiary institutions.

      report
    2. JB Rawson

      Writer

      In reply to robin linke

      So are you saying domestic violence doesn't occur in married, two-parent families?

      report
    3. robin linke

      stamp dealer

      In reply to JB Rawson

      Thanks JB for the slick one liner, Are we to understand you have no ideas of your own?
      Statistically children are much better off with two parents. Children are the nations future!

      report
    4. JB Rawson

      Writer

      In reply to robin linke

      gee robin, thanks for the reply. I was genuinely interested to know if that's what you were arguing: that the best way to prevent domestic violence is to make divorce harder, because there is less domestic violence in marriage. But I gather that's not what you're saying?

      report
    5. robin linke

      stamp dealer

      In reply to JB Rawson

      Well JB I am impressed. You managed to get two lines together this time. But of course you seem to have a vacuum of belief, which means if you managed even four lines of text they would be meaningless . Nevertheless being a writer of meaningless content is better than being certified,

      If you disagree with the above then give us a summary of those institutions we should respect and strengthen for the benefit of the Nation and its future. Don't forget children, they are our greatest investment.

      report
    6. JB Rawson

      Writer

      In reply to robin linke

      Thanks robin, but I won't, as I'm more interested in the topic of the article: how can we best reduce domestic violence.

      report
    7. robin linke

      stamp dealer

      In reply to JB Rawson

      JB A quick check of your contributions over many topics show a preponderance of slick one line statements but no ideas. Summarize for us what the broad consensus of ideas has been on this topic 'reducing domestic violence'.
      Because if you cannot do this then your 'contributions' appear meaningless.

      Out of interest can you give me a few of the titles of the books you have written, or are you still waiting for a publisher?

      report