The development of the Framework was overseen by an Advisory Group which included practitioners, survivor advocates and Victorian government representatives.

A consultation process ran from September–December 2019 with victim survivors of family violence and a broad range of services who work with clients experiencing family violence. The consultation included:

  • Advisory Group meetings (22 people attended including victim survivors and practitioners)
  • Online survey of victim survivors (192 responses received)
  • Online survey of practitioners (26 responses received)
  • Focus groups with existing survivor advocacy groups (3 groups- 17 survivors)
  • Interviews with key family violence services (5 individual interviews)
  • Zoom focus groups with victim survivors (2 meetings with 14 survivors)
  • Focus groups with practitioners (3 focus groups with 33 practitioners)
  • Presentation to the Domestic Violence Victoria, Specialist Family Violence Leadership Group (15 participants)

Several consultation methods were used to increase access and participation of both victim survivors and practitioners. The consultation process was approved by a University of Melbourne Human Research Ethics Committee (Ethics ID Number: 1955355.1).

Consultation with Victim Survivors

Victim survivors were invited to participate in an online survey and 192 responses were received in a two- month period. Of those who responded 93% identified as female, 3% as male, 1% transgender, 1% non- binary and 2% unknown. The majority of respondents were aged 26-45 years (56%) or 46-65 years (39%) with 2% aged over 65 and 2% aged 18-25 years.

In terms of diversity, 11% of respondents indicated that English was their second language, 10% identified as LGBTIQ and 10% as having a disability and 2 respondents identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

At the end of the survey respondents were asked to indicate if they would like to be involved in a focus group or interview. A total of 30 respondents from the survey expressed interest and were contacted to arrange interviews and focus groups. A total of two online Zoom focus groups were run (14 victim survivors) and 3 individual telephone interviews were undertaken as not all respondents were able to attend the focus groups.

In addition, three face to face focus groups were also held with existing victim survivor groups to discuss their experiences and involvement with family violence services (17 victim survivors).

In the survey, focus groups and interviews, victim survivors were asked a range of questions about the degree of influence they believe survivors currently have to influence service and policy development, their experiences of being involved in formal advisory processes as well as the kinds of activities they would like to be involved in.

We have summarised and grouped the comments from victim survivors by key theme:

Opportunities for engagement

In the survey, focus groups and interviews victim survivors were asked a range of questions about the degree of influence they believe survivor advocates currently have to influence service and policy development, their experiences of being involved in formal advisory processes as well as the kinds of activities they would like to be involved in.

Some survivors had already been engaged in providing advice and feedback and had positive experiences:

“I found it affirming and empowering to have my voice heard and to use my experience to help others. I felt that at least all the trauma I went through could be used to help others and that made it more bearable.”

“Gives meaning to my experience and pain, that I am helping others. Helps healing and recovery to feel you are impacting on the bigger picture.”

While a significant number of victim survivors had positive experiences as survivor advocates, others described their experiences less positively, and felt that some organisations might need a mindset shift to see the strengths rather than the deficits or vulnerabilities of survivors.

“I don’t feel valued by the organisations but I hope I made a difference to other women.”

“I felt that my feedback was received well and appreciated but I felt that it did not make a difference to the services.”

“Quite a few assumptions are made about survivors of domestic violence, particularly around their capacity. Quite often capacity is understood as competency and the two are very different things. …quite often there is a stigma attached to people who have experienced and survived domestic violence.”

Some survivors described being involved in advisory groups where survivors were from similar backgrounds and saw a need for more diverse voices to be both sought and heard.

“I do feel that I come from a position of privilege – white, middle class, I can’t speak for all survivors who don’t have the resources that I do. With that privilege comes responsibility to speak out and be as vocal as I can. I am aware I don’t speak for everyone.”

“Minority groups don’t get invited to the table and this is a failing in the system.”

A number of victim survivors described a desire to make a difference as a key driver for their choice to engage in providing advice. As a result, there was a strong desire for clarity and transparency about how their advice and feedback had influenced systemic change.

“Survivors should be heard. We have valuable contributions to make… we should be reimbursed for our contribution but also get feedback on how we have helped shape practice.”

Compensation and Conditions

While some survivor advocates were happy to volunteer their time for one-off media engagements or advocacy, there was a general view that survivor advocates should be compensated for their time when they are engaged in consultation, advisory, project, research or ongoing advocacy work. There were a range of views about what form remuneration should take and agreement that survivor advocates should be asked what suited their individual circumstances.

“To not compensate survivors for their lived experience and expertise is not just extortionist, but it compounds their trauma (often we’re unable to work ‘regular’ jobs due to trauma, and having no income obviously exacerbates that; especially if we’re asked for our lived experience to inform the work that OTHERS get paid to do/deliver).”

It was suggested that standards be developed to ensure consistency in how survivor advocates are remunerated and reimbursed for out pocket costs (such as travel, child care and parking).

A number of survivor advocates wanted to join the family violence workforce and were interested in opportunities for skill development that could support them to move into this work in an ongoing way.

“I built confidence within myself up enough to return to work. I gained this confidence by being involved with an amazing and empowering group of women. The only negative is I wish I could do this work as my full-time job!!”

“I’ve had some casual positions in the sector. I wanted more of a foundation and more financial security. Being a single mum magnified all that stuff for me. The insecure nature of advocacy. Lot of us re-building from scratch and I started in the red.”

Therapeutic benefits and importance of adequate support

Survivors felt that being engaged in strategic planning around service responses to family violence could be both therapeutic and empowering. They welcomed opportunities to meet and support other survivors.

“ I can identify with the women and I’ve learnt a lot, and they’ve got my back and I’ve got theirs. There’s real belonging in this group. A lot of women don’t have that.”

“Being with people who had similar experiences. Given agency by staff who believe in us and don’t mollycoddle us. Believe we have something to contribute. Even though it’s a journey with no map. Women are very committed to making a difference.”

It was also suggested that survivor advocates should be engaged in pairs rather than as the one person with lived experience on a panel or a governance group, to ensure a feeling of greater comfort, support and security.

Victim survivors agreed that a process of ensuring a survivor advocate is currently in a good place to participate was important. However, they thought that these discussions should focus less on ‘readiness’ at one point in time but on regular checking in, recognising that recovery is not a linear process. They felt that some services had a fear of engaging survivor advocates for fear of re-traumatisation but felt that if a range of support options were in place, survivors can often navigate this terrain well.

Survivors were very clear that they needed to be provided with the right level of support to ensure their participation experience was a positive one:

“People need to be very, very patient. We’ve been muted and we don’t know how to be un- muted. Give us time and believe in us.”

Consultation with Practitioners

Practitioners who work with people experiencing family violence were also consulted in a range of ways. Three focus groups were held in late 2019 with a total of 33 practitioners. Interviews were also undertaken with five key family violence stakeholders. A workshop was run with specialist family violence services in early 2020.

An online survey was also disseminated to practitioners. A total of 26 responses were received. Of those practitioners who completed the survey 73% also had lived experience of family violence.

Across focus groups, interviews and the survey, practitioners were asked about the degree to which victim survivors are involved in service or policy design in their organisation, barriers or challenges preventing services engaging survivors in more systematic and coordinated ways as well as any examples of good practice they had seen or been involved in.

The comments made by practitioners are outlined below:

Identifying positive opportunities

Practitioners were supportive of engaging survivor advocates in service and policy design and generally agreed that it would improve service quality and service user experiences.

“It’s incredibly important to ensure victim survivors are held at the centre of everything we do. I’m excited to hear their voices are being brought to the forefront.”

While some practitioners described being involved in formal processes to engage survivor advocates in policy and service design for some time, a considerable number of practitioners suggested that current engagement with survivors of family violence around high level service planning and policy development is often ad hoc and short term.

Some practitioners saw a need for the engagement of survivor advocates in their organisation in a more systematic way.

“Experts by experience should have more influence then they currently do. They have much to offer”

Current Barriers

Across the board, a lack of resources was described as the major barrier to doing more of this work in an ethically appropriate way:

“not having adequate funding means that women are being asked for feedback, there can be triggers…how do you manage to support them if things go on…being mindful of some of that trauma-related stuff that sits in the background”

While some practitioners believed that their organisational culture highly values the contribution of those with lived experience of family violence, there were concerns that this was not universal:

“our view of people with lived experience is they are the heart and soul of our organisation. But not all organisations do.”

Several practitioners echoed the comments made by survivors that the biggest barrier to engagement of survivor advocates was:

“Cultural attitudes which elevate the opinions of university educated professionals over the lived experience of survivors.”

Some organisations had considerable experience establishing and maintaining formal advisory structures and gave detailed insights into their experiences. Practitioners suggested that the initial stages of establishing these mechanisms and the process of engaging with an individual survivor advocate to discuss risks and mitigation strategies were seen as a crucial stage of the process.

Examples were given of positive engagement of survivor advocates that was genuine, supported with training and supervision, and well resourced:

“an important aspect of that was that the peer support workers were employed…from the get go, from the ground up, was an acknowledgement that this experience is worth something, it’s worth something to the organisation, it’s worth something to the program and its worth an incredible amount to the victim survivors accessing that program.”

Importance of establishing supports, standards and pathways

Practitioners also described being aware of engagement processes which were tokenistic, and emphasised the need to follow engagement with action even when dicult issues are raised:

“Ensuring their voices and time are valued….and acting on what they say, even if it’s uncomfortable.”

A number of examples were given where survivor advocates were engaged in advisory work that was not as well thought through as it could have been. Practitioners suggested that some well meaning services are inadvertently setting victim survivors up to fail by placing them in roles they are not prepared for:

they are not given the training and support and the education or even just additional clinical supervision to deal with the triggers of that, so they end up leaving, burnt out…they get destroyed. It is endemic across the family violence sector”

A number of practitioners wanted to see clear educational pathways supported for survivor advocates so that they are equipped to do the work they are being asked to do:

“what happens with people with lived experience educational pathways…there is an expectation of government that people have a certain qualification. But they will allow people with lived experience to have a certificate.”

Some practitioners gave examples where survivor advocates had not been given the support they needed to undertake the roles they had been given. One area that was focused on was the importance of establishing boundaries. A lack of role clarity was described as having the potential to lead to resentment and conflict in the workplace.

“My concern is lived experience roles are blurry and go into social worker roles. It’s dangerous… and lived experience representatives can’t be challenged- it is considered bullying or being mean”.

Challenges for practitioners with lived experience

As anticipated, a significant number of practitioners identified as victim survivors themselves and described the challenges they faced when deciding whether to disclose their lived experience in their workplaces. A number of these practitioners expressed concerns about the impact that disclosure would have on their careers and relationships with colleagues, as a barrier to disclosing:

“I feel I have a unique perspective in contrasting my experience as both a professional as well as someone who has personally experienced family violence. I feel constrained by both family court and professional perceptions in sharing my personal story.”

“I don’t talk about my lived experience that often, because there is so much stigma attached.”

Practitioners agreed that the development of guidelines and practical tools to support organisations who want to engage survivor advocates in policy development, service planning and improvement was an important step towards ensuring consistency and quality standards.

Workshop with Specialist Family Violence Services

In February 2020 a workshop was run with the Domestic Violence Victoria, Specialist Family Violence Leadership Group. The group discussed the above literature review findings, existing Victorian models, consultation findings, and draft best practice principles.

The group also participated in an interactive activity where they were asked in table groups to ‘plot’ a number of different engagement activities with survivor advocates on the chart below.

Figure 1: Engagement Activity from the Domestic Violence Victoria Specialist Family Violence Leadership Group workshop, February 2020.

Some of these activities included:

  • Asking clients for informal feedback about the service they had received
  • Sending a survey to those using their service
  • Supporting survivor advocates prepare a submission to an inquiry
  • Inviting survivor advocates to sit on an advisory group
  • Inviting survivor advocates to sit on a governance group or board
  • Engaging survivor advocates to do paid project / policy work
  • Engaging survivor advocates to do unpaid project / policy work
  • Paid Peer Workers
  • Engaging survivor advocates to do unpaid advocacy work
  • Engaging survivor advocates to do paid advocacy work
  • Training victim survivors to become paid media advocates
  • Training victim survivors to become unpaid media advocates

This activity resulted in a very rich discussion about the degree of survivor advocate agency and influence in current initiatives and how that might be increased. There was also acknowledgement that some activities might require additional resources to be carried out in an ethical and empowering way. These discussions have heavily informed the development of the ‘models’ section of the Experts by Experience Framework.