Workers in services used by people affected by domestic and family violence and sexual assault are predominantly female (83%). They’re also ageing, with a quarter of staff set to reach retirement age in the next decade.
While almost all of the workers surveyed feel they’re making a difference in people’s lives, less than half of those surveyed feel they’re being paid fairly, and 2 in 5 worry about the future of the job.
Bullying, harassment, violence and threats from clients are common. Half of the workers surveyed said they’d experienced this least once in the last 12 months, and this figure jumps to 2 in 3 for those working with perpetrators of violence to end their offending.
These are just a few of the key findings of a new report from the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) and the Gendered Violence Research Network (GVRN) at UNSW Sydney, which set out to compile national evidence about workers in services used by people affected by domestic and family violence and sexual assault. SPRC and GVRN partnered with Curtin University to undertake this new body of research.
These workers are important to Australia’s capacity to end gender-based violence. Recent ABS data tells us that 1 in 6 Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner, and 1 in 4 has experienced emotional abuse.
“To bring rates of violence to zero we need strong and sustainable services delivered by highly skilled, well supported workers,” says Dr Natasha Cortis, a senior research fellow at SPRC. “Our research confirms that Australia’s service system is characterised by highly qualified, confident and capable staff. But many workers aren’t able to meet levels of demand, and say they are emotionally drained as a result of the volume and complexity of their work, and the trauma they encounter.”
The research, which was commissioned by the Department of Social Services, set out to identify workforce gaps and challenges, and explore what employers and funders can do to strengthen workforce capacity.
“As we expand and develop our service system we need to make sure workforce development and worker wellbeing are priorities,” Dr Cortis said. “We also need to ensure working outside of the cities is attractive for skilled staff, to address the rural-urban divide.”
Key facts from the National Survey of Workers in the Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Sector
- 83% of workers in domestic and family violence and sexual assault services are women.
- The workforce is ageing: a quarter will reach retirement age in the next decade, and this is higher outside major cities.
- Workers report, almost universally, that they are making a difference in people’s lives.
- Almost all respondents said they felt confident identifying physical abuse, but lower proportions were confident identifying emotional, financial and sexual abuse, and many reported needing additional training and support to address complex client needs.
- The workforce is characterised by a regional divide: services in the city have better access to degree qualified staff, which is reflected in their staff profile. Outside the major cities services find it difficult both to recruit highly skilled staff, and to upskill employees, given the high costs of attending training, and the need to maintain frontline services while staff are away.
- Less than half of workers felt they were paid fairly, and 2 in 5 were worried about the future of the job. Half said they felt emotionally drained from their work.
- Half of respondents had experienced bullying, harassment, violence and threats from a client in the last 12 months. This figure was higher for those working closely with perpetrators of violence: 2 in 3 said they experienced bullying, harassment, violence or threats from a client in the last year.
- Those working closely with perpetrators were almost twice as likely as others to say they hoped to leave the industry in the next 12 months.
Access the full report: National Survey of Workers in the Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Sector
Media contact: Diane Nazaroff, Media & Content Coordinator, UNSW, 02 9385 8107, 0424 479 199, firstname.lastname@example.org