More Social Housing Would Protect Women From Violence, Experts Plead

Homeless women are more vulnerable to violence, experts say, as they plead for more social housing in the wake of another woman's death in Melbourne.

Courtney Herron, 25, was found dead in a Melbourne park on Saturday morning. A man has since appeared in court, charged with her murder, and has been remanded in custody until his next appearance in September.

Victoria’s peak body for homelessness, the Council to Homeless Persons, said people without housing were especially at risk of violence, and called on state and federal governments to do more to stamp out the issue.

"Violence against women occurs in every part of our society, but homeless women are particularly vulnerable," CEO Jenny Smith said on Monday.

"There are far too few housing options that women on low incomes can afford, and crisis accommodation and refuges are full of people who can’t move on to permanent housing, because the affordable options just aren’t there."

Courtney Herron
Courtney Herron, found dead in a Melbourne park.

On Monday, the Victorian government released its state budget, extending homelessness programs and sticking to its commitment to build more public housing. Smith welcomed the programs, but called on Premier Daniel Andrews' government to do more.

She said there were nearly 42,000 Victorian households on the waiting list for social housing in Victoria, around 82,500 individual people.

"Research has identified that Victoria has a shortfall of 102,800 social housing properties," Smith said.

She said the government needed to expand its social housing programs to get more vulnerable people into safer accommodation.

More social housing would help protect people from violence. Photo: Getty

“Too often there just isn’t a safe option for homeless women, leaving them vulnerable to the risks of sleeping rough, or of staying in unsafe housing options like rooming houses, where they are vulnerable to physical and sexual assault," Smith said.

"The Victorian Government needs to increase its investment to deliver 3,000 social housing properties a year. The Federal Government should also do a lot more to address homelessness, including more than matching the State Government’s investment in social housing."

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius  put the emphasis on males to change the way they act.

“The key point is this is about men’s behaviour, it’s not about women’s behaviour," he said in the wake of Herron's death.

“Every time I hear about a woman being attacked, for me as a man, it gives me some pause for reflection about what it is in our community that makes men think it’s OK to attack women, or take what they want from women."

People sleeping rough are at risk of violence. Photo: Getty Images.

Susanne Legena, CEO of Plan International Australia, said governments needed to do more to protect women in cities from violence.

"Enough is enough. It’s time for a fundamental change in our culture. For too long, the toxic attitudes that excuse or trivialise violence against women have gone unchallenged and have been allowed to thrive," she said.

"We commend the Victoria Police for comments made to media that this is an issue of men’s behaviour. This is an important message and we cannot stress enough how significant it is that the authorities have changed the way they talk about these tragedies."

The root cause of violence against women is now widely acknowledged, and that is: a deeply entrenched belief that women are not equal to men.

Legena said more work needed to be done, at all levels of society, to address the issues of violence against women.

Photo: AAP

"Our leaders, whether in local councils, state or federal government, our city planners, police and transport authorities must listen to the girls and young women who move around our cities in fear," she said.

"They must take all forms of street harassment and violence seriously."

"How can [we] work towards a society where it is absolutely unacceptable to denigrate or disrespect women and girls in any way?"

Smith said a key part of the problem was increasing housing options for women.

“We can protect women like Courtney, but as a society have to choose to do it and it's a choice that Victoria can and should make," she said.