The foundation’s recent study of gambling and health in Victoria found that around 122,500 Victorian adults had experienced problems because of someone else’s gambling in the past 12 months – a figure that would have been higher had the study included children.
Even more recently, our study assessing gambling-related harm in Victoria found that relationships bore the largest share of gambling harm, over health, psychological wellbeing, finances, employment and study.
For Monique Keel from Women’s Health In the North, there is no question that all of these aspects of life interact, and that harm in one area can cause or exacerbate problems in another. However, the findings about gambling and relationships resonate strongly for the health promotion worker.
‘Gambling was something that just kept quietly re-occurring,’ she says of her organisation’s work on the economic participation and economic abuse of women. ‘It was a topic that often came up, but no-one had the resources to look into it in a systematic way.’
So when the opportunity arose through the foundation's Local Prevention Grants Program, Women’s Health In the North grabbed it.
Gambling doesn’t cause family violence but can aggravate it
Women’s Health In the North works with governments, communities and organisations to improve women’s health, safety and wellbeing across Melbourne’s north. This region includes a number of socially and economically disadvantaged areas with high concentrations of pokies and, as a result, high gambling losses.
‘It’s not difficult to imagine that if someone in the family has spent the weekly income on the pokies, then that’s going to create a situation where there’s conflict and stress,’ says Monique.
‘In communities where you have easy access to poker machines, and existing financial stress in families, you see an association between gambling and family violence.’
‘Gambling was something that just kept quietly re-occurring.’
Monique Keel, Women’s Health In the North
Whittlesea is in Melbourne’s outer north. In its submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Whittlesea Interagency Taskforce on Gambling reports ‘increased referrals and demand on services as a result of gambling losses and the associated stresses within families and communities’.
While the taskforce reports that many people in Whittlesea seek support and services relating to both gambling and family violence, it is quick to clarify it does not view problem gambling as a determinant of family violence, rather, a contributing factor.
Monique reinforces this point. ‘The violence isn’t caused by gambling. Violence against women is caused by people’s attitudes towards women and gender inequality. The role of gambling is that it may exacerbate or make violence more frequent if it was going to occur anyhow.
‘We know from the stats that there are plenty of people who gamble a small amount or a lot, but there’s no violence in that family.’
Research calls for a coordinated response
Recognising the complexity of the issues, Women’s Health In the North consulted with researcher Dr Nicki Dowling who provided an in-depth analysis of Australian and international research on the association between gambling and family violence.
We know from the stats that there are plenty of people who gamble a small amount or a lot, but there’s no violence in that family.
Monique Keel, Women’s Health In the North
While gambling emerged as a contributing factor to family violence, Nicki and her colleagues reported that the picture is complicated. Their findings highlighted the need for services to routinely screen and assess for a range of issues, including gambling problems, family violence, alcohol and drug use problems and mental health issues, and provide treatments to manage clusters of conditions.
Women’s Health In the North builds skills across sectors
In 2015, Women’s Health In the North embarked on a project aimed at equipping workers in both the family violence and gambling help sectors with skills to recognise, respond to and refer cases of harm related to each other’s areas of expertise.
Monique and her team developed Identifying and Responding to Family Violence, a training package for Gambler’s Help counsellors that has a focus on gambling and financial abuse. The package includes a guide for participants to use in their counselling work and information on statewide referrals. The training was piloted with 20 Gambler’s Help counsellors and then refined following feedback.
Gambler’s Help financial counsellor Leanne Khan from Eastern Access Community Health (EACH) was one of the 20 participants.
‘I think it’s really valuable, particularly for people working in the gambling help industry who have not had exposure to family violence training,’ says Leanne.
‘There’s so much shame and stigma still attached to gambling, and there’s still a whole variety of social issues connected to family violence, so it’s a really tricky space to sit in, because they’re quite young issues on the social agenda. So this is sometimes a confronting space.’
With the training package tested and finalised, Women’s Health In the North are now rolling it out more broadly to the gambling help and family violence sectors, as well as educating the wider community about the issues and the support services available.
To find out more about the project, contact Women’s Health In the North on (03) 9484 1666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are experiencing problems with gambling or are affected by someone else’s gambling, call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858. Find out more about getting help.