Tuesday, 23 October 2018 01:13

CA publishes industry guideline for customers experiencing domestic, family violence Featured

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The Communications Alliance has published a guideline to help telecommunications providers assist customers who are affected by domestic and family violence.

The publication follows Australia’s official national apology to survivors and victims of institutional child sexual abuse, and those affected by domestic and family violence, delivered by Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a special event at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday. The government also announced the launch of a national redress scheme.

CA’s  Industry Guideline: Assisting Customers Experiencing Domestic and Family Violence includes a range of tools providers can use to support customers across their operations.

It touches on topics including improved staff training, communicating with customers who are the victims of violence, and the prevention of technology-facilitated abuse.

The Guideline also contains advice on how to better assist customers who have experienced economic abuse in relation to their telecommunications services – a phenomenon that is often associated with physical violence.

CA says the Guideline is intended to educate providers on the prevalence of domestic and family violence and how it can overlap with telecommunications services, and focuses on the importance of being flexible and empowering customers.

CA chief executive John Stanton said: “The prevalence of domestic and family violence in Australia is very disturbing, and every industry should work to fight this epidemic.

“Providers need to be aware that many of their customers and staff will at some stage be affected by domestic and family violence. In these circumstances, telecommunications service can be a lifeline for victims, but – unfortunately - can sometimes also be used by perpetrators to compound the abuse.

“While there are no simple solutions, we have worked with experts in this area to identify key areas of impact and how service providers can help.

“The Guideline emphasises the importance of flexible responses to customers, as each individual’s experience and needs will be unique, while enumerating specific tools such as privacy and safety procedures.

“For example, an intimate partner may know most information used to verify a customer’s account and may therefore be able to gain access to new contact details or control a victim’s account. Telcos should work with each customer in this situation to create new identity verification procedures, so they are not linked to details the abuser has access to.”

Stanton said CA had also devised new co-regulatory arrangements to enable victims of domestic and family violence whose mobile service is part of a telecommunications contract controlled by the perpetrator “to exit the arrangement but still retain their original number - something that was not possible under previous rules”.

“A long-held number can often be a valued asset and a connection to friends and support, particularly when going through a traumatic period.”

The Guideline was developed over the past year through a consultative process with Industry, consumer representatives, and community organisations.

Stanton said CA would like to acknowledge all those who participated, including the Economic Abuse Reference Group (EARG) and the Women’s Services Network, as their extensive knowledge and leadership in the space was invaluable in creating the guideline.

Providers involved in the development of the Guideline included Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, amaysim, and Pivotel.

The Guideline builds on previous work, including last year’s registration of a variation to the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code to expressly provide that being a victim of family or domestic violence is a criterion for access to financial hardship assistance and publication of a revised Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code that provides greater protection for Australian consumers against threatening and unwelcome communications including technology facilitated abuse, such as harassment by an abuser.

Stanton said the upcoming publication of a revised TCP Code will also strengthen a range of protections for all consumers.

“This Guideline is a first step in an ongoing process. We will continue working with industry and community representatives to ensure appropriate implementation, and the Guideline is a living document that will be updated as we continue to learn."

To access the Guideline click here.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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