Out of the shadows

Regional family and domestic violence support services received more referrals in 2021.

The statistics are sobering. One in six women, and one in 16 men in Australia experience domestic violence.

It is one of the main drivers of homelessness among women, children and men.

Since the start of the pandemic, household isolation due to lockdowns as well as work and financial stress is considered to have led to an increase in family and domestic violence.

Domestic and family violence involves abusive and violent behaviour towards a partner, former partner or family member. It extends beyond physical violence, and can involve actions that control, humiliate or scare the other person or people in the household.

Over the last two years, Primary Care Connect Executive Manager Family Violence Chris McInnes said the pandemic has exacerbated the situation.

“I believe that during Covid, family violence was just as prevalent, however victims were less able to escape or contact someone given they were locked down in the same location and there was no opportunity to ask for help as they were always together,” Ms McInnes said.

“Once the lockdowns were over, victims were more able to contact for help. I also believe that the more information and support that is given then victims become more impowered to come forward. “This gives the impression that the violence is increasing but in reality, it is just more open and less hidden.”

And as the pandemic has dragged on, so too has the abuse.

Locally, recently released data from the Crime Statistics Agency shows that family violence spiked at the start of each of Victoria’s lockdowns. There was a 17.6 per cent increase in family violence incidents in the Moira Shire in 2021 from 2020 for a total of 79 incidents.

Moira Cluster Commander Acting Senior Sergeant Tim Hart said there have been no identified reasons that numbers continue to rise in the Moira Shire, other than he believes family violence victims, with all the publicity from Victoria Police and partner agencies, have more confidence to report and seek help.

“Victoria Police have a pro investigation, enforcement policy in relational to Family Violence, meaning where police can take action in the form on Intervention and or enforcement action, they will do so,” Snr Sgt Hart said.

“Whilst Victoria Police and our Partner agencies are always looking to improve our response, there is more support and options available now than ever before. If you need help, you can get help. If you are unsafe call ‘000.’

“If you need help or advice contact your local police station.”

In our neighbouring Indigo Shire, there was a 6.3 per cent increase in family violence incidents while in the Federation Council area reporting of incidents has remained stable.

Ms McInnes said more needs to be done as a society to understand the underlying causes of family and domestic violence.

“The onus is often put on the victim to act and be responsible rather than a society that hold perpetrators accountable for their violence it indicates an individual response rather than a community and social response,” Ms McInnes said.

“Our social, economic, and political conditions all influence a culture that justifies the violence and focuses on the victim rather that the person using violence. The key to responding to violence lays in a community engaging man in the conversation about how they see women.

“It means we need to respectfully challenge the stereotypes that reinforce gender inequity and start to recognise the drivers of family violence which include:

Conditioning of violence against women

Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence

Riged gender roles and identities

Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.”

Amaranth Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer Julianne Whyte OAM said domestic violence was a leading cause of homelessness in the region.

“When a victim decides to leave a violent relationship, it often means leaving the family home,” Ms Whyte said.

“At the moment however, their options are limited. Not only are rental costs rising but also there are none available anywhere in the region. We are also seeing a number of rentals being converted to AirBNBs because landlords realise, they can get more money that way.

“It means a situation now where people are simply choosing staying in a relationship because they have nowhere else to go.

“Here at Amaranth, we are easily getting four to six referrals a week for homelessness or DV-related homelessness and assistance.

“A lot of young people are coming who are victims of family violence. Their parents will kick them out and they just have nowhere to go. It’s really sad.”

Ms Whyte said while women are more likely to be victims of family violence, it was important to remember men can be affected too.

“We are seeing more men through our doors,” she said.

“There is an inability for the genders to understand fair fighting. Men will use physical violence while women tend to use psychological violence. At the end of the day, they are both forms of violence and cause harm.”

Amaranth Director David Harrison who hosts a number of social impact programs for men said it was very difficult to get men talking about family violence.

“Men will talk about everything but domestic violence,” Mr Harrison said.

“What they will talk about is who has control of the finances or what they can and can’t do. It’s amazing how many men will say ‘I wouldn’t know my bank account number’. You then wonder, is that part of the controlling behaviour? Men who are affected are likely to stay silent because they feel embarrassed or afraid.”

Statistics from Mission Australia also show 41 per cent of people seeking help from specialist homelessness services in 2019-20 had experienced domestic and family violence.

According to data released by the Crime Statistics Agency Victoria, family violence related offences in the state increased 4.3 per cent.

Victorian women aged between 20 and 39 were the person affected in more than a third of all family violence incidents.

The statistics also showed the number of incidents where children were the person affected increased by 10.4% and stalking, harassment and threatening behaviour related to family violence increased 7.6 per cent

Shadow Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence Emma Kealy said continued delays in implementing critical family violence reform and the lasting impact of the shambolic management of COVID comes as family violence offences in Victoria continue to rise.

“It has worsened the pressure on a system already in crisis,” Ms Kealy said.

“People should be able to feel safe in their homes, workplaces and communities, but these harrowing figures show the Victorian Government continues to fail vulnerable Victorians.

“The Victorian Government must stop paying lip service to the family violence crisis in this state and urgently make the meaningful and lasting reforms for the safety of all Victorians.”

In data released by NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research as well as Domestic Violence NSW, family violence related offences increased by 1.363 per cent for a total increase of 436 incidents.

NSW women aged between 20 and 29 reported being the person affected with the 30 – 39 age group following close behind.

For males the age group of 20 – 29 reported the greatest number of incidents.

The statistics also showed the number of incidents where children or young people were the person affected was 11.45%.

Minister for Women’s Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence Natalie Ward chaired a NSW parliamentary committee in June last year, tabling a report in parliament with 23 recommendations relating to domestic abuse and coercive control.

Ms Ward said the committee’s “strongly held” unanimous view is that “implementation of a change to the lens through which we view domestic abuse” is urgently needed and that the reform would only be undertaken in this term of parliament if there was an extensive implementation process, including “consultation, education, resources and lead-time”.

“We also know that criminalising coercive control will not immediately end all domestic abuse,” Ms Ward said.

“Nor will it result in thousands of arrests and convictions. But in my modest submission, these should not be the measures of success. We will never know of the murders that did not occur, as a result of prevention.

“More important than any of us, are the women and children who walk among us and are barely surviving the domestic terrorism of coercive control every day.”