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MAV Opinion Editorial – Family Violence Support

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Living, working and socialising from home has become our new normal, but for some of us, home is not the safe haven it should be.

In recent weeks, several women have been murdered by their partner or former partner in addition to the disturbingly high number of people who are subject to ongoing or heightened family violence. These are just the ones we know about. Although COVID-19 has put many people under unprecedented pressure and hardship, violence is never an acceptable coping mechanism.

Sadly, evidence shows family violence has risen but many family violence support services are reporting a drop in the number of calls they receive for help[1]. This is deeply disturbing. With limited access to face-to-face services and support networks, for some women their already deep-rooted fear has increased exponentially having to spend much more time with a violent partner and having communications and movements monitored closely. For others, family violence is happening for the first time.

The Crime Statistics Agency released the Victorian Crime Statistic in March 2020 for the year ending on 31 December 2019 reported family related incidents had increased by 6.6% to 84,550[2] - the highest on record.

This must end, and to do that all levels of government must work together closely with the community to eradicate family violence.

Initiatives like the recently announced Victorian Government Respect Each Other: ‘Call It Out’ campaign reminds us that it is everyone’s responsibility to prevent family violence and to call it out when we see it. The State has also established a dedicated police operation, Operation Ribbon[3] to target those known to be at risk and provided further funding for crisis accommodation and specialist services[4].

Local government is responding in number of ways to protect and support those most vulnerable.

Councils know their communities. They know what is happening at the grassroots level and understand community unique needs. This makes councils the perfect touchpoint to link services and deliver tailored plans to assist those in need.

Councils are responding with innovative and targeted solutions to support those in immediate and urgent need. Some councils have established pop-up information booths at local supermarkets, pharmacies and petrol stations to counter other venues being closed. Others have set up hotline services to link people with emergency food aid, home support, counseling or mental health services. Many councils are also delivering resources and technology in careful ways to those at risk.

Councils are providing emergency food vouchers, meals, food parcels and financial support including deferring rate payments with no interest. One council has introduced $50,000 in grants to reduce the increased pressure on family violence support organisations.

Women living in regional and rural areas face even more challenges finding the right support. One council is advocating for key messaging on family violence to be more targeted for those living in regional and remote areas whilst keeping in line with state messaging.

Family violence has a devasting ripple effect that impacts not only family violence services but areas such as maternal and child health, childcare and community care. Councils are also continuing to deliver essential services to those who need it most. In community care alone, councils employ some 7000 people to provide meals, transport, personal care and a range of other vital services to those in need.

Councils have taken a strategic and targeted approach with many implementing their overarching policies on pursuing gender equality and preventing family violence. Initiatives such as including family violence awareness on their website home page, and resources for council staff and community members that has been integrated into the council COVID-19 communications planning. Some of these resources are available on the MAV website and can be adapted for use by other councils.

At the Municipal Association of Victoria, we are supporting the work being done in this area by providing council staff with tools, resources and remaining connected through online meetings and forums. We have seen an increase in participation from rural and regional councils as they look for solutions for their own unique challenges. These meetings give councils an opportunity to share ideas and experiences, maintain a sense of connectedness and provide support when needed.

I am encouraged by how councils have stepped up in his incredibly challenging time to protect those most at risk in our communities whilst continuing to deliver business as usual services. This is a tough time for all of us but particularly for those who are most vulnerable, so please watch for early warning signs and call it out when you see it. There is never an excuse for domestic abuse.

If you need assistance call 1800 Respect. If you are in immediate danger call 000.

For help and support, visit safesteps.org.au or call safesteps 24/7 on 1800 015 188 or contact the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or visit ntv.org.au.

This Opinion Editorial was published on 22 May 2020 in the Bendigo Advertiser, Border Mail, Ballarat Courier and Warrnambool Standard.

Cr Coral Ross
MAV President