The Northern Rivers region has seen a spike in domestic violence incidents over the past two years, highlighting the need for more government-funded emergency accommodation and transitional housing.
The latest quarterly report from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research shows that there have been more than 1,800 domestic violence-related assaults in the region over the past two years.
That’s a 22.7 per cent increase, the highest upward surge in domestic violence of any region in NSW.
There have been more than 1,000 such assaults in the past year alone, with Tweed recording the highest number (344), followed by Lismore (227), Richmond Valley (141), Ballina (124), Byron (115) and Kyogle (55).
Jenelle Bowen, the manager of both the Byron Shire and North Coast regional domestic and family violence services, said the spike in incidents was being experienced by both services.
‘We are seeing an increased number of referrals from police through Safer Pathways, and more women self-referring to the programs who are considered at “serious risk”,’ Ms Bowen said.
‘As a result of the higher reporting, more and more of our daily work is becoming about supporting women to access legal advice and court support services.’
No govt funding locally
Despite the increased number of assaults in the region, there remains a severe shortage of emergency-funded accommodation for women and children to use if they are forced to suddenly leave the family home owing to violence.
‘We don’t have any government-funded emergency accommodation or transitional housing in the Byron Shire, or locally based services such as specialist housing services,’ Ms Bowen said.
‘This, combined with the general lack of affordable housing, is a substantial problem that keeps women and children vulnerable to ongoing exposure to violence and abuse because they have nowhere else to go,’ she said.
The head of Byron Bay police, Detective Inspector Matthew Kehoe, said that police had been targeting domestic and family violence, and that this could go some way to explaining the figures.
‘These types of assaults have been very much a focus for us, and so some increase in the number of reported incidents is not that unusual,’ Inspector Kehoe said.
Text abuse up
Ms Bowen said that in addition to the increase in assaults, there had also been an increase in the abuse of women post separation, via electronic communications such as text messages.
‘We are seeing an increase in police taking out domestic violence orders for telecommunication offences,’ she said.
‘This is a positive for the families we work with, as in the past we have seen high levels of post-separation abuse continue through technology. The ongoing nature of this abuse impacts on women’s and children’s ability to heal from the violence once they have made the decision to end the relationship.
‘The way in which the police are responding to incidents and victims and particularly the work of the Domestic Violence Liaison Officers and the willingness to work collaboratively with specialist domestic family violence services across the sector is making a real difference.’