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June 26, 2024

More resources needed on the ground for Northern Rivers DV services

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Alex Rubin (Nationals), Jacqui Watts CEO of No to Violence and Lismore MP Janelle Saffin (Labor) at the Lismore listening session last week. Photo supplied

The domestic violence (DV) services in the Northern Rivers were already underfunded and stretched before the 2022 floods. Since then they have been inundated with people needing their help as the pressures from the floods, the previous fires and the covid pandemic took their toll.

‘There is always the spike that takes place after natural disasters like fires, floods, and earthquakes,’ Jacqui Watt, CEO of No to Violence told The Echo, following their ‘listening’ session in Lismore last week.

No to Violence (NTV) are a not-for-profit that works with men who use domestic violence, supporting them to change their behaviour through counselling services like their Men’s Referral Service phone line. They also advocate for the wider ‘perpetrator intervention sector,’ which also runs behaviour change programs and other services.

Ahead of the 2023 NSW state elections they are on a ‘listening tour’ and they spent the day in Lismore meeting with three of the candidates running for the seat of Lismore, Janelle Saffin (Labor), Alexander Rubin (Nationals), and Adam Guise (Greens) to discuss preventing and responding to domestic violence locally.

‘The sector is chronically underfunded and under siege, and someone described it like a “nuclear wave” since the floods,’ said Ms Watt.

The round table discussed the issues facing domestic violence services in the Northern Rivers. Photo supplied

DV increased across Northern Rivers

In the Lismore local government area (LGA), there were 222 domestic violence-related assault incidents in the 12 months to September 2022. This equals 508 assaults per 100,000 population, or one assault for every 197 people in Lismore according to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. There were 265 domestic violence apprehended violence orders (AVOs) issued in the 12 months to September 2022. This is a six per cent increase from the number issued in 2019. In this period, there were also 152 breached domestic violence AVOs, which is a 20 per cent increase from 2019.

Similar statistics can be seen across the region with the Richmond Valley LGA having almost twice the state average of domestic violence-related assaults while Tenterfield LGA has more than twice the state average of DV AVOs issued.

‘The demand for women’s and men’s services has increased significantly,’ Ms Watt explained.

‘Housing was a significant issue across the region and has become even more critial in Lismore following the floods. It is a perfect storm. The sector was already under great strain and we need to get extra resources on the ground. There was a 20 per cent increase in DV reports the year up to September 2022, and that is the reported ones. So you have to assume there is a greater number as many go unreported.’

In the 12 months to September 2022 Tweed LGA has seen 413 domestic violence-related assaults, 380 domestic violence AVOs issued, and 314 breached domestic violence AVOs. The number of breached DV AVOs has increased by 61 per cent since 2018 (195 breached DV AVOs in the 12 months to September 2018).

Ballina LGA has seen the number of issued DV AVOs increase by 30 per cent since 2018 (144 issued DV AVOs in the 12 months to September 2018).

Clarence Valley LGA has seen issued DV AVOs increased by 29 per cent since 2018 (In 2018 there were 257 issued DV AVOs). Breached DV AVOs have increased by 77 per cent since 2018 (in 2018 there were 69 breached DV AVOs). In the Richmond Valley LGA and Byron and Kyogle LGAs the numbers of DV related issues have also increased.

Men’s behaviour change

‘We have made the case over a number of years to NSW government about getting more resources on the ground,’ said Ms Watt.

‘At the Lismore meeting the importance of early intervention, reaching and educating men and boys in high schools and primary schools about healthy relationships, was highlighted as key. There were mentions from service providers who have worked in the sector for long enough to see mothers and then their daughters come into the refuges. This kind of generational harm is devastating.

‘Men’s behaviour change programs in the area have long wait lists and not enough staff to keep up with demand. There is nowhere near enough staff for the number of clients coming through across the sector. Whenever a man is ready to get support there should be support for him. Otherwise he might miss the opportunity.

‘At Lismore Women’s and Children’s Refuge they will often have only two staff members, but six women and 15 kids to care for at one time.’

Police training

There are estimates that up to 60 per cent of police work relates to DV, yet the police have only one week’s training in the area and there is little follow-up training for those on the front line.

‘There needs to be considerable focus on training and re-training for police, the judiciary and other groups working with DV,’ says Ms Watt.

‘On the one hand we can’t expect the police to resolve all of this, but we do need them to do the best they can.’

Coercive control legislation will be coming into effect in 2024 and Ms Watt says that extensive training and support is needed, particularly for police and the judiciary.

‘Investment needs to go into preparing anyone who will have anything to do with the coercive control laws because you can’t implement a law you don’t understand.’

Scotland is seen as the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to coercive control laws and ‘what they stand out for is they worked extremely closely with the women’s organisations and refuges. That is what we need to achieve in NSW and that is what we do,’ explained Ms Watt.

No to Violence provide a men’s referral service, seven days a week, call: 1300 766 491. ‘Men, or anyone who is concerned with a man’s use of violence, can call at any time,’ said Ms Watt.

Family and domestic violence support

1800 Respect, national helpline: 1800 737 732

Women’s Crisis Line: 1800 811 811

Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491

Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114

Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277

NSW Domestic Violence Line: 1800 656 463

Qld DV Connect Womensline: 1800 811 811

Vic Safe Steps crisis response line: 1800 015 188

ACT 24/7 Crisis Line: (02) 6280 0900

Tas Family Violence Counselling and Support Service: 1800 608 122

SA Domestic Violence Crisis Line: 1800 800 098

WA Women’s Domestic Violence 24h Helpline: 1800 007 339

NT Domestic violence helpline: 1800 737 732

Source: www.abc.net.au

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  1. I contend the flood recovery services themselves are increasing the incidence of DV in men.

    People display abusive behaviour as a response to perceiving they are being displaced, dis-empowered, devalued, excluded, or targeted. Services are being biased towards engaging with women, and focusing on primarily assisting women and the children. Despite women committing a third of physical abuse, and two thirds of emotional abuse, the DV services are noticeably structured on the premise that only men can perpetrate abuse, and that only physical abuse is REAL abuse.

    Abuse issues arise through a complex interplay of two or more people. By dividing the services, you are dividing the team into opposing camps prompting mutual recrimination, and an unwillingness to engage. A more holistic, non-biased approach, would significantly increase service efficiency, positive outcomes, and reduce resource requirements.


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