Violence crisis, further spike expected

Cardinia Shire’s family violence crisis is on the up, with new data revealing the Covid-19 lockdown is a likely contributor to a spike in numbers.

Cardinia Shire’s family violence crisis is on the up, with new data revealing the Covid-19 lockdown is a likely contributor to a spike in numbers.

Figures from the Crime Statistics Agency – released on Thursday 24 September – revealed 1527 family violence incidents were recorded across Cardinia in the year to June 2020.

That number increased, when compared with last year’s figures of 1317 local incidents.

According to the figures, 1184 women and 342 men in Cardinia Shire had reportedly experienced violence.

The 25-34 age group was the most affected, followed closely by the 35-44 demographic.

More than 140 people over the age of 55 experienced some form of domestic violence in the Shire, while 105 people under 18 also fell victim.

Statewide, family incidents increased by 6.7 percent from 82,651 to 88,214. The figures also found there was a 9.7 percent increase in breaches of family violence orders.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner regional operations Rick Nugent said the force was concerned that some of the coronavirus restrictions could result in a spike in cases.

“We felt there was a real risk in that regard,” he said.

D/Comm Nugent said there had been an increase in first time victims reporting violence, as well as an increase in incidents involving children and parents – both as victims and perpetrators.

Shadow police minister David Southwick was quick to politicise the statistics. He claimed confusion remained over whether family violence victims could lawfully flee abuse.

“Tragically, Daniel Andrews’ prolonged lockdown has seen increasing levels of domestic violence across the state, yet we see no plan to address this spike and to keep vulnerable members of our community safe,” he said.

WAYSS – an organisation which assists vulnerable women and children experiencing violence and homelessness across Cardinia, Casey and Greater Dandenong – has noticed a significant increase in incidents during the pandemic.

According to figures from WAYSS, the organisation has responded to almost 4200 family violence reports from Victoria Police since March 2020, when the pandemic began to take hold.

The number of new clients accessing support since March has surpassed 1050.

Every month this year – except January – has recorded an increase in the number of cases, when compared with figures from the same time last year.

A whopping 46 percent increase in cases – totalling 729 police reports – was recorded in June, as restrictions in Melbourne began to ease.

“We believe that these numbers may be even higher as family violence victims are unable to reach out for help due to the lockdown,” WAYSS CEO Elizabeth Thomas said.

Ms Thomas said she wasn’t surprised with the rise in figures. She said there had also been an increase in victims from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

“The Cardinia area also has a population with no visa status or rights to income support and we know that people in these perilous circumstances are experiencing considerable hardship,” she said.

WAYSS has also noticed an increase in the severity of cases, according to Ms Thomas, who said violence had escalated.

“We have a higher number of cases where there is significant physical violence with a notable increase in stabbings,” she said.

“Our clients continue to present with increasingly complex needs and circumstances due to Covid-19, requiring intensive case management support from WAYSS family violence case managers as our clients require many more additional hours of support.”

The crisis isn’t expected to ease when restrictions do, and the family violence frontline is preparing for a rise in demand.

“We do anticipate, and are preparing for, a further spike in cases once perpetrators are able to go back to work or leave the house and victims have the opportunity to seek help,” Ms Thomas said.