Victim Support ACT has recorded a 130 per cent increase of new family violence matters in June compared with last year, with front line agencies seeing reports of strangulation, choking and sexual violence increase significantly during the pandemic.
Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates said research shows these factors can indicate a serious risk of family violence homicide.
Earlier this month Commissioner Yates collaborated with ACT Policing in a two-day operation to ensure high-risk family violence offenders were complying with their court orders. Eight of the forty offenders visited agreed to take part in support programs.
Commissioner Yates welcomed the police operation and said working with people exhibiting abusive behaviour is important to prevent family violence and requires further development in the ACT.
“It’s great that those eight people accepted the referrals for support. I wouldn’t presume that the bulk of people on family violence orders have ever accessed support around their use of violence,” she said.
“I think the evolution of behaviour change programs related to family violence is still in its early days. The ACT hasn’t had a strong track record of being able to offer people using violence evidence-based interventions.”
Commissioner Yates is also calling for the introduction of standards across support programs for family violence offenders to ensure intervention doesn’t increase risk or introduce new ideas of abuse.
“It’s incredibly important that we find better ways in Canberra of working with people using violence, to prevent the further use of violence,” Commissioner Yates said.
“The challenge is that we know a lot of people, a lot of men who are using violence, are doing so against people who they claim to love and it’s incredibly important we provide opportunities for them to think through their choice of violence on their own lives and the lives of those they care about.”
Due to the pandemic, more people are based at home with less contact from family and friends, rising financial pressure and changes to their routine. Commissioner Yates said these factors leave victims of family violence more vulnerable to their abusers and many fear that reporting to police will compromise their safety.
ACT Policing’s Family Violence Unit Inspector Sue Smith said feedback from the police operation was positive.
“Working collaboratively, the operation identified high risk family violence offenders and ensured they understood the conditions of any court orders and other documents related to compliance,” Inspector Smith said.
“ACT Policing and support agencies engaged with victims of family violence informing them of any police interaction and offer support and referral to agencies.”
Both the Commissioner and Inspector Smith said that even in the COVID-19 environment, people experiencing domestic violence should not stay home if they feel unsafe.
“The broad community messages have been, stay home stay safe; however, if your home is not safe there are services here to support you,” Commissioner Yates said.
“You do not have to call police for support, the Domestic Violence Crisis service is available 24/7 to speak to you about your immediate safety and can assist you in seeking safe accommodation early if you need that.”
The Domestic Violence Crisis line can be reached on 6280 0900.
ACT Policing understand they may not be the first point of call but they encourage anyone experiencing family violence to call 000 in an emergency, the Police Assistance Line on 131 444 or the Family Violence Unit on 5126 9114.