Domestic violence workers are dealing with a significant increase in distressed women and children, including those involved in high-risk cases, as awareness campaigns continue across south-east Queensland.
Centacare, the Catholic Church’s social services arm, has reported increases in the number of women who have reached out for help, matching the observations of police.
“This is a problem that is everywhere. Regardless of postcode, regardless of community, we’re seeing instances of domestic violence increase,” Centacare executive director Peter Selwood said.
“Every case is different. Families are under pressure.
“We have a significant practice on the Sunshine Coast and we’ve seen reported cases there increase by about thirty per cent. We supported more than four thousand people last year and that’s a significant number for a community the size of the Sunshine Coast.
“And we have seen referrals from police increase over the last twelve months.”
The Archdiocese of Brisbane has reignited its Rewrite the Story campaign during this Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month as the State Government launches its #dosomething campaign.
Each woman has a story to tell about a violent partner using different forms of abuse – from physical abuse to controlling behaviours including restriction of money and isolation from friends and family.
Centacare’s experience has included helping women overcome a variety of different situations. Some are too scared to read books because their partners become violent at the thought of them gaining education. Others are trying to juggle work on low wages with the requirements of parenting young children, sometimes in isolation from supportive friends and family.
“There are so many stories to be told but the common point is that we need to continue to shine a light on domestic and family violence,” Mr Selwood said.
As thousands of people across Queensland attended vigils last week to remember the victims of domestic and family violence – including on average, one woman killed every week by a former or current partner – police reported 62,264 related incidents in the most recent annual statistical review (2016-17).
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said courts were now swamped with domestic violence cases.
“Magistrates have said to me that sometimes fifty per cent of their case load now is domestic and family violence matters, while in the past it might have been a quarter or a fifth,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
In Queensland, between 2006 to 2017, 263 women, men and children were killed by a family member or a current or former intimate partner.
The numbers of strangulation cases are on the rise. Since Queensland introduced tougher laws in 2016, 1333 alleged offenders have been before the courts.
Recently, 160 Queensland Police officers, prosecutors and judges attending training to learn from United States experts heard about how to determine the method, intent, signs and symptoms of strangulation – the sort that doesn’t necessarily kill, or even leave visible marks or bruising, but can cause serious body injuries including brain damage.
“Women can die up to a year later from stroke, clots in the lungs and other things,” Red Rose Foundation director and long-time domestic violence advocate Betty Taylor said.
Ms Taylor is a member of the Queensland Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Board that has studied recent domestic and family violence deaths in an attempt to unravel patterns of abuse, risk and harm.
“Coercive controlling violence was evident in almost all cases, however, this was unlikely to be responded to unless reports of physical violence were concurrently made,” the board’s 2016-17 review said.
“Covert and non-physical forms of coercion, such as social isolation, harassing or threatening behaviour, possessiveness or verbal abuse were less likely to be recognised by services as potential indicators of abuse or reported by victims.
“Episodes of domestic and family violence that were reported were at times recorded as ‘arguments about infidelity’ and subsequently minimised or considered in isolation of other indicators of harm.
“For every death, the ramifications are immense and widespread; affecting not only loved ones left behind, but also the service providers required to respond to these situations.”
The Queensland Government has allocated $323.1 million to implement recommendations from the landmark Not Now, Not Ever Report into domestic and family violence in Queensland.
Minister for Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Di Farmer said raising awareness of domestic and family violence would provide an opportunity for everyone to help end violence across the state.
“We want everyone in every community in Queensland to help spread the message of zero tolerance and to let people know violence of this kind is not okay, ever,” she said.
“Work continues to address the causes and the harm, but it cannot be done alone.
“Everyone in Queensland has a role to play in putting an end to domestic and family violence.”
Ms Farmer recently launched the #dosomething campaign, urging bystanders to speak up about domestic and family violence.
Part of speaking up is to encourage those who used abuse or violence to take responsibility and seek support to change.
To find out what support is available for people experiencing domestic and family violence visit the Centacare website.
By – Mark Bowling and Michael Crutcher