PRESSURE is mounting on a central Victorian women’s refuge ahead of the festive season, with its accommodation already at capacity.
Annie North chief executive Julie Oberin says all 15 of the organisation’s refuge and safe houses were full, with 17 families in them.
It comes as agencies responding to family violence brace for a spike in demand during the holidays.
Calls to the Men’s Referral Service run by No to Violence, the peak body for men’s behaviour change in Victoria and New South Wales, rise by as much as 35 per cent over Christmas and New Year.
The Centre for Non-Violence, Annie North and the Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault also report high demand during that period.
Experts say there are a variety of factors contributing to the trend, from financial stress to families spending more time together. They have urged people affected by violence to seek help.
Pressure of perfection
IT’S the most wonderful time of the year for some, but not all, families.
Each year, agencies responding to family violence brace for a surge in demand during the festive season.
Annie North chief executive Julie Oberin said demand on the Loddon After Hours Family Violence Crisis Response, which the not-for-profit organisation provides, was already up on last year.
“Last year we had an average of one after hours crisis family violence incident in the Loddon region per week with an escalation of nine occurring in January, which meant more than two per week,” she said.
“This year we have seen an average of one after hours family violence incident in the Loddon region until November.”
Ms Oberin said the organisation responded to six after hours family violence incidents last month, and four in the month to date.
“So, yes, there is definitely an increase in demand at the moment,” she said.
All 15 of Annie North’s refuge and safe houses were full at the time of writing and were accommodating 17 families.
Ms Oberin said one explanation for the increase in demand during the festive season was that women tried really hard to provide a ‘normal’ Christmas for their children and families.
“They modify their behaviour to try not trigger the perpetrators abuse. However, the perpetrator often takes advantage of this, and with the added stressors of the children being home, increased use of alcohol and perhaps financial hardship, the perpetrator often escalates his violence and abuse to the point where the women and children have to flee,” she said.
It is important to recognise many people are experiencing these [stressors and triggers] and are not using violence in their relationships...Robyn Trainor, Centre for Non-Violence
Domestic and family violence can take many different forms, and the Centre for Non-Violence’s Robyn Trainor said the Bendigo-based service usually sees an increase in all types during the Christmas period.
“Most men are not violent, but family violence has a gendered prevalence, with women most likely to experience it and men most likely to be the predominant perpetrators of violence,” Ms Trainor said.
“There are increased stress and triggers at this time causing increased risk and potential escalation, including financial stress, misuse of drugs and alcohol, access and visitation when parents are separated and [there is] family conflict.
“These stressors and triggers don’t cause the violence and it is important to recognise many people are experiencing these and are not using violence in their relationships and hurting the people they say they most love and care about.”
Ms Trainor said there were supports and services available for people experiencing family violence and people using violence.
CNV programs for men using violence in a family context include Men’s Behaviour Change and Making aMENds – Becoming a better dad.
Ms Trainor said part of the response to increased demand involved seeking opportunities for services to work together.
Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault chief executive Kate Wright said it was an ‘incredibly busy’ time for the organisation, with people making self-referrals and other agencies requesting consults and advice on how best to assist their clients.
“Our waitlist is growing again,” Ms Wright said.
She said the waitlist for adults was about two to three months, while for children it was about four months.
The organisation has allocated greater resources to intake processes ahead of Christmas in anticipation of increased demand for help.
All of the organisations the Bendigo Advertiser contacted said there would be services available over the festive season if people were distressed and in need of support.
Calls to the Men’s Referral Service, run by No to Violence, rise by as much as 35 per cent over Christmas and New Year.
Telephone counsellor Gordon Thompson said some of the calls could be self-referrals from men who use violence. Others might be referrals from police and other agencies.
He said the increase in referrals from police for the after-hours service was particularly noteworthy and could ‘easily double’ during the festive season.
The first thing he said he advised was for people to recognise the pressures that came with the festive season.
“There’s a lot of investment in emotions and expectations around Christmas. That can set people up for high expectations and low results,” Mr Thompson said.
“Just be in the moment and enjoy the family you have and the time you have with the children and appreciate that.
“It's all about respectful communication.”
Another thing he encouraged all men to do was reflect on their performance within their families, just as they might consider how they did at work:
“Think about their decisions, why they make the choices they make, and look at the impact.”
- If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800respect.org.au.
- Men looking to end their violent or abusive behaviour can call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or visit ntv.org.au.
- In an emergency, call 000.