Women are experiencing worsening violence at the hands of their partners during the COVID-19 pandemic, regional services are reporting.
The Centre for Non-Violence says it is seeing more women in need of immediate protection, and those who have previously been subject to coercive control are now suffering physical violence, too.
"We know the nature of the violence against women is escalating," CNV general manager of client services Yvette Jaczina said.
"Women who may have experienced controlling behaviours in the past, are now experiencing physical violence for the first time.
"Jealous behaviours and controlling tactics have escalated to physical violence."
Women who may have experienced controlling behaviours in the past, are now experiencing physical violence for the first time.Yvette Jaczina, Centre for Non-Violence
Women's refuge Annie North has seen a recent increase in the number of people seeking help.
"Initially when the COVID-19 lockdown happened, things went quieter for us, but it has gradually been getting busier and in particular we have seen a spike over the last two weeks," chief executive officer Julie Oberin said.
She said this included an increase in after-hours demand, so more staff had to be recalled to be on standby.
"We are also experiencing more demand for our non-accommodation support from other local agencies referring to us to support women and their children with material relief and emotional support," Ms Oberin said.
A recent study of 15,000 women across the country revealed a similar trend of increasing violence.
The Australian Institute of Criminology conducted a survey in May on women's experiences of family violence during the pandemic.
One in 20 women experienced physical or sexual violence, and almost 12 per cent experienced some form of emotionally abusive, harassing or controlling behaviour from a current or former partner with whom they lived, in the three months leading up to the survey
Almost 6 per cent experienced coercive control.
More than a third of women who experienced either physical or sexual violence, or coercive control, said they were unable to seek support on at least one occasion due to safety concerns.
The authors of the study found that the pandemic "appears to have coincided with the onset of physical or sexual violence or coercive control for many women".
For others, the study found, the violence they already experienced increased in frequency or severity in the first months of the pandemic.
Overall, more than 65 per cent of women who suffered physical or sexual violence and 54.8 per cent of women who were subjected to coercive control, either experienced it for the first time or saw it escalate during the pandemic.
The authors of the study said the factors that led to this rise in violence likely involved a combination of more time in the home, social isolation, and financial stressors.
But chief executive officer of Our Watch, Patty Kinnersly, said the stress of the situation was not an excuse for any violence.
Evidence showed men who were violent towards women already held disrespectful views.
"There is never an excuse for abuse," CNV's Ms Jaczina said.
"We know COVID-19 does not cause domestic and family violence - gender inequality does."
The most recent data from the Crime Statistics Agency shows there were 2016 family incidents in the City of Greater Bendigo in the year to March, an increase of 11.7 per cent on the previous year.
This represented a rate of 1680.2 incidents per 100,000 person, compared to 1528.5 in the year to March 2019.
The rate of family incidents across Victoria overall is 1281.3 incidents per 100,000 people.
Most municipalities in central Victoria saw the rate of family violence rise - as did Victoria - although Loddon, Buloke, and Gannawarra shires all recorded decreases.
The data also showed that 40.7 per cent of serious assaults in Greater Bendigo - the most common 'high harm' crime - were family-related.
Almost 35 per cent of indecent assaults in the municipality and 43.3 per cent of rapes were also family incidents.
Ms Oberin said 113 women and 59 children sought help from Annie North in the 2019-20 financial year, up from 64 women and 29 children the previous year.
This represents increases of 77 per cent and 103 per cent, respectively.
"This financial year the demand is definitely spiking now that we have the second lock down and other restrictions," Ms Oberin said.
The Centre for Non-Violence says anyone who sees or hears someone experiencing family violence or abuse must act. If someone finds themselves in this position, they can report concerning behaviour, offer support to the affected person (if safe to do so), and help them prepare safety plans.
The Centre for Non-Violence suggests they can look for practical ways to help - such as storing private documents or offering their home as a safe place to escape to - and offer to listen without judgement.
People are also advised to call out sexist and derogatory attitudes towards women, or that condone violence.
If you or someone you know is affected by family violence or sexual assault, call the Centre for Non-Violence on 1800 884 292. The statewide safe steps family violence crisis response line is available 24 hours a day on 1800 015 188. The Men's Referral Service, for men who use family violence, can be reached on 1300 766 491. In an emergency, call 000.