Central Victorian family violence services have seen a spike in referrals during the state government's seven-day circuit-breaker lockdown.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a sharp increase in referrals to services compared to pre-COVID-19 times as services called for more resources.
Statewide, a spokesperson for the family violence response centre Safe Steps said contacts had increased during the recent lockdown.
"Safe Steps saw an increase in contacts during this lockdown - in contrast to previous lockdowns - and many of those seeking assistance were experiencing serious risk family violence requiring an immediate response in order to achieve safety," the spokesperson said.
Annie North chief executive Julie Oberin said the Bendigo-based crisis and transitional support and refuge accommodation service had seen a spike through the lockdown.
"Normally at Annie North we would have two or three new intakes per week," Ms Oberin said.
"During the circuit-breaker lockdown we had nine new intakes - five in the first week and four in the second week."
Ms Oberin said these victim-survivors had come to the emergency accommodation service via Safe Steps, the police and local frontline agencies.
"For two of the nine women it was the first time they had contact with police and a specialist family violence service," she said.
"When all of our refuge properties are full our only option is to place them in motels or hotels where we provide support remotely.
"This is far from ideal and results in high levels of stress and anxiety for the women accommodated in those sites.
"Our on-call staff have been extremely busy during and after-hours providing emotional and practical support and material aid to many highly distressed women."
Centre for Non-Violence programs and services executive manager Yvette Jaczina said on top of new referrals the centre was still managing pre-existing cases through lockdown.
These women have already lived through lockdowns with their abuser, managing their safety and often their children's safety; 24 hours a day.Yvette Jaczina
"This means they are acutely aware of the impact of any further time isolated at home with the person abusing them.
"Some women did make contact with specialist family violence services as we entered lockdown, seeking support to manage their risk or to leave the relationship.
"On top of that, we are still managing the impact of previous lockdowns, where we saw more women seeking support who were at higher risk and the level of violence was escalating.
"Women who were previously living in environments with high levels of coercive control were also reporting they were experiencing physical violence.
"Most services such as ours are struggling to meet demand."
Services call for proactive support
Ms Oberin said across the board, referrals to Annie North had significantly increased since the middle of 2020 compared to pre-COVID-19 and more resources were need to ensure victim-survivors and their children were given the best possible care.
"In addition to needing more refuge facilities, and additional frontline staff, we also need more affordable social housing so that we can move families through refuge quicker," she said.
"This would free refuge vacancies up for these new families experiencing crisis."
Ms Jaczina reaffirmed Ms Oberin's comments and said specialist family violence services would be "dealing with the impact of COVID-19 for a significant period of time".
We will be working with women and children who are experiencing the cumulative impact of living in a situation of coercive control and increased isolation and being asked to be behind closed doors with their abuser.Yvette Jaczina
"This highlights the need for ongoing funding for both crisis and long-term case management for women and children accessing family violence response services.
"The recent state and federal budgets did little to address capacity to frontline services, and there appears to be little investment in prevention or therapeutic programs.
"We are calling for long-term funding, tailored solutions for rural and regional areas, for all levels of government to listen to the voices of experts about where resources should be prioritised and boosted, and an end to short-term funding and pilot projects that are based on political cycles rather than local need.
"We would also like to see greater investment in secure and affordable housing options for women and children."
If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, help is available:
- Safe Steps, Victoria's 24-hour family violence response hotline - 1800 015 188
- 1800 RESPECT, the 24-hour national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service - 1800 737 732
- No To Violence's Men's Referral Service, for men concerned about their use of violence - 1300 766 491
- The Centre Against Sexual Assault Central Victoria, available from 9am - 5pm on weekdays, on 5441 0430, and the Sexual Assault Crisis Line at all other times on 1800 806 292.
- The Orange Door in Loddon, available from 9am - 5pm weekdays - 1800 512 359
- The Centre for Non-Violence, for people who live in the Loddon region, on 1800 884 292.
In an emergency, phone 000.
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