FAMILY violence, sexual violence, housing and mental health services are struggling to meet demand as wait times continue to rise across the greater Bendigo region.
All services have seen an increasing complexity in cases, compounded by COVID-19, which are contributing to 'longer than ever' waitlists.
Centre Against Sexual Assault Central Victoria (CASACV) provides therapeutic support and intervention for victims of sexual violence.
Chief executive Kate Wright said consultation waiting times had nearly doubled over the past two years.
Ms Wright said a 'perfect storm' of a post-COVID surge and increasing community awareness of sexual violence had played a role in the growing number of cases the service was seeing.
"We're looking at roughly a seven-month wait," she said.
"It's just a perfect storm of greater awareness, lockdowns easing and people seeking help."
Ms Wright said media and shifting social attitudes had led to more reporting of sexual violence.
"With parliament, Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame - a lot of talk about sexual harassment and violence has created an awareness for people who may have reflected and said, well, actually, I think that's what's happened to me," she said.
I think we have quite a mix of people who've had historical sexual assault or abuse happen, contacting our service now realising that what they did experience wasn't right.- CASACV chief executive Kate Wright
While wait times and reported incidents of sexual assault and abuse have nearly doubled, CASACV stressed the surge was not necessarily a reflection of increased incidents within the community.
"In the past, it's been very much a private issue that's filled with shame and blame," Ms Wright said.
"Over time, we're talking about it more, and I think that could be resonating with people in the community."
While CASACV struggles to meet demand, the organisation is encouraging those seeking help to continue their efforts.
CASACV's waitlist process begins with referral - either adult self-referrals, referrals from other agencies (including housing or family violence services), GP referrals and police and child protection referrals.
Ms Wright said the largest amount of referrals are self-referrals or from police and child protection.
"Once they're referred in, they'll get a phone call from us to say, thank you, we've got the referral, we'd like to make an appointment," she said.
"And in that initial appointment, we would look at what's currently occurring for them, whether it's a recent assault. If it's a recent assault, we would see them very quickly."
While wait times differ case by case, CASACV said the service has programs in place to support those waiting for appointments.
"We do regular telephone check-ups during the waiting period to assess how each client is going," Ms Wright said.
The wait times at sexual violence services are also being mirrored at family violence services, including the Centre for Non-Violence (CNV).
CNV chief executive Margaret Augerinos said while statewide family violence incidents decreased overall by 1.5 per cent (in the 12 months to December 2021), the agency had seen increases in bigger population bases such as the City of Greater Bendigo (+2.8 per cent) and Campaspe (+23.5 per cent).
"We are seeing not only increased demand for all services, but also increasing complexity in the cases we are working with," Ms Augerinos said.
"Demand for services via The Orange Door, CNV programs including adolescent family violence, therapeutic services and programs and interventions for men who use violence remains high.
"The increased complexity and risk factors also mean our staff are needing to spend more time with families to assess, support and respond to safety, crisis, and recovery needs."
Across the board, services are struggling to cope with post-COVID demand surge, and wait times for mental health services in the region have also been skyrocketing - with some patients being forced to wait up to six months for appointments.
Family violence services including CNV received further funding as a response to the recommendations of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence.
However, when the state budget was released earlier this month, CNV argued housing services had not received enough allocated funding.
"Money to help women leave abusive relationships is helpful, but not if they have nowhere to go," Ms Augerinos told the Bendigo Advertiser at the time.
The chief executive said until community attitudes that condone and excuse violence against women change, the service needed a significant increase in government investment.
"Until that happens, we need a system that can respond to each and every person who requests assistance," she said.
Meanwhile, CASACV said the royal commission did not result in similar funding commitments for their service.
"Sexual assault agencies have not received the rapid increase in funding that family violence services have seen as a result of the Royal Commission into Family Violence," a CASACV spokesperson said.
Demand for sexual assault services by those impacted by sexual violence has been more than our funding resources can meet - this is not a new thing.- CASACV spokesperson
Ms Wright said targeted funding for CASACV was needed to adequately address and prevent incidents of sexual violence.
"I think what we actually need is funding to go into the specialist sector," she said.
"And that would be coming to CASACV, to run prevention and awareness activities within our community, so that we know what messages to give.
"At the moment, people don't want to talk about sexual violence, and that has to change."
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