Isolation amid the coronavirus pandemic is seeing an increased number of young people turning to family violence services.
Emma House executive officer Ruth Isbel said in the past six months about 20 per cent of the services intakes have been young women aged between 18-25 years experiencing intimate partner violence.
"We are seeing an increase in young women accessing our service with the male perpetrating the violence also being a young male," Ms Isbel said.
"This year to date we have provided support to over 40 young women under 25 years of age.
"Young women experience the same range of abuse and violence as older women but due to their age and developmental stage the impacts may be greater and the options for escape limited.
"Of deep concern is the number of young men in the same age range who are perpetrating this controlling and violent behaviours."
The first two months of this year was an intense period for Emma House with the non-for-profit service receiving 440 referrals including 137 self-referrals.
Compared to January and February 2019 where there was 292 referrals including 66 self-referrals.
Ms Isbel said due to their gender, life stage and media portrayals of romantic relationships, young women can sometimes find it difficult to recognise the signs of controlling and abusive behaviour or be listened to when they do speak out.
"They experience obsessive and controlling behaviors, physical, verbal sexual, emotional and psychological abuse," she said.
"The use of technology and threats to expose, out and shame are particularly powerful forms of control for adolescents."
In recent weeks, Emma House has seen a significant drop in referrals and contacts due to the initial community response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they are expecting this to change.
"For many people being at home is not always a safe place," Ms Isbel said.
"The combination of the public health and community containment measures introduced to reduce the spread of COVID-19 as well as increased financial insecurity and reduced ability to leave relationships may increase the risk of family violence for many victim survivors.
"Times of stress and hardship are never an excuse for violence.
"We expect family violence incidents will increase as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and we know this because of research and evidence that family violence can become more frequent and severe during periods of emergency.
"We are still here and we will respond during this pandemic."
The latest Crime Statistic Agency figures reveal mixed results across the south-west.
For the year ending on December 31, family violence incidents soared by 25 per cent in Glenelg shire, 15 per cent in Colac-Otway, six per cent in Moyne while Warrnambool family violence incidents dropped 14 per cent to 609 incidents.
Ms Isbel was concerned about the Victorian increase of 6.6 per cent to the highest on record; 84,550 incidents.
"There could possibly be many reasons why police reports on family violence have seen a slight decrease in certain areas of the south-west over the past 12 months including the great work by the family violence unit in targeting repeat offenders," Ms Isbel said.
"The important figure is the 6.6 per cent increase across the state which shows the community's confidence in way police are responding to and reporting family violence."
Emma House's data across a similar period paints a different picture.
"Our data shows a significant increase in referrals both from police and self-referrals," Ms Isbel said.
"Last financial year we received a total of 1873 referrals including police report and so far this financial we have received 1754 to the end of February."
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call triple zero.
- Emma House is a Warrnambool-based not-for-profit service and can be contacted through 1800 EMMADV (1800 366238) or visit emmahouse.org.au/
- Safe Steps for women after hours service is available through 188 015 188.
- Brophy Family and Youth Services can be contacted on 1300 BROPHY or 03 5561 8888.
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