Glenelg Shire residents experience family violence at a higher rate than those in the rest of the region, with transient lifestyles posing "unique challenges" for specialised detectives.
New data released by the Crime Statistics Agency revealed Glenelg, which takes in Portland, Cape Bridgewater and rural towns Casterton and Heywood, reported the highest rate of family violence in the south-west in the year to June 2020.
It also revealed that for half a decade the local government area recorded a higher rate of family violence incidents than the rest of the state.
In the south-west, Colac-Otway was the second-worst district, closely followed by Warrnambool and Southern Grampians.
The lowest rate of family violence occurred in Corangamite and then Moyne.
Sergeant Jason Dance, who leads the western region division two family violence investigation team, said Glenelg's geographical location and close proximity to South Australia posed "unique challenges" when compared to the rest of the region.
"Glenelg and particularly Portland seem to have a more transient population than other major centres in western region (division two)," he said.
"There are a lot of heavy industries, including trucking and ports, and it is very close to the border so nailing down recidivist offenders and investigating and identifying trends can be a challenge.
There are a lot of heavy industries (in Glenelg) and it is very close to the border so nailing down recidivist offenders and investigating and identifying trends can be a challenge.Jason Dance.
"That's not to say that it's out of control but it does pose its own unique challenges.
"Recidivist offending is a very big driver in family violence statistics."
Sergeant Dance said police were doing everything they could to ensure all corners of western region division two, which encompasses Warrnambool, Moyne, Southern Grampians, Corangamite and Glenelg, were kept in sight.
"We've got two dedicated family violence liaison officers working in Glenelg that were rolled out this year and there is a lot of hard work being done by Portland police in proactively investigating family violence," he said.
In the year to June 2020, Glenelg saw a 16.2 per cent increase in family violence incidents from the year before.
The CSA data showed the incident rate per 100,000 people was 1859 in Glenelg compared to Victoria's rate of 1315.
It was the fifth consecutive year the shire exceeded the state's rate for family violence offending in the 12 months to June.
During that time, the highest rate was recorded in 2017, followed by 2020.
Of the family members affected in the last 12 months, 269 were female and 96 were male.
Those most affected were those aged between 25 and 44.
Sergeant Dance said Glenelg was not alone in exceeding the state's rate, with family violence in Warrnambool and Southern Grampians also reporting a higher rate than the rest of Victoria.
"That high rate is evident across all of our major population centres and I think that is because our communities are very proactive in reporting family violence," he said.
"In the last five years a number of major things have happened with the main driver of change being the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Since then we've noticed a push for family violence to be included in mainstream media and a notable increase in reporting in this region.
"We've also rolled out the family violence police unit five years ago and in the last two years the family violence investigation unit, so we're taking a much more proactive approach in investigating family violence and holding perpetrators to account."
Emma House executive officer Ruth Isbel said the number of victim-survivors accessing the family violence service had remained consistent over the past two financial years but "unfortunately Portland in particular has always been an area of high demand for our service".
She said it was "difficult to be definitive about why there is higher levels of family violence in Glenelg Shire".
Ms Isbel said the cause of family violence was gender inequality but contributing factors included higher unemployment, financial stress, rural isolation, drugs and alcohol and rigid gender stereotypes.
"Often rural and regional shires have higher levels of all those contributing factors," she said.
Ms Isbel said victim-survivors often presented with "complex needs associated with the impact of family violence".
"Staff struggle to link women and children into ongoing recovery services such as therapeutic counselling due to the lack of professional practitioners in the region," she said.
Emma House is based in Warrnambool and provides outreach services to Portland, Hamilton, Terang and Camperdown.
Ms Isbel said face-to-face services were provided in Portland with telephone and online support available when preferred or necessary.
"COVID-19 health restrictions have impacted our services' ability to respond in person but hopefully as restrictions ease we will again operate on a regular basis out of Portland," she said.
"Emma House also works closely with local service providers across the Glenelg Shire to assist victim-survivors where possible to have support when and where they need it."
Ms Isbel said Emma House provided the region's adult and child victim-survivors with a "full range of tailored services" including crisis accommodation, support and counselling, legal assistance, court support, therapeutic program, flexible support packages and after hours assistance.
"Victim-survivors and other services can call us directly to speak to a specialist practitioner," she said.
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 000.
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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