FAMILY violence has increased across the south-west, with case numbers almost tripling in some parts of the region.
It reflects a grim state-wide trend, with new data showing family violence incidents jumped in Victoria as the state emerged from its COVID-19 lockdowns.
Just this week a Warrnambool court heard from a south-west woman who lived in constant fear of the man she used to be in a relationship with.
During their six-year relationship her ex-partner, a Hamilton district man, would allegedly assault her by bending her hand back and intentionally splash hot coffee on her.
After their relationship ended, she said he threatened to tattoo the words "I hate you" onto her face if she didn't remove the intervention order placed against him and he was accused of breaching the order multiple times.
The court heard the victim was fearful of the man and often couldn't sleep at night, instead replaying a previous incident where she allegedly woke to him standing over her.
Disturbing experiences like this woman's are lived by victim-survivors across Australia every single day.
On average, one woman is killed every nine days by their partner in Australia, and one in four women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a current or previous intimate partner since the age of 15.
Family violence prevention received $1.1 billion in the 2021 Federal Budget this week, including financial and legal help and emergency accommodation.
It was welcome news for Warrnambool domestic violence service Emma House, which reported a rise in family violence across the south-west, with Portland case numbers almost tripling in recent months.
"We're seeing an increase across the regions," Emma House manager of client services Cristie Brian said.
"In Portland numbers are coming up about triple what we were seeing in the last half of last year, per month.
"Case managers are sitting at very high case loads and are very stretched for resources."
Emma House has already seen 2336 family violence referrals so far this financial year up until the end of April, with numbers on track to surpass the 2534 referrals the year before.
So far this year there have been 409 case management outreach responses, nearly matching up to the 433 the previous year.
In February this year alone there were 53 new family violence allocations to case managers: "that was our biggest month," Ms Brian said.
"There's absolutely been an increase in demand.
"We obviously need funds for people on the ground and resources to support victim-survivors.
"Family violence cases are increasing in numbers and complexity so we welcome any funding commitments.
"How that flows down to local services like ours is always an ongoing struggle, there's always multiple programs and services competing for funding.
"We always need more funding to make sure we can continue to develop and grow with the increasing needs."
Homelessness is the biggest pressure point for combatting family violence in the region, with services like Emma House struggling to find emergency accommodation for women and children fleeing violence.
The budget has funded a suite of targeted measures to combat the crisis, including $12.6 million over three years for Safe Places program projects to renovate, build or purchase emergency accommodation for women and children fleeing a violent situation at home.
"The biggest issue out here is the lack of housing," Ms Brian said.
"It's great there's funding for women in that crisis situation when they're leaving home but when you can't get local accommodation it makes it a really difficult journey.
"The lack of private rentals and affordable housing is impacting our vulnerable populations.
"We do lots of advocating with the Office for Housing and reaching out to rental companies, as well as problem solving with women around what other options there are.
"The preference is to keep women in their own community where they have already established support networks."
The government will invest $164.8 million in providing financial support for women who escape domestic violence.
Under the package, for the next two years, victims can receive payments of up to $1500 in immediate cash and a further $3500 in kind for goods or direct payments of bonds, school fees or other items.
"That's definitely a good thing, often women who present to us are experiencing financial abuse so having that crisis payment to be able to look at emergency accommodation and the immediate needs for themselves and their children so crucial to getting out the door," Ms Brian said.
"There can never be enough money when you've got to set up your whole life from scratch."
Hundreds of millions of dollars will also be spent on assistance to help victims navigate the legal system.
This includes $129 million in increased funding for legal assistance services, to ensure women can access the justice system.
Emma House only has one lawyer on site, funded by Victoria Legal Aid.
It's vital support for the many women who come through the doors, but cases are growing in numbers and complexity, Ms Brian said.
"Legal advice is crucial; we have a legal service here with a lawyer on site but we only have one and clients all come with their own complexities.
"Our issue is the lawyer we have onsite is funded through Victoria Legal Aid and their services don't cover the entire range of what a woman might need.
"Family law courts can be another perpetrator tactic because financially even if a woman owns property or has a good income the fees can be exorbitant, but we wouldn't be able to support them with our legal service under the criteria."
The government will also invest $35.1 million in an effort to prevent violent attitudes developing in young people and inform young people about consent and respectful relationships.
"It's so incredibly important to educate men about violence and coercive control so they can understand what they are doing and make changes to stop it and hold perpetrators accountable," Ms Brian said.
"It's about educating the younger generation of men especially so we can challenge gender norms because ultimately they're the underlying drivers of family violence.
"It is a challenge and a big question. Family violence is really complex and we as a service are seeing an increase in the complexity in our cases in terms of lots of cross-sectors, including mental health, drug and alcohol, homelessness, diverse communities and the increase of cumulative harm.
"We're seeing the next generation coming through and seeing the impacts on kids who experienced that going on to be perpetrators or victim survivors in their subsequent relationships.
"Changing that is really difficult but it's about everyone coming together."
The government says it is also funding services to help perpetrators change their behaviour. Part of this will be the funding of $4.1 million over three years for the Co-ordinated Enforcement and Support to Eliminate (CEASE) Domestic Violence Program trial.
It says the trial, which is focused on deterrence, will look at what works to address perpetrators' use of violence and help to shape future responses.
Extended funding of $4.9 million over three years is also being provided for perpetrator-focused services, including the No To Violence Men's Referral Service and MensLine Australia's Changing for Good program.
"It's important to hold perpetrators responsible for their actions," Ms Brian said.
"Obviously our role as a specialist family violence service is to support victim-survivors but we can't stop family violence unless we focus on perpetrators taking responsibility for their actions.
"We know punitive measures seen over the years, they alone can't make that change. Men need to take ownership in order to change."
The government also wants to make it easier for victims to come forward.
Services Australia will create a pilot program that will provide specialist case management to victims and survivors, so they only need to tell their story once.
"This 'Tell Us Once' approach, will transform the service experience for customers affected by family, domestic or sexual violence," the budget reads.
Meanwhile, the No Interest Loans Scheme for Family and Domestic Violence (NILS-DV) - which provides loans up to $2000 to help women get back on their feet - will be further promoted to ensure victims know the cash is available.
"It can be really traumatic for victim survivors to tell their story even once but to have to tell it multiple times to different services it can actually prevent them from seeking help if they've told their story and then been passed on to someone else," Ms Brian said.
"I really look forward to seeing how this funding rolls out, it's important to get a seamless service."
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