Attacks shed light on domestic horror

Victorian police handled more than 60,000 domestic violence reports last year but it took a spate of high-profile attacks for the community to take notice.

Christine couldn't leave; she had five children and a yard full of chickens and ducks.

Even if she had been able to find a safe house for six and a gaggle of chooks, she was too petrified to act. Her abusive husband had already killed some of the birds as a warning.

Her instinct told her the safest thing was to stay.

"I could imagine, if I left, lying awake in bed every night just waiting for him to come and get me," she says.

Christine is a domestic abuse survivor who has become an advocate - but her story could belong to any one of thousands of Australian women who suffer violence at the hands of their partner.

The story is almost always the same, Women's Domestic Violence Crisis Service (WDVCS) spokeswoman Adrienne Agg says.

"The perpetrators will be very charming in the start, then they start grooming. They introduce threats and intimidation. They introduce physical violence. Then they apologise. Then it starts up again."

Christine survived, but many don't.

Last year, there were 29 murders related to family violence in Victoria, slightly less than half of all murders committed in the state.

More than 1500 women were put into emergency accommodation by the WDVCS, and countless more were physically and psychologically battered.

Statistics from Victoria Police show more than 60,000 family violence incidents were reported in 2012/13.

But anybody working in the sector will tell you under-reporting is a problem.

Now a spate of high-profile killings have focused the community's attention on these private abuses.

A man has been charged with the murder of his daughters, aged three and four, on Easter Sunday and a mother of four was allegedly killed by her de facto partner in a busy Melbourne shopping strip last week.

But support workers are frustrated it takes something exceptionally horrific to draw attention to the tragically ordinary.

"It's infuriating that there are women dying in their homes every week," says WDVCS chief executive Annette Gillespie.

Those on the front line say the response is too disparate, underfunded and not far-reaching enough.

WDVCS sometimes uses motels for crisis accommodation because of a housing shortage.

Ms Gillespie talks of the need for a state-wide service that records the treatment, but also the history of violence, of each woman who reaches out for help.

Local services do a fantastic job linking victims with counselling, crisis accommodation and legal support, Ms Gillespie says, but if the woman leaves the area their records do not go with them.

"We know that women who live with family violence are often transient because of their need to escape," Ms Gillespie says.

"Once they move out of the region they lose that connection and they have to start their support all over again."

The co-ordination of services is important for women, Ms Gillespie says, but it is vital so perpetrators can be monitored.

One man may be entered into the WDVCS system attached to three women, but at the moment there's no ability to link his data.

"We could track escalating behaviour, but because there's no emphasis on the man's behaviour that opportunity has been lost," Ms Gillespie says.

This lack of focus on the perpetrators of violence was highlighted this week by Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay, who cited victim Rosie Batty's campaign to have violence against women recognised as a men's issue.

"Our response to this fundamental fact is at times inadequate, confused and harmful to those women experiencing such abuse," Mr Lay said, citing Ms Batty, whose son Luke was killed by her ex-partner.

"It is men's fault that harm is caused to those they abuse, not the victims," Mr Lay said.

"The full focus of our response must be to place the needs of the victim at the centre of our legal and court system, as well as our social and policing services."

Women's Health West CEO Robyn Gregory says efforts are being made to stop violence before it happens but funding is inadequate.

A coalition of agencies in Melbourne's western region is rolling out programs aimed at reducing the possibility of violence against women by changing cultures everywhere from workplaces to sporting clubs.

"In one sense it's small, but it can have quite wide-reaching effects," Ms Gregory says.

Maribyrnong Council, for example, requires sporting clubs to demonstrate what they're doing to reduce the possibility of violence against women when they apply for grants.

Ms Gregory says such clubs can have a culture of drinking, which makes them an ideal place to intervene.

The program aims to make sure what happens in those clubs doesn't result in men going home and being violent there.

"It seems like we've got one response; one size fits all and it doesn't," Ms Gregory says.

"We have to have systemic answers."

But to execute the programs effectively, they need money.

Demand for services at Women's Health West has increased 35 per cent in the past year on the back of a similar increase the year before without additional funding.

As a result there is now a wait for a number of their services.

"You cannot have a waiting list for women in crisis," Ms Gregory says.

"The bottom line is resources."

Victoria Police this week acknowledged they needed to better when it came to protecting victims.

Acting Assistant Commissioner for Crime Command Rod Jouning said police will drive changes to have a joined-up response, rather than agencies working in isolation.

"I don't think we do that as well as we could," he said.

"We need to be wrapping the services around the victim themselves."

No To Violence acting chief executive Rodney Vlais said better co-ordination will sharpen the effectiveness of the more direct violence mitigation tools of intervention orders and men's behavioural programs.

He says if an intervention order is supported by an integrated system that would help police keep in contact with a violent man.

He also wants more accountability for those directed to behaviour programs.

"Except for a small number of courts there's no way of checking or monitoring if (a referred man) does attend," Mr Vlais says.

White Ribbon, a male-led primary prevention campaign, aims to help men and boys be leaders in their workplaces and communities in a campaign against violence.

It recognises most men aren't violent, and wants to empower them to stand up to those who are.

Their ambassadors include former perpetrators who now speak about what motivated them to change.

At the heart of what many experts say about domestic violence is the need for the community's complacency to the challenged.

Domestic Violence Resource Centre researcher Debbie Kirkwood says there's a perception that what goes on in the home is private and that relationships, which are complex, involve give and take.

"It comes back to the assumption that she must be doing something to warrant that, or deserve that," Ms Kirkwood says.

"It's all about victim blaming."

* Readers seeking help about domestic violence can call the Women's Domestic Violence Crisis Service's 24-hour crisis line on 1800 015 188.

Source AAP

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