DOMESTIC violence services are bracing for a high number of calls for support this Christmas holiday break.
It follows a year in which there was a surge in women reporting domestic violence and calling on support services; media saturation coverage of violent deaths; and a government and corporate push to reduce the domestic violence scourge.
“This year has seen increases of up to thirty per cent more people ringing for services. And police call-outs have been higher,” said Karyn Walsh, who is chief executive officer of Micah Projects which operates the Brisbane Domestic Violence Service.
“All the specialist domestic services are very busy at the moment.”
The increase in calls for support has been directly attributed to public reaction following the violent deaths of Gold Coast women Tara Brown and Karina Lock within 48 hours of each other in September 2015.
“Queenslanders were shocked by the deaths of women in public, and there were subsequent deaths after that,” Ms Walsh said.
“I think we did see in confronting reality the consequences of domestic violence resulting in deaths, which has meant we have (subsequently) had a lot of government and corporate leadership.”
There are other reasons too. A surge in the number of children seeking shelter from family violence has been attributed to the “Batty effect”, in the wake of 11-year-old Luke Batty’s murder by his father in Februrary 2014.
Nationally the number of children and young people accessing homelessness services due to family violence has risen 30 per cent, to almost 19,000 a year.
Luke’s mother Rosie Batty has had a significant influence on national public attitudes towards domestic violence, and on donations and allocations of funding, government initiatives as well as police and legal procedures related to domestic violence.
Ms Walsh said community services “are doing all that they can to promote that you can get help”.
“We’re seeing changes in the court process, we’re seeing changes in police culture and attitudes,” she said.
“The courts and police are working at making a protection order mean something to people when people didn’t have confidence in them.
“There’s still a lot that has to be done but the beginnings of it have certainly been cemented this year and we are seeing more people are seeking assistance.”
The Archdiocese of Brisbane was one of the many organisations to initiate change after the State Government taskforce delivered the Not Now, Not Ever report underlining the impact of domestic violence throughout the state.
The archdiocese has introduced paid leave for domestic and family violence victims, and launched an education campaign Rewrite the Story: Let’s End Domestic and Family Violence.
“For a long time domestic violence has been hidden. It happens behind closed doors,” Archbishop Coleridge said when launching the initiatives in May.
“Now that we’re seeing it as it really is we realise the scale of the problem we have in society.
“We decided we had to do whatever it takes – as a Church with all of our resources and energies – to do something about a real social malaise.”
In the lead-up to Christmas, Micah Projects’ Brisbane Domestic Violence Service has just completed “16 Days of Activism”, a campaign to highlight the impact of domestic violence worldwide.
“Amnesty International and the United Nations both recognise that the breaches of human rights violations against women are the most widespread violations of human rights globally,” Belinda Cox, of BDVS, said.
“Women’s rights are human rights.
“Christmas is a particularly sensitive time for families.
“In the lead-up to Christmas, it’s important to consider what some people will be experiencing during what should be a happy time.
“People want to try and keep their families together or try and make things happy for kids but, behind closed doors, we know that Christmas is really a higher-risk time and there is a lot of domestic violence occurring.”
On November 30, the Victorian Catholic bishops joined the wider Australian push to condemn family violence in the strongest possible terms.
In a letter to the Catholic community, a bishops’ statement picks up on the words of Pope Francis that “we must always say ‘no’ to violence in the home”.
Their letter quoted nationwide figures that a woman died at the hands of her partner or ex- partner every week and that one in four children experienced the distress of witnessing their mother being abused.
The bishops said it was women and children who most suffered as victims of domestic violence.
They called for a society where all people were safe in their homes and families, and where violence and abuse were simply not acceptable.
They asked that the whole Church community including priests, parishioners, teachers and the victims themselves worked to prevent violence.