ACT News

ACT's domestic violence crisis service experiences holiday jump in demand

Demand for domestic violence crisis assistance in the holiday period surged more than 34 per cent last year, with almost 5000 urgent calls for help and accommodation in the lead-up to Christmas. 

The rise in calls has stretched the territory's emergency housing supply for victims and put pressure on the domestic violence support sector, which has continued to agitate for sustained funding for already strained frontline crisis services.

Canberra's frontline domestic violence services continue to experience a rise in calls for help.
Canberra's frontline domestic violence services continue to experience a rise in calls for help.  

The influx of calls to the Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT in November and December was an increase from 3,269 phone calls support workers fielded over the same period in 2014.

Additionally, in the last two months of 2015 workers carried out face-to-face crisis visits with 393 families after domestic violence incidents, which was a 22 per cent increase compared to the year before. 

The service also put 24 women up in hotels, which was up 54 per cent. 

That was part of an overall 23 per cent increase in calls to the service in 2015, when there were 21,361 requests for help (compared to 16,270 in 2014).  

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Frontline domestic violence workers said before Christmas there was little they could do to prepare for the spike in calls that they typically experienced between December and March as they tried to balance staff wellbeing with victim safety.

ACT Domestic Violence Prevention Council chairwoman Marcia Williams said the increase in victims' reporting was largely due to a louder national conversation about family violence in the past year. 

"The increase in demand over November and December compared to the previous year reinforces the need for more resources for frontline domestic violence services to meet the demand, and to ensure services are available for the safety of women and children," Ms Williams said. 

DVCS executive director Mirjana Wilson  said the surge in calls didn't indicate that people's domestic situations were worsening, but rather reflected an increase in victims willing to seek help. 

"Awareness-raising is the devil and the angel at the same time," she said.

"People have realised what they're living with is domestic violence."

Ms Wilson said six motel rooms funded by the ACT government's Domestic Violence Christmas Program to provide extra short-term accommodation during the holidays were filled, and DVCS paid for another six women and their children to stay in hotels. 

She said the organisation had used up its yearly $25,000 motel emergency accommodation brokerage from the ACT government within the first several months of 2015-16. 

That meant the service would need to take money from other programs and rely more heavily on donations and fund-raising, so women were not turned away.

Ms Wilson said a rise in calls for help meant the government, non-profit sector and community had an "ethical duty" to provide adequate care and a variety of options to victims who sought help in the ACT.  

"It's actually not good enough to talk about it and do awareness-raising," she said. 

"If we can't help these people we are failing."

The ACT government announced in last year's budget that $250,000 would be split between key crisis support services to help meet skyrocketing demand for help, with extra funds for respectful relationships education. 

Ms Wilson again called on the government to extend that funding boost beyond the 2015-16 financial year, and said demand for frontline support was not going to ease. 

"I'd like to see that 10 per cent increase to 20 to 25 per cent to reflect the actual increase of people accessing support," she said. 

"We need to keep this issue as a priority and to continue to talk and commit to doing better."