Increase in ambulance call-outs fuels fresh family violence concerns

The number of ambulance call-outs and emergency room presentations related to family violence incidents has risen in Victoria, fuelling concerns the pandemic has led to an increase in the severity of attacks and injuries.

Data released by the Crime Statistics Agency on Wednesday revealed that Ambulance Victoria had recorded a 14.7 per cent increase in the number of family violence-related attendances in the year to June when compared with the year before.

Ambulance Victoria recorded a 14.7 per cent increase in the number of family violence-related attendances in the year to June.Credit:Paul Rovere

Between April and June, when Victoria went into its first lockdown, paramedics responded to 16.4 per cent more family violence-related call-outs than in the same period last year.

Victorian public hospital emergency departments also recorded an increase of 13.5 per cent in the number of family violence-related injuries in the year to June.

More people also accessed family violence support services. In June, calls received by 1800RESPECT in Victoria were more than doubled the number for the same month last year.

Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive Tania Farha said specialist family violence services had seen an increase in the frequency, severity and complexity of family violence incidents during the pandemic.

"For some victim-survivors, the violence has intensified and become more prolonged during the pandemic," she said.

"Others are reporting family violence for the first time. Specialist family violence services also report that they are getting an increased number of calls from third parties, such as friends and family, who are concerned about their loved ones."

She said that people are finding ways to use the pandemic to justify abusive and controlling behaviours, and new forms of violence emerged.

"Isolating someone from family and friends is a very common tactic in family violence. Pandemic restrictions are providing perpetrators with more opportunities to force victim-survivors to isolate from their family, friends and other community support networks, as well as support they might otherwise find in their workplaces."

Crime Statistics Agency chief statistician Fiona Dowsley said the growing number of people seeking emergency help was concerning and could indicate an increase in the severity of family violence.

Victoria Police said in September it recorded 88,214 family violence incidents in the year from June 2019 to June this year, a 6.7 per cent rise from the preceding 12 months.

The figures included an increase in incidents where children were involved, both as perpetrators and victims. Elder abuse is also on the rise, with more people aged 55 and over accessing support services or seeking a family violence protection order.

The data released by the Crime Statistics Agency on Wednesday also showed that the number of finalised family violence intervention orders issued decreased by 5.3 per cent in both the Magistrates and Children’s courts.

The total number of services provided by Victoria Legal Aid for family violence intervention order applications and breaches also decreased.

The statistics agency said interruptions to some justice system processes due to the COVID-19 pandemic could possibly explain the decrease.

For help call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or Victims of Crime Helpline on 1800 819 817. The Men’s Referral Service is on 1300 766 491.

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