Denman Masthead

Domestic violence: how can you help?

Laura Peppas

Seeing thousands of Canberrans walk around Lake Burley Griffin to honour the life of domestic violence victim Tara Costigan on Sunday was a bittersweet moment for Domestic Violence Crisis Service executive director Mirjana Wilson.

“It proved that domestic violence is front and centre in the public’s minds…but it’s always sad when it takes such a tragic event for it to get there,” Mirjana says.

Two horrific and high-profile cases of domestic violence in the ACT in the last month alone has prompted questions over whether there has been an increase in domestic violence rates.

Mirjana is careful not to suggest this is the case.                                

“It’s always a difficult question to answer, because there’s no doubt there’s been an increase in the amount of women seeking support from us and an increase in domestic violence incidents reported to the police, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there is more domestic violence, it means there is more awareness,” she says.

“I think more people are coming forward now because it’s an issue that’s been dragged out from behind closed doors, particularly with Rosie Batty receiving the Australian of the Year award, there’s that recognition now that it’s not just happening to women living in public housing or a particular socio-economic group, it can happen to anyone.”

Reports of abuse in the ACT have increased by 45 per cent over the past six years, while police in the ACT received 3,289 reports of family violence in Canberra in the 2013/14 financial year; 160 more than the previous year.

While it is good news that more women are seeking help, it has also put a strain on domestic violence services, and prompted calls for further funding.

The news this month that the ACT government will fund an extra $300,000 in domestic violence prevention came as a relief for Mirjana, but she says there is still more work to do.

“It’s really important that the government fund the whole continuum, so primary intervention, early intervention, crisis intervention, the follow up, and perpetrator programs,” she says.

“There really needs to be all of those areas that are adequately resourced or funded over considerable periods of time if we’re ever going to have a chance at seeing change or a reduction in domestic violence.”

In particular, further funding for crisis centres and refuges is crucial.  

“We have only three refuges in the ACT that are specifically dedicated to domestic violence,” says Mirjana.

“Two of them are for women and children, and one of them is for single women. A lot of the time they are full – and that’s the frustrating bit. If we have a woman who is fearful and wants to get out, and she doesn’t have a family member to stay with and there’s no refuge space, it may be that we need to look at some other form of accommodation, such as a hotel, until there is space in the refuge. I’d like to think we won’t ever have to turn people away, but the funding is vital in this area.”

Common behaviour from victims of domestic violence includes withdrawal from social events, anxiety and low self esteem, says Mirjana.  

“We refer to it as a cluster of behaviours – it’s financial control, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, among other things,” she says.

“The red flags to look out for aren’t just bruises or physical injuries, it’s those other things that go along with it, when someone is running every aspect of their life.”

Mirjana says the steps taken by the Domestic Violence Crisis Service after someone comes to them for help are carefully based around a “safety plan.”

“Knowing when you want to leave a violent relationship is one of the most dangerous times, because it changes the power balance, so when women call us and tell us they want to leave, we then have to talk about how it may escalate and how can we put things into place and mitigate that,” she says.

“Women who are leaving a relationship and talking about leaving that relationship, need a specialist who can work through mitigating the risk, and asks those questions about, ‘if you take out that protection order, how do you think he might react?’ So we want women to come forward, but it goes back to funding so we can provide the appropriate response, the appropriate accommodation and the specialists around domestic violence to work towards a safety plan for that individual.”

If you need help or for more information, visit the DVCS website.

The essentials
What: Domestic Violence Crisis Service’s Blue & White Gala Ball, with guest speaker Rosie Batty
When: 6.30pm for 7pm, 16 May 2015
Where: QT Canberra
How much: Individual tickets — $200, table for 10 — $2,000, Premium table for 9 plus a mystery guest — $2,500
Web: To book a table or purchase tickets visit TryBooking

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Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author

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