Christmas is a time of rejoicing, of gift-giving, of great food and drink; a family time. But there is a dark side to Christmas – shamefully, it is also a time when there is a huge increase in family violence. Just in Victoria, it is anticipated that there will be an additional fifty reports of family violence every single day over December and January.
There are several reasons for this, the main one being that because this is holiday time, it is far more likely that perpetrators and victims are thrown together. Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner of Family Violence Command, Dean McWhirter says that the summer holiday period “has the potential to create a number of stressors on relationships that may increase the possibility of family violence”. Disquietingly, children are on holidays and are far more likely to observe occasions of violence between parents
Family violence covers a wide range of conduct and can be physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, cultural, spiritual or financial. Dean McWhirter says that at risk groups include women from cultural and diverse backgrounds, women with disabilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and people from the LGBTIQ community.
One of the difficulties which victims encounter is that the violence comes at the hands of someone who was formerly (and often still is) cared about. It can be a real problem for women who are victims to report on the abusive family member. Reporting to the police can engender feelings of pain and loss, of guilt and fear of consequences. Sometimes it is easier just to leave the family home. Escaping the violence can mean travel for long distances, and away from extended family, friends and communities. It can also mean homelessness for the victims. In fact, family violence is the single largest cause of homelessness among women.
The police have tried to refine their responses to family violence but recent news is that a Queensland police officer has been stood down after being accused of leaking the address of a domestic violence complainant to her partner. He allegedly accessed a confidential police database to look up the woman’s details then allegedly passed them on to her former partner who was subject to an ongoing domestic violence order.
This news will not enhance the public’s trust in the police. However, it is important particularly over the holiday period, that victims of family violence or their families or friends can call 1800 RESPECT where they can be assured of instant support. Another avenue for support is the Family Advocacy and Support Service (FASS) which operates out of the Family Law Registry in Melbourne and Dandenong and is a specialist family violence service. Established by Victorian Legal Aid, it provides holistic support for victims and their families. FASS uses both lawyers and specialist family violence support workers. Their contact number is 1300 792 387
By Mary Helen Woods