Christmas isa time of rejoicing, of gift-giving, of great food and drink; a familytime. But there is a dark side toChristmas – shamefully, it is also a time when there is a huge increase infamily violence. Just in Victoria, it isanticipated that there will be an additional fifty reports of family violenceevery single day over December and January.
There areseveral 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 ofFamily Violence Command, Dean McWhirter says that the summer holiday period “has the potential to create a number ofstressors on relationships that may increase the possibility of familyviolence”. Disquietingly, children are on holidays and are far more likelyto observe occasions of violence between parents
Family violencecovers 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 anddiverse backgrounds, women with disabilities, Aboriginal and Torres StraitIslander women and people from the LGBTIQ community.
One of thedifficulties which victims encounter is that the violence comes at the hands ofsomeone who was formerly (and often still is) cared about. It can be a realproblem for women who are victims to report on the abusive family member. Reporting to the police can engender feelingsof pain and loss, of guilt and fear of consequences. Sometimes it is easier just to leave thefamily home. Escaping the violence canmean travel for long distances, and away from extended family, friends and communities. It can also mean homelessness for thevictims. In fact, family violence is the single largest cause of homelessnessamong women.
The police havetried to refine their responses to family violence but recent news is that aQueensland police officer has been stood down after being accused of leakingthe address of a domestic violence complainant to her partner. He allegedly accessed a confidential policedatabase to look up the woman’s details then allegedly passed them on to herformer 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