Rush to counter Domestic Violence spike from pandemic
CENTRAL Queensland was already struggling to manage its massive domestic violence problem before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country triggering social isolation measures and a spike in domestic violence victims seeking urgent help.
All too aware of how unsafe the home environment could be, especially with the additional pressures created by pandemic including stress, unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, both the State and Federal Governments announced a raft of financial measures in recent weeks to combat the growing domestic violence problem.
Today Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her government was taking urgent action to support domestic and family violence victims with the immediate injection of almost $5.5 million to help manage an anticipated increase in demand for services arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said there were serious concerns for victims of domestic and family violence during the crisis due to increased financial pressures and social isolation.
"I want people to know that they do have options, they don't have to stay in a violent household," Ms Palaszczuk said.
"We're boosting support for essential government-funded services, so people have someone to turn to and somewhere else to go if they need.
"Depending on a person's circumstances and needs, this could include shelters, hotels or residential properties.
"Service providers will work with victims to place them in the safest and most appropriate accommodation for their individual needs."
The $5.5 million funding includes:
• $1.5 million - to boost capacity of the 24/7 statewide crisis service DVConnect, including Womensline and Mensline and enabling online support.
• $1.7 million to address crisis accommodation needs, including transiting women to alternative accommodation to free up capacity in shelters.
• $1.8 million to enhance specialist domestic, family and sexual violence services to meet anticipated demand
• $500,000 to support a new awareness campaign.
Keppel MP Brittany Lauga said the Premier's funding announcement to combat the scourge of domestic and family violence was especially timely given the stress in the community.
"We know from other communities in the world like Japan and China that domestic and family violence is on the increase as a result of the stress and anxiety that people experience as a result of this virus," Ms Lauga said.
"Domestic and family violence is a scourge regardless of a virus, but because of the anxiety and stress that people are feeling, I believe that the preventive measures and the $5.5 million that the Palaszczuk has committed today is a wonderful way in which we can start preparing for a potential increase in cases that we might see into the future.
"This is about helping women, and men, and children, who are victims of domestic and family violence, escape that violence and make sure that they can escape to safe homes regardless of whether there's a virus in the community or not."
The Premier also confirmed that a DV Summit which was scheduled to be held this month before the COVID-19 pandemic, would be held virtually in May to coincide with Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month.
In another initiative, Police Minister Mark Ryan announced there was a new domestic and family violence reporting tool now available via the Queensland Police website.
"The Police Commissioner has said that there are serious concerns with barriers to reporting caused by COVID-19 restrictions, so being able to use an online tool gives victims the ability to make a report discreetly," Mr Ryan said.
"It's important to note that the online tool is for non-urgent matters, people should always use Triple-0 for urgent matters and emergencies."
Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Di Farmer said the risk of domestic and family violence was growing as more families faced financial pressures caused by job losses.
"We also know that perpetrators in forced isolation with their victims could use the health crisis to exert greater control, fear and intimidation," Ms Farmer said.
"I have been holding regular discussions with key stakeholders and have listened to their concerns.
"This funding package has been developed as an immediate response to address the most pressing areas of need."
The COAG Women's Safety Council where Queensland is represented by Minister Farmer, has agreed that $32.5 million will be provided as an initial response to states and territories to help meet urgent need, with a further $97.5 million to be allocated over the next six months.
While negotiations continue, Queensland will direct its share of funding to meet the needs of those experiencing violence, particularly in the priority areas of:
• Safer housing and emergency accommodation.
• Counselling and outreach.
• Crisis support and helplines.
• Men's behaviour change programs and other perpetrator interventions.
• Assisting frontline services to manage the demand and explore new technology-based service delivery methods.
• Responding to the unique challenges in regional, rural and remote locations.
Opposition responds to DV announcement
The LNP welcomed the announcement of extra support for domestic violence services, but called for more action to tackle the state's worsening DV crisis.
LNP Leader Deb Frecklington said it was clear coronavirus restrictions were increasing the danger faced by victims.
"This extra funding is welcome as Queensland is now experiencing an increase in domestic violence reports," Ms Frecklington said.
"The lockdown is proving, yet again, that Queensland has a dire domestic violence problem.
"These new measures do not go far enough in protecting victims and targeting offenders.
"The LNP has put forward a plan to deal decisively with domestic violence and that plan should be put into action.
"The LNP's plan will crack down hard on perpetrators while increasing the level of protection we give victims.
"But the only way to take strong action on domestic violence is through Parliament.
"I'm asking the Premier to bring Parliament back, in line with the Chief Medical Officer's advice, so MPs can do their job and protect victims of domestic violence."
The LNP's package of measures to address domestic violence includes:
• Legislation to strengthen strangulation laws and increase sentences
• The introduction of a new coercive control offence
• Laws to empower police to issue domestic violence orders on the spot.
• The rollout of 200 GPS-linked personal safety alarms to warn victims when a violent former partner is approaching their location.
• $2m for frontline not-for-profit agencies, including $1m for the Women's Legal Service
• Emergency grants of up to $2000 to help victims flee dangerous homes.
Federal response to domestic violence in the pandemic
The package announced by the Queensland Government complements Australian Government's $1.1 billion funding package announced by the Prime Minister late last month to provide more assistance will be given to millions of Australians battling the devastating impacts of coronavirus.
The package provides a boost to mental health services, domestic violence support, Medicare assistance for people at home and emergency food relief.
Federal Member for Capricornia and Assistant Minister for Children and Families, Michelle Landry said the additional funding would assist families during the uncertainty generated from coronavirus.
"I know of the severe hardships families face without the added anxiety and stress brought on by the uncertainty created by coronavirus," Ms Landry said
"I hope this additional funding into these essential services brings some comfort and certainty to families who are currently doing it tough," Ms Landry said.
"As part of the package, an initial $150 million would be provided to support Australians experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence due to the fallout from coronavirus.
"This funding will boost programs under the Government's existing National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children."
Ms Landry said her government would provide $32.5 million to states and territories to immediately bolster frontline services to protect those most at risk of domestic violence as a result of living changes enforced due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"It was agreed that, as a priority, funding should be directed to safer housing and emergency accommodation, counselling and outreach, crisis support and helplines as well as men's behavioural change programs and other perpetrator interventions," she said.
"This initial round of funding includes a fixed 3 per cent payment to all states and territories with the remainder provided on a per capita basis with a small contingency set aside. The money will flow this month to support services through to June 30, 2020.
"Under the Morrison Government's $150 million response package we will continue to work with states and territories to monitor the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and allocate the further $97.5 million over the next six months to where it is most needed."
She said $20 million has already been committed to Commonwealth funded initiatives including 1800RESPECT, Mensline and a new national information campaign with clear information on where Australians experiencing violence during this period can access support.
Rockhampton Police DV Co-ordinator is on the front line
Speaking to The Morning Bulletin in early March before the effects COVID-19 pandemic had really impacted the community, Rockhampton Police District Domestic & Family Violence co-ordinator Jo Griffin said domestic violence was increasing across the Capricornia District.
"This is not unique to this District, but broadly reflected across the State," Ms Griffin said.
"Applications for domestic violence orders are tapering off, largely due to the implementation of five year orders in 2017. Police are not required to take a new one out every two years."
Looking at Queensland Police's crime statistics, the number of breaches of domestic violence orders have risen alarmingly over the years.
Between 2014 and 2019, DVO breaches rose from 1300 in 2014 to 2882 in 2019.
These numbers were anticipated to climb even further over the coming months.
Ms Griffin said the District adopted a robust, three tiered approach to responding to domestic violence at the Tactical, Operational and Strategic levels
• Tactical - each of Rockhampton and Gladstone Patrol Groups utilised a DV Unit, which is comprised of enhanced Inquiries Office staffing, which respond rapidly to the service of documents and investigation of breaches which present as elevated risk.
• Operational - a Coordinated High Risk Response Team (CHaRRT) has been operational since 2018 and addresses high risk domestic and family violence through a multi-agency coordinated network of government and non-government service providers. The group meets each Tuesday to consider referral intakes and every Friday which reviews those families already within the CHaRRT system. This is a partnering arrangement with Relationships Australia Queensland, which locates a support worker within the Rockhampton Police Complex.
- Membership - QPS, RAQ, Queensland Health, Community Corrections, Child Safety Youth & Women, Family & Child Connect, Helem Yumba, Dept of Housing
• Strategic - The Rockhampton Domestic and Family Violence Steering Committee - comprises approximately 20 government and non-government agencies which operate in the DV support services. The committee meets monthly and identifies shared priorities and service-delivery gaps within the Rockhampton and the broader area. The CHaRRT initiative was born out of the this committee.
For Queenslanders needing assistance
• Police: 000
• DVConnect Womensline: 1800 811 811
• DVConnect Mensline: 1800 600 636
• Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800