- Women’s services are reporting skyrocketing rates of domestic violence amid the pandemic
- In some regional centres, support workers are reporting a 30 per cent increase in cases at already-overwhelmed services
- They are urging the NSW Government to provide immediate additional support
“We are seeing older women like we have never seen before trying to flee domestic violence and the level of violence the women are experiencing is more extreme than we have seen before,” she said.
Ms Sattler is the Disability and Domestic Violence Project Officer at the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre (IWHS) based in Wollongong and said it is an astonishingly different pressure on the service.
“We have women contacting us who are virtually captive in their own home and have no financial control over their money at all,” she said.
The IWHS General Manager, Sally Stevenson AM, said in the early days of the pandemic, the sector warned a dramatic rise in domestic violence was unequivocal, and her centre has released new statistics showing rates are skyrocketing.
“In terms of the contact with our Client Support Manager they’ve gone from 2.5 to three times as [more frequent as] previously and on Monday this week we had seven clients call for support,” she said.
“Because we are a small service and we are at capacity, we are now seeing a blow out in our waiting list to two-and-a-half-months.
“What that doesn’t show is the women who don’t want to go on the waiting list, a shadow of women wanting and needing support, but have no where to go, it is a really grim situation.”
The data followed the release of statistics from the Australian Institute of Criminology in July from an online survey of 15,000 women and their experience of domestic violence in the three months prior to May.
It found 4.6 per cent of women who responded experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner.
Just trying to meet basic needs
The IWHS service’s community liaison and client support manager, Miranda Batchelor, said their local numbers still do not capture the complexity of the cases.
“Last week I had to spend three hours with a woman just trying to get her crisis accommodation, just trying to get their basic needs met so she could be safe,” she said.
“You are not even getting into the emotional healing.”
Ms Batchelor said the crisis walk-ins were heartbreaking.
“They all looked exhausted. One woman had physical signs of abuse — they were all just traumatised and burnt out.”
Katrina Dick’s role at the service was created as part of the increased demand from the pandemic, but she said her books are already almost full.
“From a casework perspective, we are very close to capacity already and it is a new position,” she said.
“In terms of counselling, we have already closed books and can’t take on new clients.
Desperate need for more case workers and counsellors
Ms Stevenson said the service desperately needs an additional three case workers and counsellors to meet the surge.
“Expecting us to respond to this predicated, and rapidly increasing demand for complex domestic and family violence supports, on funding that hasn’t had a real increase in over 30 years, means the NSW Government either doesn’t understand what is going on or doesn’t care. Or both,” Ms Stevenson said.
New South Wales Attorney General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Mark Speakman, acknowledged the pandemic has increased demand for services.
He said he also appreciated the work of the staff in the sector, and more services would have the chance to apply for additional money soon.
“We are not at a standing start dealing with domestic violence and family services,” Mr Speakman said.
“We have acted promptly, and we continue to act and will be announcing shortly a competitive round of state distribution of federal money of which services like the Illawarra can apply.”
Determined to protect vulnerable women
From her lounge room, which has become a mini-studio, Ms Sattler said to manage the pressure from work she is finding release with her favourite pastime of painting.
“I paint and as it turns out in the last three months I paint a lot,” she said.
“You need to have down time.
“The women you talk to come home with you, they stay with you especially the ones that are really complex, they stay with you.”
Ms Sattler said despite the circumstances the team is resolute in its determination to keep supporting and protecting local women.