Barriers to disclosing family violence

THE fact that fewer women in a Melbourne suburb may call police about family violence doesn't necessarily mean that it is "safer" to reside there.

There are many barriers to disclosure about violence perpetrated in a domestic setting, according to Cynthia Opie, the cluster lead at Echuca Regional Health for the strengthening hospital responses to family violence initiative.

Mrs Opie has moved to provide some context to the comments reported in the Gannawarra Times on Tuesday, December 4 about '"Hawthorn being the 'safest' place". 

She said that statistics she referred to in an address to Kerang District Health's annual general meeting related to a review of L17 reports filed by police when called to a home and then deem the event 'family violence'. 

"The fact that the least number of L17s are reported in the Boroondara local government area [LGA] (where Hawthorn is) does not mean that it is necessarily 'safe'. 

"It may mean that women in that LGA are less likely to call the police – remembering that I am keen to send a message that there are many barriers to disclosure – fear of retribution, shame etc.," she said.

Mrs Opie said that middle and high socio-economic status women may feel less empowered to report. "I am not keen for people to think about 'Hawthorn' as being 'safe' and 'Kerang' as 'unsafe'."

She said that reference in the report regarding one in two men experiencing violence by a stranger at a "liquor outlet" would be more accurately represented as "in a place of entertainment".

"I don't want people to assume that 'alcohol' is a driver of violence, as we know it is only a contributing factor," she said. 

Men who experience family violence are more likely to experience it at the hands of their son or stepson, aged 16 to 25. A reference to sons killing their mother was reported incorrectly.

The AIHW Report: Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence in Australia, 2018, made a number of key findings:

• 1 in 6 (1.6 million) women and 1 in 16 (500,000) men have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a cohabiting partner since age 15.

• one woman a week and one man a month were killed by a current or former partner in the two years from 2012-13 to 2013-14.

• 2800 women and 560 men were hospitalised in 2014-15 after being assaulted by a spouse or partner.

• 72,000 women, 34,000 children and 9000 men sought homelessness services in 2016-17 due to family/domestic violence.

• Intimate partner violence causes more illness, disability and deaths than any other risk factor for women aged 25-44.

• 1 in 5 (1.7 million) women and 1 in 20 (429,000) men have been sexually assaulted and/or threatened since age 15.

• 1 in 6 (1.5 million) women and 1 in 9 (992,000) men were physically and/or sexually abused before the age of 15.

• Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence.

Mrs Opie said that family violence affects cognitive, psychological and physical development are important elements for health professionals to be aware of, considering that adversity in childhood has an impact on multiple aspects of development, including the brain and physical development in addition to the traumatic impact it has on emotional well-being – there are many physical conditions that we know can result from an adverse childhood for example ADHD and chronic asthma.

Family violence support services:

• 1800 Respect national helpline 1800 737 732

• Women's Crisis Line 1800 811 811

• Men's Referral Service 1300 766 491

• Lifeline (24 hour crisis line) 131 114

• Relationships Australia 1300 364 277

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