Family violence prevention workers continue to help victim survivors during COVID-19

Betul TunaA Shepparton family violence prevention worker says she has helped more victim survivors this year than any other. The Crime Statistics Agency says there have been 1,611 family violence incidents in the Greater Shepparton region in the year ending June 2020.

A family violence prevention worker in Shepparton says it is harder for victims to make the decision to leave a violent situation in the current pandemic.

But Betul Tuna, who works as a family violence prevention project officer at the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District, said she had helped more victim survivors leave violent situations this year than any year before. Ms Tuna said she had told a lot of victim survivors that they could still get help if they needed it despite the coronavirus restrictions.

“It takes a lot before someone leaves a situation that’s violent … but at the same time with the current situation a lot think that they can’t leave,” she said.

Ms Tuna said the most important thing she could do was give victim survivors the opportunity to take their power back.”The truth is, we’re not the heroes,” Ms Tuna said.

“Taking that first step out of that house, knowing that you’re potentially not coming back, knowing that that perpetrator is going to be home and breaking stuff and you’re still taking that step towards freedom.

“Superman in any cape could not fulfill the courage that that first step takes.”

Detective Senior Sergeant David Bowler, who leads the family violence investigation unit and Shepparton sexual offences and child abuse unit, said the pandemic had presented many challenges, but they had adapted to continue to do face-to-face visits. New requirements had been implemented, such as wearing PPE gear, maintaining social distance, and strict hygiene requirements. “We’re one of the few agencies that are still doing the face-to-face visits, so we’re still checking in on our victim survivors and our perpetrators,” he said.

“We’re still making sure that our victim survivors feel supported and have got support.”

Ms Tuna said the decision to leave could be even harder for victim survivors within culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. She said there could be trust issues with authorities and complexities with visas that could make it harder for victim survivors to report the perpetrator. “I’ve worked with women from CALD backgrounds saying, ‘I can’t report him’,” she said. “And I say, ‘Why?’ and they say, ‘In Australia they already have a lot of pressure on them, how can I report him and make him look like he’s just a part of that problem?’.”

According to the Crime Statistics Agency COVID-19 family violence data portal, the Department of Home Affairs recorded a 49 per cent increase in the number of domestic violence claims made by Victorian residents on provisional partner visas in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the second quarter of 2019.

Senior Sergeant Bowler said they had resources to help members of CALD communities.

“No-one should put up with family violence, child abuse or sexual assault, and it’s really important that you take a stand and report it and seek help and assistance.”

looking through the blinds
In the Greater Shepparton region, there were 1,611 family violence incidents reported in the year ending June 2020.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

Fewer restrictions could present more challenges

According to Crime Statistics Victoria, for the year ending June 2020 there were 1,611 family violence incidents in the Greater Shepparton region, which is a 5.4 per cent decrease on the same period the previous year. Senior Sergeant Bowler said it would be interesting to see next quarter’s figures to get a better idea of the impact of the pandemic. “Lately what we’ve seen is that family violence is still occurring, it’s still occurring at too high a rate because in essence we don’t want to have any family violence occurring in our community,” he said.

Senior Sergeant Bowler said we could see an increase in reporting as people began to move around with fewer coronavirus restrictions. “I think as children go back to school and people go back to the workplace and they get that social interaction, you may find that people who’ve kept things bottled up during the pandemic, when they’ve been isolated at home themselves, may feel more comfortable talking to their friends and colleagues at work,” he said.

He said there was traditionally an increase towards the end of the year, which could see added stress on families due to the pandemic. “Traditionally December–January are our busier months for family violence. When we look at the five-year trends, December and January are two of our busiest months,” he said. Senior Sergeant Bowler said the pandemic had been stressful not only for families in the community but for his detectives as well.

“My detectives are all humans, believe it or not, and they all have families going through the same stresses that the community has faced,” he said. “Because not only are we dealing with a stressed community but we’ve also got workers that are going through the same things that the community is going through.”

Ms Tuna said no matter what restrictions were in place there was support out there for people wanting to leave. “No matter how crazy these restrictions and everything gets, worst-case scenario you’re just going to have a whole heap of workers with gloves and maybe hazmat suits on — but we can still get you out.”


Betul Tuna
Betul Tuna, who works as a family violence prevention project officer at the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District, said she had helped more victim survivors leave violent situations this year than any year before.

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