A new report into domestic violence related deaths has revealed that almost 80 per cent of intimate partner homicides involved a man killing his female partner.
The Australian Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Network examined the 152 intimate partner homicides across Australia between July 1, 2010, and 30 June, 2014.
Alarmingly, almost a quarter of men who killed their current or former partner had already had apprehended violence orders (AVOs) taken out against them at the time of the homicide.
This comes as the number of domestic violence incidents in Wagga saw a sharp spike last week, leaving the city’s support services inundated with affected families.
On Tuesday alone, no less than 18 AVO applications went through Wagga’s Local Court; a number that was quite standard given Wagga’s status as the 20th highest area for AVOs in the state.
Every time Wagga police attend any kind of domestic violence incident, they forward a referral to the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (WDVCAS) so they can follow up with the victims and offer their assistance.
Coordinator Helen West said the number of referrals had been “all over the place” recently.
“We average 210 referrals from police a month,” Ms West said.
“We had 31 referrals the weekend before last, which was huge – we’d usually only get about 30 on a long weekend – and the week before that was 26.”
While Ms West said she hoped the spike in incidents came down to more people reporting violence that used to be swept under the rug, she feared families were still reluctant to speak out.
“A lot of people are in a domestic violence relationship and don’t even realise it until it becomes volatile,” she said.
“Sometimes, women will accept domestic violence as long as the kids are safe and only report it once they turn on the children, not realising that any kind of domestic violence affects children.”
Madonna Bedgood is one of the two domestic violence liaison officers who work with Wagga’s police team.
Having worked closely with victims of domestic violence as they go through the courts for the last five years, Ms Bedgood said she realised there was no quick or easy fix.
“I think everyone and all the different agencies are doing as much as they can be, and it becomes quite exhausting,” Ms Bedgood said.
“There’s days where you think you’re finished with a person, you do all this work with the victim and then, a couple months down the track, they’re back together in the same scenario.”
While the number of domestic violence cases before the courts is certainly the more immediate issue, Ms Bedgood said she was particularly concerned about the inter-generational effects of violence.
“They’ve got kids in the mix and you think they are going to get hurt, even if it’s not physically, and the cycle is that they’ll grow up thinking seeing dad hand it to mum or the other way around is normal,” she said.
“You just sit there and you feel so defeated.”
Each referral the WDVCAS receives is assessed and a level of risk is determined; then, the cases where a victim is deemed to be at serious risk are discussed at a fortnightly safety action meeting.
Riverina Police District’s Inspector Peter McLay chairs those fortnightly safety meetings, which include representatives from the police, Community Corrections, NSW Health, and many other key groups.
Despite the recent spike in referrals, Inspector McLay said one of the biggest challenges was not knowing when periods like this would occur.
“Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate – it’s not something that you can plan for to any large extent,” Inspector McLay said.
“We don’t have peak periods or troughs of domestic violence – it’s something that unfortunately exists 365 days a year, and that’s why these safety meetings run all year, so we don’t have anyone slipping through the cracks.”
After having dealt with countless incidents of domestic violence in Wagga, Inspector McLay said he and his team had been able to identify some common threads.
“Often, the perpetrators have got substance abuse issues, and frequently they’re people who are already known to either the police or to other government agencies,” he said.
The same report confirmed that almost half of all the men who killed their female partners were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the murder.