WOMENin rural and regional areas are more likely to be the victims of domestic violence than those in Melbourne.
Campaspe shire, which takes in Echuca in Victoria’s north, has the state’s worst rate of family violence.
Data from Victoria Police shows that the rates of domestic violenceare much higher outside Melbourne, with the four highest offending areas – Campaspe, Latrobe in Gippsland, the Maryborough-based Central Goldfields and Mildura – all in the country.
Victoria Police data forall 79 local government areas shows that in the Campaspe shire there were 4285 incidents of family violence for every 100,000 people.
Central Goldfields is the second worst district, with 3345 reported cases of family violencein 2013-14 for every 100,000 people.
Only two Melbourne councils have a rate higher than 1500 incidents per 100,000: Frankston and Hume.
Family violence royal commission chairwoman Marcia Neave has already committed to holding regional forums as part of her investigations into the crisis.
The City of Casey reported the most incidents- 3752 – followed by the City of Hume (2909).
The situation may be even worse than the statistics suggest, with under-reporting of the crime common.
Deakin University’s Centre for Regional and Rural Law and Justice last year published a report looking at family violence in the bush.
Co-author and community lawyer Amanda George said country areas had a culture of masculinity in families, sporting clubs and thepolice, which meant family violence was often not reported.
The violence is generational, Ms George said. Women interviewed for the research said they often reached out to their mothers about family violence, butwere simply told to “suck it up love”.
“Women were saying it was just a normal part of life, so there’s no point in complaining about it, it was just the way it was,” Ms George said. “Violence was totally normalised.”
For too long, reports were often not properly investigated by local police, because the alleged abuser drank with or played football with the police, she said.
“Women had no confidence making reports.”
Now Victoria is leading the way, Ms George said. She describedsignificant cultural changes in the state, including in the way police dealwith the issue, something she attributes to the work of former police commissioner Christine Nixon.
Women in the country also find it hard to get away from violent men, with less access tocommunity support groups and legal centres than is available in cities. Ms George said funding cuts to legal and housing services had made it increasingly difficult for women to leave violent relationships.
There is also a stigma, with women in small towns finding it difficult to go to court, knowing their affairs would quicklybecome town gossip.
“It’s a powerful disincentive in the country for women to speak out.”
Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence Fiona Richardson said peoplehad a right to be safe, especially in their own home, no matter where they lived.
“The family violence crisis has reached every corner of our state but some communities are clearly harder hit than others,” Ms Richardson said. “How we address the unique challenges we face in rural and regional communities that are currently experiencing particularly high rates of family violence is something the royal commission will focus on.”
HIGHEST RATE per 100,000 people
Central Goldfields 3345
Swan Hill 2492
MOST TOTAL FAMILY INCIDENTS
– The Age
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