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Opinion: One word, one look… can be all it takes

Today marks the start of 16 Days in WA – a time to draw attention to family and domestic violence (FDV) in a bid to stop the violence.

So, I pose this question … did you wake this morning looking forward to what the day had in store, or did you instead have a sense of dread? An overwhelming fear that you might say something, do something, look at your partner in a way or simply breathe in a way that will set them off?

Around one in five Western Australian women did just that.

Experiencing violence and abuse is a living nightmare for far too many women and children in our community. They exist with the threat of physical and psychological violence every day.

The forms that abuse takes are manifold (physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, psychological, financial, coercive control) and so too are the impacts on the survivors. FDV is a contributing factor to homelessness and the impact on mental health cannot be understated.

The statistics are sobering, if not terrifying:

  • One in five WA women report experiencing partner violence since the age of 15.
  • FDV survivors make up 61% of assault victims in WA and at least 30% of all matters in the Magistrates Courts involve family violence.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women account for 67% of hospitalisations due to FDV in WA.
  • The number of FDV victims increased 10% in WA between 2018 and 2019.
  • Almost 50,000 FDV incident reports were made to WA Police in FY20, almost 16,000 of these cases also involved children.
  • Around 12,000 FVROs were lodged in WA in 2019 – that’s 75% of all restraining orders.
  • More than 50% of youth homeless cases in WA are linked to FDV.

And, COVID-19 has had a significant impact – recent figures released by the WA Department of Communities revealed the number of family assault offences recorded between March 16 and November 11 was 14.4% higher than the number recorded in the same period last year.

Behind these cold hard facts and figures there are real people suffering. It is our collective job to relegate these facts to the history books, to show it is not who we are anymore.

At Ruah Community Services we see the impact of FDV every day. Each year around 600 people turn to us for support to escape FDV.

We know that to truly escape abuse means more than just leaving the abuser.  And so Ruah provides holistic wrap-around support – such as accommodation, case management, safety planning, court support, education and advocacy services to help people manage and resolve the impact and experience of violence and abuse. Ruah also believes it is our role  to create a vision for our community that is free from violence and abuse.

This year’s 16 Days in WA theme is Respect starts with you.

For too long, our society has chosen to look the other way when it comes to FDV. This is not okay – we need to stop the violence against women. We need to educate ourselves about it, we need to talk about it, and we need to call out behaviours that aren’t ok when we see it if it is safe to do so.

At Ruah we believe FDV it is preventable if we have a united approach – from government, business and the community.

If we all work together, perhaps there will be a morning when no women in WA wakes up to abuse. Perhaps there will only be waking up feeling free, free to be who we are, to say what we think and to do so knowing we are safe.