Good results but resources stretched

THE Latrobe Valley’s new Family Violence Unit has succeeded in pressuring courts to “recognise the seriousness of the issue”, according to one of its founders.

Family Violence Adviser Gippsland Sergeant Deryn Ricardo told The Express extra resources allowed police to pursue multiple charges of offenders, particularly where intervention orders were breached, and this had translated “into heavier sentencing and it is stopping the softening of these incidents”.

Latrobe Police Services Inspector Mick West has also attributed the 31.5 per cent jump in “crimes against the person” in the Valley for 2011-2012 to additional police resources allocated to family violence in the region.

While the approach has been widely praised, the surge in police charges has stretched local support agencies tasked with responding to associated referrals for support and counselling.

A spokesperson from Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault was unavailable for comment this week but in March GCASA chief executive Fiona Boyle said the service had a waiting list of about 160 people, with eight staff working with up to 130 clients each and some victims forced to wait up to 12 months for counselling and support.

GCASA was contending with those lists before the Family Violence Unit had even been launched.

Those sort of local figures call into question the validity of recent State Government claims an extra $3.75 million for sex assault counselling, as part of its new family violence package, will decrease waiting lists “from an average of six weeks to approximately three weeks and allow virtually all victims of recent assaults to be seen at the time of reporting or soon afterwards”.

The $16 million four-year family violence plan announced included just $2.3 million statewide to “deal with increased demand” according to Domestic Violence Victoria.

“When you divide that over four years – and it hasn’t been distributed yet – it is really just a drop in the ocean,” DVV chief executive Fiona McCormack said.

“Primary prevention and response are both critical areas in need of investment; the government can’t invest in one area at the expense of the other,” Ms McCormack said.

“We shouldn’t be arguing over who’s going to get a small piece of the pie, when what we actually need is a much bigger pie”.

Over coming weeks The Express intends to run a series of stories exploring family violence service provision and needs in the Valley.