FEAR of death or assault is the reason just 5 per cent of family violence victims take up offers of help, says a North East Victorian social worker.
A Wodonga police study using a random sample of 575 victims shows in the past year 95 per cent had not followed up support agency referrals after reporting violence.
Of those, 9 per cent refused to consent to the referral, 23 per cent declined, and 43 per cent did not return contact.
Rachael Mackay, of Women’s Health Goulburn North East, said this was because in most cases it was not until victims — mostly women — left the relationship that they felt safe enough to get support.
“It’s extremely difficult to leave when you’re with an abusive partner,” Ms Mackay said.
“They are often threatening to assault or kill them if they leave.”
Ms Mackay trains police and community service staff on how to respond to family violence.
She said abusers often monitored their partner’s movements and mobile phones, making it hard to attend appointments.
Ms Mackay said saying a victim should “just leave” an abusive relationship was simplistic, as the victim often faced a loss of income, no home and feared for their and their children’s lives.
“We need to stop blaming the victim and start asking why the offenders are abusing their families,” she said.
“It’s not as simple as just leaving because the consequence is women are being killed.”
Ms Mackay said the referrals were important because when the victims were ready to get help, they knew the assistance was there.
Wodonga police Inspector Tony Davis said a culture that in Australia allowed one woman a week to be killed by their partner or former partner needed to be changed.
“There’s some men that seem to have this sense of entitlement,” he said.
“When we talk about family violence, we’re talking more than abhorrent physical and sexual abuse.
“Violence extends to emotional abuse, psychological abuse and economic abuse.”
This included the subtle exploitation of men’s power over women.
Ms Mackay said challenging male and female power imbalances, gender stereotypes and negative attitudes towards women and girls was the key to making this change.
Insp Davis said just as important as helping victims was supporting offenders to change their behaviour and break the cycle of violence.
He commended the agencies, saying they were still “swamped” with clients.
24hr statewide domestic violence service: Vic 1800 015 188, NSW 1800 656 463
Gateway Community Health family violence service: 1800 015 188
Men’s referral service (support to change violent and controlling behaviours): 1800 065 973