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"Do I actually have to leave in a body bag before you take me seriously?”

Trigger warning: This post deals with domestic violence.

Australia is in the midst of a domestic violence crisis. The horrifying rate of women murdered by current or former partners shines a constant light on the need to improve our country’s family violence response system, so it’s crucial that services to help women at risk of violence be fully funded in the next budget.

That’s the message that an alliance of 80 family violence experts and community groups is trying to spread in the lead up to the Federal budget.

The group has signed a joint statement with one clear message: it wants the government to address the funding crisis — and it wants it now.

domestic violence funding Australia
Demand for these services is increasing above the already unmet levels. (Photo: iStock)

Nobody knows the need for proper domestic violence funding better than survivor Rebeca Carro, who recently moved her life across the state to start a new life after escaping a decade-long abusive relationship.

“It became very physical, to the point where I was pretty much fighting for my own life,” the 37-year-old tells Mamamia.

“It got to the point where he actually strangled me and I remember losing consciousness,” she says of one particularly frightening incident shortly after she ended the relationship in 2014.

“When I came to… I crawled to the bathroom and took what felt like my first breath of air,” Rebeca says. “It was very close. I could have died.”

domestic violence funding Australia
“Prime Minister Turnbull has declared that domestic violence is a national priority – but the under-funding of services is blocking the escape route for thousands of women and children.” (Photo: Getty Images)
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As part of a joint call for the federal government to give Australian women the support they need to live free from violence, Ms Carr of Fair Agenda called on the Federal government to take tangible action, rather than simply paying lip service to the issue.

“Prime Minister Turnbull has declared that domestic violence is a national priority – but the under-funding of services is blocking the escape route for thousands of women and children,” says Ms Carr said.

That sentiment is backed by experts from Domestic Violence NSW, Family Violence Prevention Legal Service, No To Violence/Men’s Referral Service and National Association of Community Legal Centres, and even Australian of the Year Rosie Batty.

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Fair Agenda, family violence experts and survivor advocates at the press conference in Canberra. (L to R: Rosslyn Munro, National Association of Community Legal Centres, Antoinette Braybrook, National Convenor of Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, Renee Carr, Executive Director of Fair Agenda, Moo Baulch, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW; Dr Ann O’Neill, survivor advocate.)
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The recent Women’s Safety Package announcement from the Turnbull government is a welcome step, the alliance said, but the alliance makes clear that vital services still remain dramatically under-resourced.

“The reality is funding isn’t in line with the scale of the problem,” survivor advocate Dr Ann O’Neill said. “Specialist services can’t keep up with referrals. Refuges can’t shelter all the women seeking their help. Community legal services are being forced to turn away women relying on their help.”

What’s more, demand for these services is increasing above the already unmet levels, according to Fair Agenda. Experts expect that the increased media attention on family violence will lead more women to try and escape their abusers – and therefore continue to further increase demand into the future.

domestic violence funding Australia
The reality is funding isn’t in line with the scale of the problem, experts say.

Rebeca agrees that there are several service areas in desperate need of funding, but she wants an immediate focus on legal services. The difficulty many women experience when trying to obtain an effective intervention order is a particular worry, she said.

As she puts it: “Do I actually have to leave in a body bag before you take me seriously?”

Rebeca also wants to see follow-up services that continue to support women after they leave an abusive partner.

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“Once you’ve gone through all the distress and turmoil of actually leaving to secure yourself an actual safe space… six months down the track, there’s no help,” says Rebeca, who took two years to fully disentable from her abusive relationship.

“That’s why people go back. You actually end up going back on average seven times because you find it so hard once you have taken that big step in leaving.”

Indeed, one in 12 women indicated that after escaping their abusive partner they returned, in whole or in part because they had nowhere else to go, according to the latest data from Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS).

domestic violence funding Australia
One in 12 women indicated that after escaping their abusive partner they returned, in whole or in part because they had nowhere else to go.

ANROWS’ data also found that amongst those who have been able to successfully escape their abusive partner, seven out of ten have had to leave property or assets behind when separating from their former partner — and that one in four women in Australia have experienced violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

“lt is a national problem, it affects every walk of life in every state,” Rebeca says.

“The government puts a lot of money in things like road tolls, but the number of deaths this year is much higher than road tolls,” she adds.

“Its unnecessary deaths every year. It should be a national priority.”

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.

You can find out more about the alliance’s call for the federal government to make good on its commitment to address domestic violence by fully funding services here.
Feature image: Supplied/ Rebeca Carro.
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