Blacktown and Penrith have highest number of domestic violence incidents in NSW
September 7th 2017
The Daily Telegraph - WASH House
DOMESTIC violence is western Sydney’s “cancer” and Blacktown is the hardest hit area in NSW.
According to Bureau of Crimes Statistics and Research’s latest figures, the Blacktown local government area has the highest number of domestic violence incidents in the state: 2083 in the year to March 2017.
In the Penrith LGA, there were 1059 incidents reported for the same period.
And while the figures are shocking, they don’t account for the countless incidents that go unreported.
Sergeant Steve Vuletas is in charge of one of the largest domestic violence police units in NSW, Mt Druitt.
“Domestic violence is our community’s cancer,” Sgt Vuletas said. “Many families are affected by it and there is simply no need for it.”
Domestic violence behaviour can be anything from verbal abuse, intimidation, stalking, financial deprivation and social isolation to physical violence and sexual assault.
Domestic violence usually spikes in the warmer months, during police blitzes, major sporting events or even on weekends, Sgt Vuletas said.
“Generally (the domestic violence incidents in Mt Druitt) will fluctuate anywhere between 400 to 550 incidents per month,” Sgt Vuletas said.
His six-man team handles apprehended domestic violence orders, prosecutions, arrests, monitoring prior offenders as well as working with victims.
“I think victims feel that the police can’t protect them,” Sgt Vuletas said.
“The difficulty with DV is we need to build trust with the victims and we need to make sure that we don’t let them down.
“The moment that we drop the ball, it’s unlikely they’ll ever report to us again. They’ll probably put up with the abuse because if they don’t get support from the police or judicial system then what’s the point in reporting in the first place?”
In November last year, Mt Druitt police’s domestic violence unit began fortnightly safety action meetings with representatives of various organisations and government departments.
“It’s a very good thing,” Sgt Vuletas said. “It’s a very good strategy. It helps everyone get on the same page.”
One of the organisations is Mt Druitt’s WASH House, which offers various support services for women including counselling, security enhancements, relocation assistance and referrals
WASH House manager Deborah Coulson said a mix of poverty, different cultures and gender inequality made Mt Druitt a “microcosm” for domestic violence.
“We do have intergenerational violence, abuse, trauma and ... gender inequality and other inequalities,” Ms Coulson said.
“When you compound that with other kinds of disadvantage, like language or culture or disability or money then ... Mt Druitt is really like a microcosm.”
Ms Coulson said there was hope and urged victims to come forward.
“It’s really important to emphasise that there is hope, that women do reach out get support and can rebuild their lives,” she said.
“We’re not saying that it is easy but it is certainly possible to rebuild and to have a much happier life. I really encourage women to take those steps.”
WASH House caseworker Sofie said some foreign cultures forbid discussing domestic abuse.
“It’s taboo to talk about it,” she said. “A lot of family members know it’s happening but culturally they’re not allowed to talk about it.”
Sgt Vuletas had one clear message for the community: “My team and I will do everything in our power to protect you. We work closely with numerous community focused organisations that will get your life back on track, provide temporary or permanent housing and even financial assistance.
“Conversely, if you choose to attack the vulnerable people within your home, including the innocent silent victims, your children, then I have no hesitation in ensuring you, you will answer for your actions.”
PROJECT LEADS TO BIG RISE IN CONVICTIONS
A DOCUMENTATION system which sees injuries and expert opinions recorded in emergency departments has seen the conviction rate of domestic violence incidents soar.
The Domestic Violence Documentation Project, first trialled in Nepean Hospital in 2010, sees a team of forensic doctors and nurses record a history of events, full examination and documentation of injuries, diagrams, digital photos, expert opinion and expert witnesses (if required).
The report is then submitted to police to be added to the court case file.
Within a year, the Forensic Medical Unit recorded an 18 per cent increase in convictions compared to when standard reports are used in court.
Western Sydney and Nepean Blue Mountains local health districts Forensic Medical Unit department head Dr Maria Nittis said domestic violence was not limited to physical abuse.
“Domestic violence is taken to include all types of violence, not just physical,” Dr Nittis said.
“It is the physical type of abuse, however, that is the one most likely to be punished legally.”
Dr Nittis, who documents 70-80 cases of domestic violence per year, said the forensic teams at Blacktown and Nepean hospitals provided the most detailed record of domestic violence injuries in NSW.
“I am, however, extremely grateful to have the support of our local health districts when trying to expand our services or think outside the box,” Dr Nittis said.
“It is a fascinating field to work in and I am hopeful that we provide value, to the people who see us, by ensuring their injuries are both documented well and explained well to the court.”
If you are experiencing domestic violence, call 1800 RESPECT (737 732).