COVID lockdown has had a dire, unseen impact in Ballarat with family violence growing faster here than any other major regional city in the state, new data shows.
Ballarat was among regions with highest percentage increases in reported family violence incidents in the year ending September 2020 in Victoria, with an increase of 23.8 per cent from the previous year.
The regional cities of Geelong and Bendigo recorded a much lower percentage increases of reported family violence incidents, at 15.5 per cent and 11.5 per cent respectively.
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Crime Statistics Agency data shows there were 1883 family violence incidents reported to police per 100,000 people this year in Ballarat, an increase from 1547 from the same period in 2019.
This is higher than the Victorian rate of 1342 per 100,000 people this year.
Berry Street western region senior manager family violence Denise O'Dowd said the crime statistics were likely not a full depiction of family violence incidents in Ballarat, as many cases were not reported to police.
"A lot of people couldn't access phones during the lockdown period," she said.
"We saw more neighbours were ringing the police as well.
"The statistics probably aren't reflective of actually what was happening."
Ms O'Dowd said Berry Street had experienced an increase in demand for family violence support this year, particularly during periods with eased COVID-19 restrictions.
WRISC Family Violence Services chief executive Libby Jewson said women's freedom to seek support was restricted during lockdown periods, but WRISC had been busy since restrictions eased.
"One of the issues was the freedom for women to follow up for support after they made a report to police has been restricted," she said.
The justice system is also seeing increased prosecutions that is drawing scathing criticism of the perpetrators from the bench.
County Court Judge Mullaly in his sentencing remarks last week on a violent assault said women were entitled to feel safe in their homes.
"The community is sick of violent, cowardly men using their size to overpower women who are simply trying to get on with their lives after ending a relationship," Judge Mullaly said.
The highest number of family violence incidents reported to police were by women aged 25 to 34, Crime Statistics Agency data shows.
Women aged 35 to 44 was the second most affected age group.
Ms O'Dowd said the Berry Street support service staff were generally hearing coercive control by male partner's increased during lockdown periods.
"This was especially when the kids were at home as well and not going to school," she said.
"We already had restrictions about where people could go but perpetrators were trying to control even that too with where someone could go shopping and what they were allowed to do.
"That coercive control certainly increased."
Central Highlands Family Violence Investigation Unit's Detective Senior Sergeant Tony Coxall previously told The Courier the cause of the family violence incidents during this period could be linked to the 'shock' of COVID-19 restrictions and the accompanying isolation.
"When we are looking at the causation of these family violence incidents, we have seen increased causation around deteriorating mental health - consistent with financial stress, employment stress and isolation," he said.
While the number of family violence reports to police spiked, the overall crime rate in Ballarat was down six per cent in the year ending September 20 from the previous year.
The Orange Door opened in Ballarat in October as a central point of contact for people to seek family violence support.
Help is available. Contact the Orange Door Ballarat on 1800 219 819 and Berry Street's after hours support on 5331 3558.
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