Children witnessed more than 500 incidents of family violence in Ballarat in 2018-19, as new research reveals police are recording increasing reports of children witnessing or being exposed to family violence incidents in Victoria.
The research, titled Child Witnesses of Family Violence: An Examination of Victoria Police Family Violence Data, was released by the Crime Statistics Agency on Wednesday.
The report examines the characteristics of family violence incidents in Victoria where children 17-years-old and younger were present between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2019.
CSA's chief statistician, Fiona Dowsley, said the agency's research found more than one in 50 children were included in police's family violence reports as having been exposed to family violence between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019.
"That is 32,705 children who were recorded as having been present at or affected by a family incident," she said.
That is 32,705 children who were recorded as having been present at or affected by a family incidentCSA's chief statistician Fiona Dowsley
Ballarat was listed among the top 20 local government areas where these incidents were recorded, with 510.7 incidents per 100,000 people. The list was topped by Latrobe, which had 1355.8 per 100,000 and then Swan Hill with 1095.2.
The number of incidents was 1.8 times higher in regional and remote areas than in major cities - typically at homes and in lower socio-economic areas, where situational risk factors such as drug and alcohol use were higher - and there were more child witnesses reported in Ballarat than in other major regional centres such as Greater Geelong and Bendigo.
Many of the child witnesses were very young, with nearly two thirds (66.1 per cent) under the age of nine-years-old at the time of the incident. Further, 35 per cent were younger than five-years-old.
Most incidents witnessed by children occurred between intimate partners, involving male aggressors and female victim-survivors. This suggests most children witness family violence between their parents and caregivers and that it is mostly directed at a mother.
These incidents were more likely to occur over a longer period of time, involve assault and repeated incidents that would lead to Family Violence Intervention Orders and Safety Notices.
The incidents involved multiple types of abuse - the most common, 72.3 per cent, being verbal abuse.
The majority of child witnesses - 77.2 per cent - went on to have a future interaction with the justice system within five years of witnessing an incident. The vast majority of future contact was due to the child becoming a protected person in a Family Violence Intervention Order (62.2 per cent) or because they witnesses further family violence incidents (53.8 per cent).
Executive Officer of WRISC family violence support, Libby Jewson, said children who witnessed or were present in the house at the time of family violence were "definitely affected".
"The recognition of that has become a lot more acknowledged recently," she said.
Ms Jewson acknowledged the data pertained to police reports, so may not provide the full picture but said there were a myriad of reasons why the incidents recorded in Ballarat could be so high.
She described WRISC's current demand for children's counselling services as "enormous".
We are doing the best we can but we have a very, very strong demand for our service at the momentLibby Jewson
"We are doing the best we can but we have a very, very strong demand for our service at the moment," Ms Jewson said, noting other services were experiencing similar demand.
The services are a vital part of children's recovery and healing from what they have witnessed, she added.
"Addressing family violence in this region is complex and requires a collaborative approach. Agencies work closely together to respond to family violence in this region and we are striving to continue to do that."
Police were contacted for comment.
- Need help? Contact 24/7 services 1800 Respect or Safe Steps 1800 015 188 or visit The Orange Door Ballarat on weekdays between 9 and 5pm or by calling 1800 219 819