Fast tracking domestic violence victims

    The traumatic, slow and bureaucracy-riddled process of women rebuilding their lives after fleeing a violent partner has been made a little easier with the launch of a government initiative new to Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby.

    The Safer Pathway programme to help the victims of domestic violence receive multi-agency support, eliminating much of the stress and hassle of having to negotiate various systems, was launched by Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Minister Pru Goward at Gordon Police station.

    While Ku ring gai and Hornsby have two refuges between them, BOCSAR (Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research) statistics reveal that both areas fall well below the state average for reported incidences of domestic violence per 100,000 people: statewide the figure stands at 388 compared to 123 reported cases per 100,000 people in Hornsby and 69 in Ku ring gai.

    Reporting acts of violence, finding a new and safer place to live and a different school for children, as well as getting medical care and a psychological report has always been a highly stressful experience for already traumatised women. Having to negotiate countless different agencies has often seen women give up and return home to the violence.

    Launching Safer Pathway, Pru Goward said: “Courageous victims who’ve been left traumatised and terrified will no longer have to shop around to get the services they need – nor will they have to re-tell their story to a multitude of government agencies.”

    The Safer Pathway initiative co-ordinates crucial staff  at fortnightly meetings – from the police, health, corrections, family and community services to education and local domestic and family violence services – in a sort of one-stop shop for women and kids fleeing violence. The holistic approach aims to streamline the experience so women don’t have to jump from one appointment to the next trying to navigate the system and various government departments.

    Already up and running in six other areas across NSW, it starts in Ku ring gai and Northern Beaches local area command police areas in March next year, as part of a $53 million four-year roll-out of 21 new sites featuring this co-ordinated response.

    It will be administered by Northern Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, where Co-ordinator Josie Gregory said: “A woman arriving at a police station is assessed with what’s called a domestic violence assessment tool. Once that has happened she and the children, if she has any, are taken to the nearest women’s refuge if there is space, or further afield if not.

    “If it’s deemed she’s at serious risk, we’re called and then we set up a meeting with all the necessary disciplines. Things will happen in a much more co-ordinated fashion than in the past, and hopefully quicker. Around that table will be people with higher decision-making capabilities than under the current system.”

    While the BOCSAR statistics tell one story, Superintendent Jenny Scholtz from Hornsby Police Station said that while Ku ring gai and Hornsby are affluent areas, “no area is immune from domestic violence. In this area it’s felt there’s a degree of under-reporting of it though – perhaps people feel they have more to lose in terms of affluence – so it’s hard to know how prevalent it is here.”

    While Ku-ring-gai’s Safer Pathway is still in the planning, one run out of the Downing Street Court in central Sydney has been running for over two years. Said Josie Gregory: “Women are getting processed properly the first time so it saves time and money and ensures the safety of the woman and kids is put first by getting them housing faster so they don’t have to rent privately to escape the violence at home.”

    Goward added: “What we’re really keen on is stopping the victimisation – we just don’t want women going back. This approach facilitates that.”

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