'Concerning': Demand for family violence services increases in Peel region

The Peel region has recorded a "concerning" increase in the demand for family violence services, new statistics have revealed.

An annual report from Legal Aid Western Australia shows family violence services in regional areas has increased by 39 per cent across the state.

In the Peel region, that figure is even higher at 44 per cent with a jump from 836 cases in the 2017/18 financial year to 1203 in 2018/19.

Across the state, there was a 29 per cent increase from 30,477 cases in the 17/18 year to 40,366 in 18/19.

The statistics come after the Mandurah Mail ran a campaign earlier this year, highlighting the issue of domestic violence locally and the desperate need for a new refuge - with more than 140 victims being turned away from Peel's only crisis centre.

Legal Aid WA family violence consultant Michael Hovane said the significant jump in the Peel region was due to the increased services needed to keep up with demand.

"Forty-four per cent is a very large increase and family violence clients are a priority for Legal Aid," he said.

"It's always concerning to see family violence going up but, based on our raw data, we're not sure if family violence is going up or whether more people are coming forward for help.

"It could be that family violence has increased or it could be that more people have been willing to seek help or it could be a combination of those."

Mr Hovane said it was "a positive thing" if the rise in statistics meant more people were asking for help.

"It can be extremely intimidating because [clients] are often sitting at the same table as their abusive partner so to have someone that's on your side, helping you navigate a system that is quite complex and overwhelming, provides a lot of support," he said.

"If you're in a situation of family violence, you're not alone and there is a lot of help out there that you can access.

"I think people get a bit scared about seeing a lawyer but you tell the lawyer what to do - it's just about empowering you to know what your rights are so you can make choices but you still keep control."

Pat Thomas Refuge chief executive Jill Robinson. Photo: File Image.

Pat Thomas Refuge chief executive Jill Robinson. Photo: File Image.

Pat Thomas Refuge chief executive Jill Robinson agreed, adding that a recent community focus on education and prevention meant more people were speaking up.

"Over the last five years or so, a lot more people have a greater understanding of domestic violence and speaking up," she said.

"It used to be very taboo so people suffered in silence.

"Now there is a lot more support out there - there is a lot of information circulating and services in the community providing family and domestic violence programs, crisis accommodation, counselling and wraparound services."

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In March 2019, following six months of the Mandurah Mail's campaign, the state government announced a second refuge in the Peel region would be established by 2021 - providing tailored 'therapeutic' support services to domestic violence survivors and women fleeing abusive relationships.

Ms Robinson said until the second women's refuge was available, it was important to focus on prevention.

"It's another couple of years off before we have that in the Peel region in 2021 so it won't help until it's complete," she said.

"In the meantime, we're trying to raise more awareness in the community with things like the Silent March and Peel Says No To Violence.

"We continue to talk to the community about what Pat Thomas House is all about to try and build a profile and help reduce domestic violence."

Mr Hovane said his team were hopeful they could also continue to meet the growing needs of clients in Mandurah.

In July, the Mandurah Mail reported the launch of a new face-to-face technology service to offer free legal advice to Peel's most vulnerable residents.

In a West Australian first, the Legal Aid virtual service helps disadvantaged clients in regional locations like Mandurah, where there is no permanent officer.

"It's a big population centre and one of the fastest growing in WA, if not Australia, so it's always been a high priority for Legal Aid to expand our services to cover the Peel region," Mr Hovane said.

"We've partnered with a lot of local agencies around the state, including in Peel, and the technology is now there for people to go in to a local office with video facilities - it's almost the same as coming in for an appointment in person.

"Down the track, we'd love to expand our services as much as we can. We need to juggle our resources across the state but it is a high priority for us."

If you need help with domestic violence, contact 1800 RESPECT at 1800 737 732 or phone the crisis care family helpline on 08 9223 1111 or 1800 199 008. In an emergency, phone 000.