WOMEN’S safety advocates and support services in the Great Southern have welcomed sweeping changes to domestic violence laws passing State Parliament last week, saying the new reforms will help save lives.
According to a 2019 report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one woman is killed every nine days in a family violence incident.
The same report found 2.2 million Australians have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or previous partner.
The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show WA has the largest number of family and domestic violence-related homicides across the nation.
New laws brought in by the WA Government aim to change these grotesque facts.
One of the key changes is the introduction of a new specific criminal offence for suffocation and strangulation, which was previously classified as an assault.
Asha Bhat, Chairperson of the Albany Family and Domestic Violence Action Group, said strangulation and suffocation, much like domestic violence, had flown under the radar for far too long.
“Strangulation is predominant in violent intimate relationships and adds to that character of power and control present in domestic violence,” she said.
“An incident of strangulation in an intimate relationship significantly increases the risk to the victim of serious injury or death.
“The Bill is a big step forward in recognising the seriousness of the strangulation as an offence and carries higher penalties than an assault.”
Under the package of reforms, persistent family violence will also become a criminal offence and changes to the Restraining Orders Act 1997 and Bail Act 1982 will make it easier for victims to be granted protections.
Albany Women’s Centre Manager Joanna Fictoor said the new laws would have an immediate effect.
“We work daily with women who are in fear for their safety due to their perpetrators being granted bail for serious offences with limited monitoring,” she said.
“The introduction of monitoring, or changes to when an offender can be bailed, will hopefully provide some peace of mind for survivors of family violence, especially living in regional areas such as here in the Great Southern.”
Ms Fictoor said the reforms had been long overdue.
“For years now victims of family violence and those of us working in support services have been raising concerns the legislation did not go far enough in protecting victims, nor did it hold perpetrators to account for what are often repeated acts of abuse,” she said.
“Many workers in family and domestic violence services have supported numerous victims of the same perpetrator; these changes have the potential to hold repeat offenders to account and potentially break the cycle.”
WA has the second highest rate of family and domestic violence in the country and Ms Fictoor said those rates had risen at an alarming rate during COVID-19.
“Here at the Albany Women’s Centre, we saw a 50 per cent increase in calls for help during the height of the coronavirus,” she said.
“We know perpetrators have weaponised social isolation measures and contagion fears to cut off their victims from support networks, such as family members and friends, as well as using it to excuse abusive behaviour.”