Domestic violence is contributing to a 13-year peak in suicide rates, according to the head of a national anti-violence organisation.
Karen Willis, executive officer of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia (RDVSA), says there is “absolutely no doubt” that the current suicide rate is linked to domestic violence.
Willis says the increasing suicide rate could be attributed to an increase in family violence incidents. “Absolutely it’s an impact of trauma contributing to suicides.”
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that the national suicide rate in Australia has risen to 12 deaths per 100,000 people – the highest it has been in 13 years.
Lifeline also received a record-breaking one million calls for help during the last year. The reporting of domestic violence is also increasing.
How to deal with increasing rates of family violence, suicide and mental health issues is shaping up to be a key issue in the election. The Federal Government has taken the lead, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announcing a package of $100 million in federal funding to help fight domestic violence victims last year. Turnbull labelled violence against women as “unAustralian”.
“Violence against women is one of the great shames of Australia. It is a national disgrace,” he said.
Labor and the Greens are also campaigning hard on this issue, with each pledging more legal, housing and safety support for women and children affected by family violence.
The need to do so is stark. The Crime Statistics Agency Victoria (CSAV) reported an increasing number of family violence incidents being reported each year, with a current incident rate of almost 1300 cases per 100,000 people.
The CSAV also highlighted an increase in the number of domestic violence incidents being reported each year, growing from over 43,000 cases in 2011 to nearly 75,000 reports in 2015.
Nathan DeGuara, the men’s referral service manager at No To Violence (NTV) Australia, says growing up with domestic violence has lasting effects on victims.
“Children who witness family violence are often scarred for life and many boys who witness family violence will grow up to be perpetrators themselves,” he says.
The new Victorian Suicide Registry at the Coroner’s Court highlighted a link between suicide and domestic violence in its submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
The report found that 35 per cent of women who committed suicide in 2014 had reported a history of family violence.
The court’s submission also stated there was “a significant number of deaths from suicide amongst Victorian men who have a history of perpetrating family violence”.
Of the men who committed suicide in 2014, 110 had a history of domestic violence.
Research by St Vincent’s Hospital clinical school at the University of Melbourne found one in three men who committed suicide between 2009-2012 had been exposed to violence, with 60 per cent of those men perpetrators of family violence.
The research also showed that 25 percent of women who committed suicide between 2009-2012 had experienced physical violence, 20 per cent experienced psychological violence and one in six were sexually assaulted.
In 70 per cent of these cases, the perpetrator was a family member or intimate partner.
One in three women who experience domestic violence in their lifetime will attempt suicide, according to research by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety.
ANROWS also published a 12-year National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, which aims to ensure women and children live free from violence in safe communities by 2022.
Most anti-violence services believe the best way to fight domestic violence is at the source, with more federal funding urgently needed. Organisations such as NTV offer rehabilitation programs for both victims and perpetrators of family violence.
In an emergency situation, dial 000
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact 1800 Respect on 1800 737 732
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, seek help. Call Lifeline on 13 11 44 or chat to someone online at lifeline.org