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Building safer communities in the Shire of Gingin

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Dr Carolyn Harris Johnson

Together, the Lancelin Healthy Communities Forum (LHCF), Holyoake Wheatbelt Community Alcohol and Drug Service and the communities of the Shire of Gingin have seen the first two stages of the “Building safer Communities” project completed, and are about to launch Stage 3, “Violence No Excuse!”

Funded by Bendigo Bank, The Shire of Gingin, WAPOL and the Department of Social Services the project has the support of police and many community organisations. It was developed in response to an identified need for knowledge and current gap in service provision. Currently Family Domestic Violence (FDV) services are underfunded and delivered from Northam with services sometimes difficult to access, face to face, in a crisis.
There are other services located closer to Gingin than Northam (North Metropolitan), but often for a myriad of reasons (including lack of knowledge, no public transport, no access to private transport, lack of social support systems and/or financial constraints) women are unable to access them. Research has shown that women, on average, leave their violent partner, seven times before finally departing. When women leave Gingin to access services in Perth and then return (as most do) the Perth services are not able to provide an outreach service to provide follow up.

This situation exists against the backdrop of FDV costing the Australian economy an estimated $21.7 billion per annum (PwC, 2015), and being a significant drain on police resources. Yet research has shown that, “An estimated 190,100 women (80% of the 237,100 women who had experienced current partner violence) had never contacted the police about the violence by their current partner” (ABS, 2012) and thus the extent of the problem remains hidden, explaining why there is still a level of denial of the problem in the community.

Although attracting widespread support, when the project was first conceptualized, as in many small communities, there was some initial denial about FDV across the Shire of Gingin. The “Building Safer Communities” project has helped to educate the community and to raise awareness about the extent of the problem, vital if FDV is to be brought out in the open. It has also stimulated discussion about the long term effect of FDV and its links to substance misuse, mental health, and the intergenerational transmission of trauma, by affecting the child’s attachment relationship, brain development and personality.

Women experiencing FDV in Gingin, as in other rural areas, face specific problems in accessing help. These problems relate to: perceptions of confidentiality in small communities, lack of information about what constitutes FDV, social isolation, lack of transport, distance to support services, and cost of travelling to access services. The long term goal for the, “Building Safer Communities” project is to provide safe, local, accessible services for men women and children experiencing FDV, within a well-informed community that recognizes FDV and is prepared to tackle it, as it would any other community health problem, knowing that silence in the face of violence and abuse allows it to fester, and is not just an indictment of perpetrators, but of the communities that shield them from consequence.