Advocacy for preventing family violence steps up as Coroner hands down report

Whittlesea City Council will continue to advocate strongly for more local family violence and mental health support services for its community, after a Victorian Coroner’s report into the deaths of four South Asian women by suicide found more needs to be done to help vulnerable women.

Council plays a pivotal role on the Crossroads to Community Wellbeing Project Working Group, which provided evidence to the Coroners Court of Victoria last year for an investigation into the spike in deaths by suicides in 2018 among South Asian women living in the City of Whittlesea.

The group sought recommendations from the Coroner to prevent similar deaths.

Findings from the report by Coroner Audrey Jamieson, released yesterday (Tuesday 8 September), acknowledged there was an “elevated frequency of suicides” among South Asian women in 2018 in the City of Whittlesea, compared with one similar death for the entire 2009-2015 period.

Recommendations include a review of current support services for the health and wellbeing of South Asian women in the City of Whittlesea, including engaging with “service providers and other stakeholders, to identify opportunities to improve South Asian women’s access to and engagement with such services”.

Chair, Panel of Administrators, Ms Lydia Wilson said the findings in the report were heart breaking.

“On behalf of the City of Whittlesea, I would like to firstly express my condolences to the families who have been devastated by the deaths of the four women investigated in this report,” Ms Wilson said.

“We will continue to work very hard with local community health organisations, family violence services, Victoria Police and legal services to support vulnerable women living in our community.”

Within hours of the report being released, the Crossroads group wrote to the DHHS Secretary requesting an urgent meeting to discuss solutions that will preserve the lives of South Asian women and endorse funding applications for programs and services to address this issue.

“Over the past year, the Crossroads group has worked in collaboration with local agencies and organisations who have received short term funding to trial prevention programs with significant results,” Ms Wilson said.

“We need ongoing funding for culturally specific, localised, community led programs and services that address the specific antecedents to why these women took their own lives.”

Council will continue to work with other local groups and community leaders to provide a co-ordinated response with local knowledge and suicide prevention expertise that will ensure there is a dedicated resource to guide, implement and ensure any actions are integrated with the community and service providers.

“I would like to thank local Police Sergeant Damien Lehmann who raised concern for high numbers of suspected suicides of women of South Asian background along with Chris Howse from Whittlesea Community Legal Service for instigating proceedings with the Coroner’s Court, and all members of the Crossroads Group for their tireless work engaging with the community to understand the issue and develop a tailor suicide prevention response,” Ms Wilson said.

The Coroner also recommended that Victoria Police allocates Family Violence Investigation Units to investigate suspected intentional deaths of women in City of Whittlesea from multicultural communities where prior family violence or social isolation may be contributing factors.

Family violence is a whole of community issue and is not specific to South Asian communities or the City of Whittlesea, where more than 3,000 incidents are reported to local police each year.

The City of Whittlesea has the highest rate of family violence in the north east region and second highest in the state with limited local support services for people in need.

Council is also calling on the State Government to fund an Orange Door Access Point to support people experiencing family violence.

“While we certainly welcome the Coronial investigation into the deaths of these women, and any recommendations that can be put in place for more effective prevention measures in our municipality, these are complex issues that require a multifaceted approach. Local access to Orange Door is an integral part of the solution,” Ms Wilson said.

“The City of Whittlesea will continue to work closely to advocate for state-wide access points and work with local services to address and find solutions.”

About the Crossroads to Community Wellbeing Project

The Crossroads to Community Wellbeing Project is led by Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network (EMPHN) as part of its federally funded place-based Suicide Prevention intervention. A local working group has been established. The working group includes representatives from EMPH, Whittlesea City Council, Victoria Police, Brotherhood of St Laurence, DPV Health, Whittlesea Community Connections (Legal Service).

About support services

If you or someone you know is impacted by family violence you can call Safe Steps on 1800 015 188. In an emergency call 000 (triple zero).

You can also visit www.respectvictoria.vic.gov.au

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