A web chat service has launched in the Wimmera to help victims of sexual assault and family violence as the coronavirus lockdown causes a surge in domestic abuse.
Wimmera Sexual Assault and Family Violence Centre coordinator Jo-Anne Bates said the new web chat service would give vulnerable people immediate support without using a phone.
"Especially during lockdown, we know how difficult it is for victims to make disclosures around family violence and sexual assault," she said.
"The web chat gives people the opportunity to have a conversation with someone online and do so discreetly.
"It has come at a really great time and we want to make sure that everyone has access to support through whatever medium is best for them."
Ms Bates said during the first stage-three lockdown people found it difficult to reach out and ask for support.
"Once we came out of lockdown we certainly had an increase in our referrals," she said.
"We know that unfortunately, offenders made it even more difficult for those women and children to make disclosures.
"We have gone back into stage-three and children are being homeschooled, which will make it difficult especially for women to seek support.
"We know children are very vulnerable also around family violence and sexual assault. It's a difficult time to be living in environments where they are being abused."
She said the centre had adapted its services during the coronavirus pandemic to provide safe telephone and video counselling for clients.
"Video counselling is a very safe online platform and has been working really well," she said.
"We also feel the web chat service is an innovative way of providing the service and it's more a discreet way of talking to someone without having a phone call."
The web chat support service is available Monday to Friday, 9am-1pm to support people impacted by sexual assault and women, children and young people affected by family violence.
Wimmera SAFV Centre executive officer Helen Bolton said creating a channel of support for those impacted by sexual assault and family violence was important to ensure everyone can access support.
"We know how difficult making the first contact can be. By creating a chat support service, we are providing an alternate way for you to reach out and get support," she said.
Mrs Bolton said with many people still working from home and limiting activities to maintain social distancing, creating an online service is critical to provide a safe space for everyone.
"Our specialist practitioners are available online to provide support and assistance for people within the community who are experiencing sexual assault or family violence, and provide guidance to family and friends who are concerned about a loved one," she said.
"Our web chat is anonymous and accessible to anyone experiencing violence or concerned about the safety of a family member or friend."
If you or someone you know needs support, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 03 5381 1211 for Wimmera support or visit. You can also visit the webchat at www.safvcentre.org.au/webchat
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