NEW statistics showing a dramatic increase in family violence are "unfortunately unsurprising" for one Wimmera support service.
The number of total incidents increased from 474 to 559 in a 12-month period.
The rate of incidents was also far higher than the statewide average; the Horsham region had a rate of 2,804 incidents per 100,000 people, compared with the Victorian rate of 1,342.
Sexual Assault and Family Violence Centre's Wimmera co-ordinator Jo-Anne Bates said family violence was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
READ MORE ON THE LATEST CRIME STATS
"It isn't surprising, unfortunately," she said.
"Certainly with the lockdown and being in the family home 24/7, it gave offenders greater control over their partners and families.
"We know that when women try to leave, there is an increase in violence and violent threats, so that makes it very difficult for people to leave these situations where they feel fearful. That can also be even worse in lockdown.
"We don't provide emergency violence care ... but certainly as lockdown eased, we have seen more people reaching out and making disclosures of incidents."
429 women were affected by the incidents and 128 men, according to the statistics.
The most commonly affected age group was 25-34.
Ms Bates said she did not expect the increase in 2020 to be a complete outlier.
"I'd like to be optimistic and say we won't experience this increase again next year, but I don't think that is going to be the case," she said.
"Hopefully, what we will see is more women and children feeling safe to come forward, and more importantly, more men willing to change their behaviour."
Ms Bates said only long-term cultural changes could dramatically lower the rates of family violence.
"We have to ensure that our young children coming through understand gender equity, respect, and understand that violence is not expected," she said.
"We also put a lot of pressure on women to come forward, but generally it is the men's behaviour that needs to change - they are largely responsible and we need to work to change that behaviour as well."
Ms Bates said the community could also help by calling out incidents and providing support.
"We as community members need to not be bystanders - we have to call out violence for what it is, start listening to the children and women who are victims and believing the seriousness of these situations," she said.
"If you see it happening, call it out, and be an advocate toward ending family violence."
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