Grace Holton may only be 17 years old, but she is determined to make a difference for Australians affected by domestic violence.
- Domestic violence advocates are calling for more outreach support services in the Australian region, with services currently being extended to the limit
- Many of the refugee shelters in regional Australia have reached their capacity, leaving many victims of domestic violence nowhere to be found
- Advocates say everyone needs to play a role in changing the culture and calling for domestic violence
Grace’s mother, Jessica Kupsch, was brutally murdered by her partner in 2012.
Matthew Patrick Tunks is serving a 23-year prison sentence for murdering Kupsch, his de-facto partner, in a hotel room in Launceston in northern Tasmania.
Grace and her three siblings now live with their grandmother and legal guardian, Donna Kupsch, who says she has been a strong advocate for them.
“That’s all I can do,” said Kupsch.
Ms Kupsch is also helping victims of domestic violence across the country to get help and is pleased that awareness of the issue is growing.
“Whenever we celebrate Red Rose Day [raising awareness of domestic or family violence-related deaths] for my daughter more and more people are coming and it’s great that they have had enough, “said Donna Kupsch.
Ms Kupsch would approach the women herself to check if they were okay, something she did recently when she saw a woman with black eyes in a supermarket.
“I said ‘don’t come back’, he said ‘no, I’m not this time’.
“I said ‘how many times have you gone’, he said ‘five.’ Usually around seven they will either hurt you or kill you.”
He also wanted others to come forward.
“Just imagine yourself in that position … you just hope someone will come up to you and ask ‘do you need help, are you all right?’ That’s all you can do. “
Domestic violence support services are scattered in various regions
According to federal government figures, 23 percent of women in Australian territory experience intimate partner violence, compared to 15 percent in cities.
In Launceston, where the Donna Kupsch family lives, Tasmanian Police were called in to deal with 900 domestic violence incidents last year – the highest number of all local government areas in the state.
Support services say that’s only part of the story.
Their data shows about 70 percent of victims who have recently sought direct support are seeking help, not the police, for help.
Ms Kupsch said it was a positive sign that the number of police calls was increasing because it meant more victims were seeking support, but she said more work was needed.
Grace said girls her age were not immune from the problem and a shortage of housing caused problems.
“There are a lot of people out there right now with problems with boys and such, and what happens if they need to go somewhere and they can’t?”
‘Our hands were tied’: The victims had nowhere to go
Crisis accommodation shelters in large parts of Australia are struggling to keep up with demand.
Rachael Robertson, a lawyer for West NSW Community Legal Service in Dubbo, said women were forced to move “hundreds of kilometers away” or live in violent households, because there were not enough long-term accommodation options.
“Housing is by far the biggest problem we face here and one of the reasons why women don’t leave violent relationships [is] because of housing uncertainty, “said Ms Robertson.
“I have a number of clients who say I would rather stay there with him because he would only hurt me, but at least the kids still have a roof over their heads, and they have to go home somewhere.
“There needs to be some specialist housing which is emergency or crisis accommodation [for] more than a few nights. “
Kristy Staples, regional manager of the Salvation Army’s Western Australia domestic violence service, said Karratha Women’s Protection had rejected 80 percent of victims who needed support in recent months.
Ms Staples said the shelter can only accommodate four women and the Western Australian housing crisis has exacerbated the situation.
“We have less than 1 percent rental availability at the moment and it’s a bidding war,” he said.
“For many women, it’s actually easier to stay in a relationship at home, especially if there are kids involved, than to take them off and where to go?”
Regional and rural shelters face confidentiality issues
Cr Knowles fled abusive relationships in the Victorian region in the 1980s and moved to Tasmania for a more quiet life, but the domestic violence situation in his town has worsened.
According to Tasmanian Police, the Northern Midlands has seen a 58 percent increase in calls about domestic violence since 2017. The neighboring Southern Midlands saw a 116 percent increase in calls over the same period.
Cr Knowles has long asked central Tasmania to have its own women’s shelters, but police and some support services have raised concerns about how rural shelters can remain secret.
She has now called for Ward Homes to be established in all local municipal councils to provide better support to victims of domestic violence.
“We really think that the Neighbors are an excellent safe opportunity for rural women in particular to be able to access the services they might need or the information they might need to get to a safer place,” said Cr Knowles.
The Australian Institute of Criminology’s research manager Hayley Boxhall said the situation in regional and rural areas was unique.
“So for those women, how do we provide them with a service that doesn’t require them to make public reports?”
‘We all have a responsibility to change culture’
Discussions in the community about domestic and sexual violence are encouraging more victims to seek help, said Tasmania Women’s Legal Service chief executive Yvette Cehtel.
Ms Cehtel said the service has seen a 50 percent increase in clients seeking support in the past year.
“We’re all seeing more clients and more requests for our services, but not everyone feels comfortable calling the police,” said Cehtel.
“I think it’s very important for us to respect that.
“For us, it’s about empowering our clients, so that means sitting down with women and helping them make the best decisions about how the problem continues.”
The service is also starting to test new initiatives, including creating podcasts with freelance journalists and holding free community workshops, to help the public understand what domestic violence really looks like and how observers can call it.
“People are still very fixated on what physical or sexual violence looks like and I think we still have a long way to go to talk about other aspects,” said Cehtel.
“I mean spiritual and cultural isolation, emotional, verbal, financial and social.