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Domestic violence spikes as SA families struggle to make ends meet

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Rising cost of living pressures are partly to blame for a 45 per cent spike in the number of South Australian women seeking legal help after experiencing domestic violence – and today’s expected interest rate hike could add to demand, the state’s Legal Services Commission warns.

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The Women’s Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service, which is run by the SA Legal Services Commission, assisted 303 new clients in the first three months of this year, compared to 209 clients over the same period last year.

The commission describes the 45 per cent increase as “quite substantial”, with rising cost of living pressures partly to blame.

“So often the client will say either their income has reduced, or it’s because there are so many more pressures on them – they say, ‘as a couple, we moved houses, we now have a really big mortgage’,” the commission’s CEO Gabrielle Canny told InDaily.

“These concerns are now causing such stress on the family that unfortunately the way that one partner is reacting to it is taking it out on the other.”

The court assistance service provides free legal advice to women to help them apply for an intervention order, report breaches of orders, or deal with residential tenancy issues.

Canny said the service assists women who are unable to get a court intervention order through the police because they have “no obvious physical signs of assault”, but who experience coercive control or financial abuse at the hands of their partner.

“Over the last three years we’ve been delivering this service, this 45 per cent increase is quite substantial on our numbers,” she said.

“There’s a big rise in financial abuse, whereby one partner – unfortunately usually the woman – might have all her salary completely quarantined by the male partner and she has no access to money and is very much controlled, even to the extent of doing the food shopping.

“As the cost of living goes up, that individual may well have to take home the receipt and explain every single item on that shop.

“That then spirals into the domestic violence and it just gets worse and worse.”

It comes as the Reserve Bank of Australia prepares to announce later this afternoon an expected cash interest rate hike for the first time in 12 years after inflation surged to a 20 year high of 5.1 per cent.

The hike is likely to prompt mortgage stress and add pressure to households already struggling to cover the rising cost of food, petrol and bills.

Canny said the commission was concerned that the interest rate hike could lead to a further increase in the number of women seeking help through the Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service.

“These families who have had perhaps not had financial pressures because the interest rate has stayed low – there hasn’t been an increase for such a long time… those pressures might start to come into those family units,” she said.

“Those who don’t cope well with it, or perhaps have already exhibited that tendency for financial abuse and control, that might be the thing that tips them over.”

For free and confidential legal advice, call the Legal Services Commission on 1800 246 642.

Anyone experiencing domestic and family violence can access support or counselling by calling 1800 Respect – 1800 737 732 – or the DV Crisis Line on 1800 800 098.

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