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Specialist domestic violence workers to be on-site at NSW police stations under new trial

This article contains references to domestic violence.

Victims of domestic violence who report to police stations would be supported by independent specialists in a trial program to start as soon as next month.

The trial would see workers from the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, placed at five police stations in NSW.

The workers, who are currently stationed at courts throughout the state, help women and children with information, advocacy, safety planning, and referrals to housing and other services.

Domestic Violence NSW chief executive Delia Donovan, welcomed the news, saying a multidisciplinary approach was “essential” for protecting victim-survivors’ safety.

Having the specialist workers on-site would help police understand the dynamics of domestic violence and ultimately create better links between the family violence sector and police, Ms Donovan said.

The trial was prompted by a recommendation by the Domestic Violence Death Review Team, an expert group that examines domestic violence related deaths and tells parliament what needs to change.

The team’s 2020 report, which looked at all domestic violence deaths in NSW between 2017 and 2019, found that victims and bystanders who reported violence to police stations sometimes received “inadequate” responses.

In one case, a woman told an officer at the front desk of a station that she was “having trouble” with her ex-boyfriend and described how he’d been stalking her and had followed her interstate.

The officer took the woman’s phone number but did not record the complaint or tell the woman about protection orders or services that might have helped. The victim and the police officer were unaware that the ex-boyfriend had a police history of domestic violence offences.

The woman did not approach police again, though she continued to be stalked and harassed over the next week.

She was murdered that week.

The team found that victims were sometimes given inaccurate advice, their complaints were not recorded correctly or at all, and they did not get a positive response at the front counter. That stopped them from reporting future episodes of domestic violence.

The trial also comes after the treatment of victims at the front counter was highlighted in the inquest into the 2018 murders of teenagers Jennifer and Jack Edwards by their father John.

The 7 April coroner’s report found their mother Olga had reported Edwards’ stalking to a police station, but the officer made errors in recording her complaint and didn’t adhere to protocols.

Magistrate Teresa O’Sullivan said bringing support services to police stations would be a “welcome initiative”.

The new trial is slated to start in May or June.

Victims would be given information, advice, protection and earlier access to supports, NSW Police says in a document provided this week to a parliamentary inquiry into domestic abuse.

More informed decision-making would give victims greater self-determination over the response they receive, it says.

The trial will also help police gather more data on the numbers of victims reporting at police stations.

Police will still be responsible for investigating violence.

However, there’s no extra budget for the trial, so its scope may have to be reduced, NSW Police says.

If you or someone you know is impacted by family and domestic violence or sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. The Men’s Referral Service provides advice for men on domestic violence and can be contacted on 1300 766 491. In an emergency, call 000.

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