6636 women couldn’t get through to DV helpline
ONE of Queensland's largest domestic violence services has revealed that 40 per cent of calls from distressed women are going unanswered because of a $900,000 funding shortfall.
Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Mail, Queensland Women's Legal Service chief executive Angela Lynch revealed that in the past financial year, 6636 desperate women could not get through to the group's help line.
Ms Lynch said sustained pleas to politicians for more funding to fix the service had fallen on deaf ears.
She said just $900,000 would allow the support service to hire staff and expand, meaning 6000-plus women would have access to the help they desperately need.
QUEENSLAND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SERVICES
The organisation, which provides legal help to women in violent situations, answered 9761 calls in the past 12 months and increased their capacity to take calls by 26 per cent on the year before, Ms Lynch said.
Despite this, 40 per cent of all calls still went unanswered due to resource constraints.
"There are people that just can't get through," Ms Lynch said.
"It really is a resource issue and we need more funding to solve it.
"It's frustrating to us, because for the Government to say they're serious about domestic violence, we don't understand how you can be serious if you allow 40 per cent of our calls to be unanswered.
"We have constantly advocated in relation to this issue and the Government are well aware of that statistic."
WLS currently receives $3.461 million from the Federal and State governments.
Private charities have previously had to step in to fill funding shortfalls.
Ms Lynch said with an additional $3.5 million, the service could provide ongoing consistent legal representation in court, which is one of their greatest need areas, extend helpline hours, introduce more domestic violence social workers, increase sexual violence legal help and assist domestic violence victims who are wrongly identified as perpetrators.
Sisters Inside CEO Debbie Kilroy said WLS was not alone in its funding crisis. She said tens of millions of dollars were needed for a range of Queensland support services for women and children.
"It's not just about the women who dial a number to their organisation, it's about all the domestic violence services, sexual assault services - any service that supports women and girls across this state," she told The Sunday Mail.
"We would need tens of millions of dollars that they are pouring into building prisons and maintaining and running them."
Ms Kilroy said she estimated hundreds of thousands of women already miss out on services.
"We have so many women ourselves at Sisters Inside that we can't support," she said.
"It's an issue across the board for disadvantaged, criminalised, victimised Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women …
"From the perspective of Sisters Inside, stop spending millions and millions of dollars on building a prison and put some services in the community for women and girls.
"One of the biggest issues is affordable accommodation - there just isn't any - and it's the biggest issue of all why there are so many women who are homeless."
High-profile Brisbane businesswoman Margaret Lawson, who is a survivor of domestic violence, revealed she previously phoned WLS for advice when her ex-partner began harassing her.
Philip Burton was this year convicted of stalking Ms Lawson, who runs PR agency Cole Lawson.
"Two years ago (I) was going through a particularly acute and traumatic phase, one of the first things I did was ring the Women's Legal Service," she said.
"When you wait on hold, they had a message outlining how they go about applications and matters, and as I sat there and listened, I actually thought to myself: 'There is going to be someone hanging on the line who has a greater need for this service', so I made a decision to go for a private lawyer.
"I felt as someone who was employed … I didn't want to take that opportunity away from someone who might have needed (it) more."
Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Mail, Ms Lawson also called for more funding to the service.
"Given that people's lives are at stake, it's important the Government provides enough funding so that calls are answered and the service is available to people who need it," she said.
Ms Lynch said there was a perception legal advice was less crucial than crisis services for victims of domestic and sexual violence.
"There can be a bit of a tendency to not understand the importance of a legal service response to safety," Ms Lynch said.
"It's a safety issue because we don't know if these women have an opportunity to ring again if they can't get through, and it can be really important for them to get really critical legal information even before separation so they can plan for that in a safe way."