Maitland is officially the domestic violence capital of the Hunter, with new crime statistics pointing out residents’ horrific behaviours behind closed doors.
The city jumped from third to first in the region in the space of a year, overtaking Cessnock and Muswellbrook for domestic-related assaults in the 12 months to June 2018.
Maitland recorded 486 domestic related assaults in that period – 51 more offences than the year before and an increase of 11.7 per cent per 100,000 people.
But the problem extends far beyond the past two years.
“If you go back even further, we’re a podium finish – always have been,” Maitland police officer in charge Chief Inspector Glenn Blain said.
In recent years numerous police resources have been thrown at the problem in an effort to prevent and stop domestic violence.
In February 2017, a high risk offender team was formed as a proactive response to domestic violence throughout the Northern Region and last October, a domestic violence team leader was appointed here in the then-Central Hunter command, which now incorporates Port Stephens-Hunter and Hunter Valley districts.
The Central Hunter team leader was one of six deployed across the state to areas with high rates of domestic violence.
Chief Inspector Blain said the increased resources could have led to more people coming forward to police, which may have led the spike in numbers.
“Recently there has been a public focus on reporting,” he said. “We’ve also had an increased approach on repeat offenders and a big focus on arrest rates.”
Maitland MP and NSW Shadow Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Jenny Aitchison agreed that an increase in statistics may be due to a stronger police approach.
“You always hope an increase is because more people are reporting, but you don’t know,” she said.
“We do know it just continues to be a large issue in this area.”
Ms Aitchison believes a factor could be Maitland’s rapidly booming population.
“Five new people are moving to Maitland every day,” she said. “Some of those people don’t have a lot of family support in the area, so they might be less likely to leave a violent situation.”
She also said Maitland’s local domestic violence service Carrie’s Place was not receiving the funding it needed to service the huge demand in the community.
But Ms Aitchison said the issue of domestic violence was more than just physical.
She said a lot of the complaints reported to her office were from victims being harassed through family courts, being economically disadvantaged through violence and suffering other forms of emotional and mental abuse.
“If you included all of those issues the statistics would go even further,” she said.
Chief Inspector Blain said domestic violence also extended into other crimes, such as malicious damage and breaking and entering.
“People won’t just say ‘I’m going to do one lot of crime’,” he said.
Ms Aitchison believes the solution lies in the schools, where intervention strategies should be implemented as a prevention.
She said that students as young as five were taught not to get in a car with a stranger, so it made sense to educate them about healthy relationships and respecting themselves and others.
“Preschool age is when violence often starts in the home,” she said.
“Evidence says that those who are exposed to violence at a young age will go on to experience it or become perpetrators.
“The impact is lifelong.
“We should be teaching those primary relationship lessons in every school.”
The MP said the NSW Government should be funding OurWatch – an evidence-informed program committed to the prevention of violence against women and their children, which is in place across all other states and territories.