Australia police arrest 554 in domestic violence crackdown

Lou's Place in Sydeny provides daytime shelter to women seeking support from domestic violence (Saeed KHAN)
Lou's Place in Sydeny provides daytime shelter to women seeking support from domestic violence (Saeed KHAN)

Police in Australia's most populous state announced Monday they had arrested and charged 554 domestic violence suspects in a four-day operation, as the country reckons with a series of high-profile attacks on women.

New South Wales police said some of "the worst domestic violence offenders" in the state had been rounded up, including one man who allegedly stamped on a woman, causing fractured ribs, facial injuries and a bruised kidney.

The arrests come as Australia grapples with the violent deaths of 28 women this year--an average of one death every four days. Only 14 women died in violent incidents during the same period last year.

A series of high-profile attacks on women -- including the stabbing of five women at a Bondi mall -- have thrown the focus on gender-based and domestic violence.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called it a "national crisis", while announcing measures to curb deepfake pornography and increase funding for women fleeing abusive relationships.

Intimate partner homicides have gradually declined in the past 30 years, data from the Australian government shows.

And Australia's domestic violence prevalence rate still remains below the OECD average -- lower than that of Canada, the United States and Britain, according to 2023 data.

But domestic violence services have long warned more needs to be done.

Curtin University expert Donna Chung said the system is designed so that victims can often only get help once something bad happens.

Even then the system is flawed, and domestic violence perpetrators can continue to offend, she said.

- 'Scared to take a step' -

Michelle, one of the roughly 70 women a day who use Lou's Place, Sydney's only daytime domestic violence shelter, fled Melbourne after being abused by her ex-husband and his family.

She said she was not allowed to leave the house and was forced to withdraw from her schooling.

"They used me and they terrified me," she told AFP.

Michelle, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym, described a difficult path to safety -- first making the decision to leave, and then facing hurdles finding somewhere safe to go.

"I have seen many women, and even I was one of them, they're very scared to take a step (and escape)," she said. "It's hard to find the place you feel safe."

After failing to gain access to other domestic violence services, she found Lou's Place and is now training to be a hairdresser.

Her experience is far from unique -- in Australia, it is estimated one in four women will experience some form of domestic violence in their lives.

- Worsening 'crisis' -

Lou's Place general manager Amanda Greaney said Australia's domestic violence problem had reached the "crisis" level.

She said the rising cost of living and shortages in housing -- coupled with a lack of crisis centres -- forced women to remain in abusive situations, adding that could be among the reasons for the recent uptick in deaths.

Lou's Place has a policy of not turning anyone away, Greaney said, but that was becoming increasingly difficult as more women seek support.

"It's going to cost a lot of money, but women and children are living in fear and that's just not good enough. We need to stop it," she said.

Advocacy group No to Violence believes better education is needed about healthy relationships, as well as more research into what drives men's violent behaviour, according to chief executive Phillip Ripper.

"The forces that lead to family violence are very complex and very interrelated. There is no simple solution," he said.