Almost 1000 women a week are seeking urgent legal services, health and housing assistance after fleeing domestic violence in NSW, with court advocates "exhausted" by the steady flow of referrals.
Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services (WDVCAS) assisted more than 51,000 women through 117 local courts in 2019, a 12 per cent increase on the previous year.
"I don't think anyone is shocked because we are that exhausted. We are looking at those referrals everyday, making the calls and contacting the women," said Louise Webber, who coordinates the advocacy's services across the Mid-North Coast.
"Often we don't have the capacity to do more than a safety assessment and refer on to other services ... so we're just outsourcing [women] again. We need additional funding to expand our program to provide more comprehensive support."
Ms Webber has a team of four full-time and six part-time staff responsible for 450 referrals from police every month.
"Especially in regional areas we get a lot of women who come through our service multiple times ... you're talking to them about really intimate, horrific and detailed things but then you've got to send her someone else ... we just don't have the resources," she said.
Women’s Legal Service NSW law reform and policy co-ordinator Liz Snell added to the call for urgent investment.
"Victims and survivors need to be better assisted to safely participate in court proceedings, including through screening for risk and safety planning," she said.
"Due to Women’s Legal Service NSW limited funding and demand for our services ... we need to make hard decisions everyday about who we can and can’t help, which means many women go without a service they need."
The comments come in the wake of the recent killing of Hannah Clarke and her three children by her estranged husband Rowan Baxter.
Mr Baxter allegedly had history of controlling and violent behaviour and was subject to a domestic violence protection order when he came upon his ex-wife and three children, pouring petrol on their car and setting it alight in Brisbane this month.
Ms Webber said the tragedy was a reminder of the potential danger women faced when fleeing domestic violence, even if they had sought assistance through the criminal justice system.
She said many of the women she saw had experienced a long history of assault and serious intimidation, but it was often only the final "straw" that would be heard before a court.
"The problem we see is that their history is often not what they are articulating to police when they make a statement [after an incident] on one day, and therefore what their admissible evidence is going to be in court," she said.
Legal Aid NSW, which funds WDVCAS, said the 12 per cent increase in demand for services was based primarily on referrals from police and the number of apprehended domestic violence orders sought at local courts.
However it said it was not clear "to what extent this reflected an increase in the incidence of domestic violence, or in the reporting of these events ... with the rollout of the Safer Pathway program".
The 2017 state government program was an initiative designed to streamline services for victims of domestic violence, reducing the need to tell their story repeatedly and relive traumatic experiences.
A spokeswoman for Attorney-General, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Mark Speakman said the government was investing a record $431 million over four years to combat domestic and family violence.
“I don’t pretend for a minute, however, that our work is done or that opportunities to improve existing services don’t exist.”
Mr Speakman said he was “very much alive to calls for increased support and will be fighting hard for domestic and family violence services in the upcoming state budget.”