Revealed: The women we failed

• Community's role in ending sex assaults

Three-quarters of all women killed in NSW die at the hands of their loved ones, an official statistic that has led NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione to warn that domestic violence is one of the ''biggest issues modern society has to face''.

A Fairfax Media investigation coinciding with International Women's Day has found domestic violence is responsible for about two in five of all homicides and assaults in NSW, with 24 women dying in the year to September 2013. The assaults buck crime trends, with violence in our homes rising while street violence, robbery and car theft fall.

Under-resourced services say they are struggling to cope, with reports of up to half of women seeking a place in refuges being turned away. Yet surveys show attitudes to violence are in some cases going backwards, with people more likely to justify or excuse abusive behaviour today than in the 1990s.

Mr Scipione said NSW police deal with about 370 instances of domestic and family violence a day. Studies show less than half of instances are reported.

''If there was any other single issue causing this sort of grief there would be a big outcry,'' he said. ''These are mothers, your daughters, your sisters, wives, girlfriends, these are the people that work at the desk next to you. These are real people and they are horrifying numbers.''

A 2009 study of 10,000 Australians found the proportion of people who said slapping or pushing was very serious had declined over 14 years.

''I think we come up with more excuses now for violence,'' Domestic Violence NSW project manager Moo Baulch said. ''It's terrifying.''

She said domestic violence would not decrease until services were adequately funded. ''It's a no-brainer … Put a similar amount of time and energy that has been summoned to deal with the violence in the Cross into immediate and longer term responses to victims and to community-based campaigns.''

Ms Baulch said anecdotal reports indicated half the women seeking access to refuges could be turned away.

Mr Scipione urged people to ''break the silence'' and contact police. He believed more victims coming forward could be behind increasing rates.

But NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research director Don Weatherburn said the rise should be read in the same way as other crimes: the problem was real and getting worse.

''It's a significant, widespread problem that really hasn't shown any of the kinds of improvements we've seen with assault and nothing remotely like the improvements we've seen with robbery and property crime.''

Dr Weatherburn said little attention had been put on how to deal with perpetrators compared with other crimes. ''That's very important because domestic violence … tends to go on and on, the repeat offending part of it is a major part,'' he said.

The highest instances of domestic violence are in the city's western suburbs, but the Sydney local government area ranked fourth for assaults on average over the past 10 years. The manager of the Domestic Violence Death Review Team, Anna Butler, said women who died from domestic violence came from every class, and ages varied from 15 to 80. A quarter were over 45.

In two-thirds of cases the woman was living with her partner, although in half of those cases separation was being considered. ''That time after the relationship ends is a really dangerous time for women,'' she said.

Ms Butler said the data showed most had no contact with support services, and often non-physical violence such as controlling behaviour was not recognised. ''You often hear things like the relationship being described as 'volatile' or 'tumultuous','' she said. ''It's not a volatile relationship; it is a relationship that is characterised by the abuse of the victim by the perpetrator.''

Mr Scipione said domestic violence occurred across all cultures and socio-economic groups. ''There are women who are offenders we have to deal with as well. It even transcends gender.''

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