The Violence Abuse and Neglect (VAN) service is an invaluable resource for victims of sexual and domestic assault in the Illawarra area, according to those at its helm.

The service, which operating out of a number of discreet locations to keep victims safe from previous and ongoing violence, is the product of a 2013 merger of three domestic violence support services. It is part of The Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District and is housed in community health centres in Warilla, Wollongong and Dapto.

VAN counsellor Anne Munroe said the merger, which followed government funding cuts, had an unexpected silver lining.

“Having a service for domestic violence that is inside a community health centre has been great because women can seek help without it being too obvious to her abuser,” she said.

“She could be coming for a doctor check-up or any number of reasons, which takes some of the pressure off having to hide it to avoid further abuse.”

Between 2013 and 2015, domestic violence assaults rose by 17 per cent in the Illawarra region, and there were 183 sexual assaults between 2014 and 2015. Ms Munroe said the statistics are alarming but incomplete because a large percentage of assaults are never reported to the police.

Rachel* visits the VAN service fortnightly to cope with the trauma of a sexually abusive relationship.

“I harboured a lot of guilt about it for five years, but the counsellors at VAN really helped me to finally leave him and report it to the police,” she said.

“I was still with him when I started seeing them so being able to say I was taking our son to the doctors was really the only reason I could go my appointments.

“I don’t think enough people know services like this exist. You know about the women’s’ shelters, but this is so well hidden and I think women really need that sometimes.”

The call for funding to increase for frontline services is delivered annually through protests and rallies held around the country, like October’s Reclaim The Night March.

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.