While the world focuses on flattening the curve of coronavirus cases, there is one trajectory that has dramatically spiked during the global health crisis and shows no sign of easing off.
As families are urged to self-isolate and lockdown restrictions grow tighter across the nation, survivors of family violence are being forced even closer to their abusers, causing an increase in cases of domestic and family abuse.
While calls to domestic violence hotlines have decreased, more accurate numbers of abuse are seen in ‘non-voluntary’ reports, such as police call-outs, welfare checks and hospitalisations.
“There is a decrease in helpline calls by survivors of domestic abuse,” Women’s Safety NSW CEO Hayley Foster told nine.com.au.
“But I’ve surveyed frontline workers in every major metropolitan, rural, and regional area in New South Wales and I can tell you that when the coronavirus restrictions began, 40 per cent of workers were reporting an increase in women needing emergency assistance. And most of those numbers come from police incidents.”
And as restrictions grow tighter, the cases of violence are only increasing.
“The survey that was done on April 2, a few weeks after isolation orders were issued, we saw 50 per cent of workers reporting they’ve seen an increase in emergency assistance,” Hayley said.
Many domestic and family violence helplines require pro-active support seeking, resulting is a sharp decrease over the period that survivors are kept closest to their abusers, out of fear of retribution directed towards themselves or their children.
But those who have been dealing with domestic and family violence long before the COVID-19 crisis are repeating familiar patterns: protecting their family’s welfare above their own.
“We’re really bracing for an increase in demand after this initial lock down period, because what we know, and we have the experience of this from the floods and bushfires, and what we learn is that when you have a crisis period, you don’t get women seeking support,” Hayley said.
“They de-prioritise their safety at that time. They wait until everything has been sorted, they’re appeasing the abuser, protecting their children and focusing on everyone else.
“After that crisis subsides and things return to a sense of normality, that’s when they seek the support that they need and make those changes.”
And the moments when survivors do feel safer to reach out for support or make an attempt to separate from their abuser are the junctures when they are at the greatest risk of serious assault or homicide.
Organisations such as Women’s Safety NSW continue to rally for a greater national understanding of domestic and family violence resources, and have made some headway in installing a nationwide campaign.
“We’re lobbying very hard of the government to hurry up and get their advertising campaign out. The federal government has finally committed to doing a national awareness campaign around domestic violence to send the message that everybody has the right to feel safe in their home,” Hayley said.
“This was meant to happen weeks ago. A vast percent of women that we support after experiencing violence don’t even know that those services are out there for them. And that is unacceptable.”
The message that these support services are trying to send while lockdown restrictions are still in place is that women continue have the autonomy to deal with these situations at their own pace, as well as having access to external support and resources.
“These women are the experts of their own situation, and have been doing a myriad things for a very long time to keep themselves and their children safe,” Hayley stressed.
“They know the way their abuser operates they know their circumstances and they know what to do to keep themselves safe to the best of their abilities. And what we’re doing is to make sure that they know that the services are available there to support them.”
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