By ALLISON HORE
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many people in many different ways. Of course, there’s the obvious health and economic impacts that come from isolation and social distancing, but some of the impacts have been more hidden.
One of those hidden side effects is domestic violence, which Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore says has been “exacerbated by the impacts of COVID-19, including lockdowns and financial hardship.”
This year the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence is focused on addressing the growing number of cases of violence against women during COVID-19 restrictions.
The campaign launched on the 25th of November and will run through to the 10th of December, Human Rights Day. Throughout the 16-day period the UN is amplifying calls to ensure life-saving services for survivors of violence during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as programs focusing on prevention.
“Even before COVID-19 hit, violence against women and girls had reached pandemic proportions,” UN Women Australia said in a statement.
“As countries implemented lockdown measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, violence against women, especially domestic violence, intensified – in some countries, calls to helplines have increased five-fold.”
Jess Hill, author of See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Abuse, agrees the pandemic has the potential to exacerbate violent or abusive home situations.
“All of us are experiencing a unique moment where a lot of our distractions have been cancelled. Most people aren’t working in offices. We are spending more time with family and less with friends so that isolation is intensifying,” said Ms. Hill, who has been writing about and researching domestic violence since 2014.
In July the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) ran an online survey of 15,000 Australian women about their experience of domestic violence during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two-thirds of women who experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner since the start of the pandemic said the violence “had started or escalated” since March. Further, more than half of the respondents who experienced emotionally abusive, harassing or controlling behaviours said this had intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the AIC said the kind of survey they used to collect the information did not allow for “cause-effect relationships to be established”, they said the data collected points to the pandemic contributing to an increase in domestic violence.
“For many women, the pandemic coincided with the onset or escalation of violence and abuse,” they said.
“These drivers of increased violence are complex, but likely involve some combination of the increased time spent at home, social isolation due to social distancing requirements and financial stressors associated with the economic impact of COVID-19.”
Councils join the campaign
To mark the 16 Days Campaign the City of Sydney council are running a number of events including domestic violence prevention training by the Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre, a webinar for the service industry to increase understanding of domestic and family violence and a free online talk by author Jess Hill.
The Inner West council is also running a number of events throughout the 16 Days Campaign. Mayor Darcy Byrne said that the council have partnered with a number of local community groups, organisations, networks and key national associations to create a series of workshops and campaigns to address domestic and family violence and educate on respectful relationships.
“I am very proud that these initiatives will train local children and young people to be the generation that eliminates domestic and family violence from our community,” he said.
Programs run by both councils will encourage the community to speak out against family violence.
“These initiatives will help our community understand the issue and where to get help if needed, while supporting local organisations on the frontline, like the Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre,” explained Ms. Moore.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in six women and one in sixteen men have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or previous partner and 42 percent of people accessing homelessness services have experienced domestic violence.
Ms. Hill said domestic violence can take many forms and it is important to know the signs that it is happening to you or someone you care about.
“If you see behaviour from a friend’s partner that is degrading, controlling, surveilling, paranoid or morbidly jealous, these are dangerous red flags abuse is happening,” she said.
If you, or someone you know are affected by domestic, family or sexual violence support is available 24/7:
1800 RESPECT, 1800 737 732 – National Sexual Assault Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service, 24/7
Rape and Domestic Violence Service Australia/Rape Crisis NSW, 1800 424 017 – provide telephone and online crisis counselling for people who’ve experienced sexual assault, sexual violence, rape or domestic or family violence.