How has COVID-19 impacted victims of domestic violence in Australia?
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown orders in Australia have had an unprecedented impact on domestic violence, the effects of which will be felt for years to come.
Since its inception 20 years ago, the Sisters of Charity Foundation has sought to provide practical and meaningful help to those experiencing domestic violence – and as the world changes before our eyes, we’re doing everything we can to meet the increased demand.
How common is domestic violence in Australia?
Australia was experiencing a domestic violence crisis long before COVID-19 arrived on our shores, as the following statistics illustrate:
- On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner
- Almost 10 women a day are hospitalised for assault injuries perpetrated by a spouse or domestic partner
- 1 in 4 Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner since age 15
How is COVID-19 impacting the cycle of domestic violence?
Thanks to lockdown, victims of domestic violence are more isolated from their support networks and communities, likely even their places of work. Abusers can more easily monitor and control their victims’ movements, even restricting their access to food or online communication channels. The respite an 8-hour workday provided is gone.
It’s unlikely to be a short-term crisis either, with experts warning the pandemic could amplify the risks women face from abusers for years after the lockdown ends. As restrictions ease, support workers will experience surges in demand for services from those unable to safely reach out while trapped at home with their abusers.
These increased threats are further complicated by recent job loss and financial hardship. “We know that men who perceive their role as one of dominance in their household, or feel entitled to wield control over their partner, are likely to respond to job loss or heightened financial insecurity by deciding to increase their abusive behaviour,” said Julie Oberin, Chair of WESNET, the Women’s Services Network.
However, victims may experience an additional problem. “For women experiencing abuse who have just lost their jobs, that financial insecurity might be the final straw that makes it impossible to escape,” explained Susie Smith, Co-Chair of Embolden, South Australia’s peak body of domestic, family and sexual violence services.
Are domestic violence statistics rising under COVID-19 isolation?
It’s important to note that COVID-19 isn’t causing one-off incidents of domestic violence in homes where it has never occurred before – but that existing abusers are attacking their victims more often.
And, thanks to abusers watching their every movement, victims are unable to call for help. For example, South Australian women’s services providers have reported significantly reduced calls for help since restrictions began in late March, contrasting with online searches of ‘women and domestic violence’ increasing by 67% (in SA). Globally, Google has reported seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help in the past five years with an increase of 75%.
In New South Wales, new figures from the state government's Victims Services program reveal the number of domestic violence victims seeking urgent assistance has increased by 10%. Numbers of both male and female victims turning to front line services have increased, with the greatest spikes in Central Sydney, St George, Orange, Wagga Wagga and Newcastle.
Traditional data gathering has been impacted like everything else, and we may not fully comprehend the extent of the increase in 2020.
How is the Australian government increasing help and support?
On 29 March the federal government unveiled an initial $150 million to support Australians experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence due to the fallout from coronavirus.
The funding will boost programs under the National Plan to reduce Violence against Women and their Children including 1800RESPECT (national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling service); Mensline Australia (national counselling service for men affected by or considering using violence); and the Trafficked People Program (supports victims of human trafficking, forced marriage, slavery and slavery-like practices).
“This funding is badly needed and very welcome. We are heartened that the federal government has finally started to act on the expert advice and evidence from here and around the world – that this pandemic is increasing violence against women and their children and that we need to act urgently to increase support,” said Australian Women Against Violence Alliance Program Manager Dr Merrindahl Andrew.
“More funding is still needed in key areas… For women’s safety, during this time we also need massive, urgent investment in crisis accommodation, specialist outreach and case management services so women can be supported to develop safety plans and set up safe living situations for themselves and their children.”
The Sisters of Charity Foundation is working to help victims of domestic violence
Our Community Grants program helps fund vital community projects and programs that help those experiencing domestic violence escape unsafe situations and start a new life.
This year we’ve already provided funds to several amazing organisations that support women and children impacted by domestic violence; such as Moving Forward DFV; The Generous and The Grateful; The Sanctuary Women, Children and Pets’ Refuge; and The Eve Project Ltd.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, we know that many small organisations working in the domestic violence space will be facing unprecedented demand for their services – without the resources they need. The Sisters of Charity Foundation is working to get desperately needed funds to the front lines as fast as possible.
But we can’t do it without your help. Please donate now to our Winter Appeal – we’ve never needed your support more.
How we help
Each year we’re able to make a difference to thousands of people across the country with funds generously donated by compassionate Australians. We support initiatives that focus on benefiting the disadvantaged, marginalised and socially isolated people in our community.