In the face of a global pandemic, it is no surprise that things change. While the full impact of the outbreak is uncertain, we are adapting to minimise the impacts on our clients. In the latest addition to our coronavirus series we discuss how the coronavirus impacts family violence.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an overwhelming impact on the global population. However, one aspect that has not received as much attention is how the coronavirus impacts family violence. Until now.
Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has warned of a “horrifying global surge” in domestic violence during the crisis and “[urged] all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19.”
Mr Guterres’ statement on gender-based violence and COVID-19 of 5 April 2020 can be found here.
The impacts of coronavirus on family and domestic violence in Australia
Harrowing stories of abuse have surfaced in reports from social services agencies and media publications. Existing violent dynamics are amplified by isolation restrictions, where victims are confined at home with their abusers. New violent dynamics are emerging in this unprecedented time of financial pressure and heightened stress.
The risk is exacerbated where victims are disconnected from support networks and invaluable face-to-face services provided by social services workers are restricted.
In response and as part of a greater $1.1 billion support package, the Federal Government has announced an initial $150 million to support Australians experiencing domestic and family violence.
The legislative response to family violence during the pandemic
Swiftly, the Western Australian Parliament passed urgent legislative amendments last week that will enable the justice system to better respond to such challenges. These legislative changes to include:
- Improving access to Restraining Orders, including enabling Restraining Order applications to be lodged online;
- Creating a separate offence for breach of a Family Violence Restraining Order, increasing the penalty from $6,000 to $10,000 and extending the limitation period for prosecuting breach of restraining order offences to two years;
- Allowing the Family Court and Children’s Court to issue interim Restraining Orders on an ex-parte basis, in the same way the Magistrates Court is permitted to do so;
- Allowing Courts to impose a requirement that an offender be subject to electronic monitoring under Conditional Suspended Imprisonment Orders and Intensive Supervision Orders; and
- Permitting a Judicial Officer to include, as a home detention bail condition, a direction that an accused be subject to electronic monitoring.
The full media statement issued by the Government of Western Australia on 2 April 2020 can be found here.
So, what is family and domestic violence?
We have previously covered the ins and outs of family violence extensively. But it never hurts to revisit our understanding of this serious issue. In summary, family violence is a spectrum of destructive behaviour within the family and domestic setting. It can encompass any singular act, or combination of:
Physical violence: actual or threatened attacks on the victim’s physical safety, pets or possessions. Behaviour can be physically violent even if it does not result in physical harm;
Emotional violence: behaviour that does not recognise equal importance or validity in the victim’s feelings, experiences and choices. This type of violence is often difficult to identify as many emotionally abusive acts are not criminal offences;
Sexual violence: actual or threatened sexual contact with a victim, without consent. Although not a criminal offence, exploiting sexual contact with a victim is also considered to be sexual violence;
Social violence: behaviour that physically and socially isolates the victim from their family, friends and support networks. Over time, this behaviour undermines the victim’s sense of identity and independence; and
Economic violence: behaviour that is coercive or unreasonably controls the victim in a way that denies them financial freedom and independence.
Family and domestic violence does not discriminate. And it is an experience that transcends gender, ethnicity, religion, age and background. It is diverse and usually involves a pattern of various reinforcing behaviours, rather than singular incidents of abuse.
What can domestic and family violence look like during isolation?
All the aforementioned examples may take place in isolation. In many respects, isolation does not change domestic and family violence, it just exacerbates the conditions which underlie it.
However, there are now reports of abusers using the virus as a psychological and emotional weapon, a method to coerce and control victims. We have come across instances of abusers:
- convincing victims that they have the virus, and therefore can’t leave the house for permitted activities. (e.g. such as exercise and shopping for necessities.);
- threatening to invite infected visitors into the house, if the victim doesn’t comply with demands;
- intentionally transmitting the virus to victims (if infected); and
- deleting victims’ means of communication. This ranges from social media accounts, news apps, email and all other lines of communication to the outside world.
What to do if you are a victim of family and domestic violence
If you are in immediate danger, call 000. Your safety is the number one priority.
Seek professional crisis care help
A number of free crisis care and support services are available for people who are at risk of or are experiencing family or domestic violence. Most of these organisations are continuing to provide essential services as usual or have adapted their services to telephone or video link:
Seek legal advice about Restraining Orders
A Violence Restraining Order or Family Violence Restraining Order can be made by the Magistrates’ Court to protect you and your children from future violence or threats.
Talk it out
Leaving an abusive partner takes a lot of courage. If you can, talk your situation through with a trusted friend, family member, neighbour or colleague that you feel comfortable with and draw on them for strength.
Alternatively, a service such as Cottesloe Counselling can provide psychological care to victims of abuse and to work through next steps via telephone or video link.
Make a safety plan
Consider making a “safety plan” if you have reason to worry about your immediate safety due to violent behaviour (threatened or otherwise). Some issues to consider in making a safety plan include:
- You may need to leave in a hurry if things escalate, so make sure you keep important documents like passports, birth certificates, car registration, Medicare details and medical scripts in an accessible place.
- Remove some spare clothing, any personal items such as photographs and heirlooms that you would not want to leave behind and store them in a safe place outside of the home.
- Ensure you have some accessible money.
- Decide on where you are comfortable seeking refuge and discuss your intentions with that safe haven, whether it be a friend, family member, colleague, hotel or shelter – it is particularly important to do this during the pandemic.
- Discuss and review your safety plan with crisis care and support services counsellors.
Document the violence
Keep a record and write down the date, time and details of any violent or abusive incident. Keep this record in a safe place or with a friend or family member you trust.
Protect your technology
It is possible that your phone, computer, email, car use or other activities are being monitored. Spyware and keylogging programs are readily available and can trace your computer activity and searches without you knowing it.
If possible, use a safe computer to research and write any emails relating to the abuse or leaving. Ensure you update your mobile phone privacy settings, set new passwords and pin numbers, delete access to your location via “Find My Friends” type apps, and create new vague email addresses that are more difficult to hack.