- Almost 60 per cent of practitioners said the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the frequency of violence against women.
- Half of respondents said the severity of violence had increased.
- The number of first-time family violence reports had gone up for 42 per cent of practitioners surveyed.
- Practitioners themselves were struggling working from home, which was “wreaking havoc” on their boundaries and mental health.
Family violence workers are also reporting new forms of violence, including perpetrators demanding that women wash their hands and body excessively, to the point that they bled, and spreading rumours that victims had COVID-19 so no one would come near them.
Practitioners also reported perpetrators were not letting women out of their homes, “to protect them” from coronavirus, and were using the restrictions as an excuse to stay with ex-partners.
Perpetrators were also monitoring internet use and mobile phones more, forcing family violence workers to come up with stealth methods to combat this.
Women have used doctor and Centrelink appointments to meet workers face to face, and the services have come up with code words to use in text and on the phone.
Some agencies have also used encrypted video call services that do not require downloading apps to phones.
Even with the innovation, practitioners – all of whom were de-identified before the study was released – were worried about what they were not seeing.
“I think women are staying home and not seeking help,” one practitioner said.
Another said: “We are deeply concerned for the women who are unable to contact us at the moment … women have been struggling without face-to-face support at police stations and courts.”
Practitioners said it had also been a struggle working from home and away from colleagues.
“Having this work in my bedroom, my safe space, has been frankly awful and has wreaked havoc on my work-life balance and self-care routines,” one said.
Though the state and federal governments have poured more money into services and short-term accommodation, the report stated there was an urgent need to address the safe housing shortage.
“This research highlights the importance of ensuring that all services supporting women experiencing family violence are adequately resourced and funded as we move into the next phases of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said researcher and director of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Centre, Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon.
“We need to make sure this issue stays front of mind. So much has changed, but family violence being a key risk to the safety and wellbeing of Victorian women and children, it was before COVID, it was during COVID and it will be even more so after COVID.”
The United Nations Population Fund has predicted that for every three months lockdowns continue, an additional 15 million cases of domestic violence will occur worldwide.
For assistance, call Safe Steps on 1800 015 188, national domestic violence helpline1800 RESPECT or the Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491. In case of emergency, call 000.
Tammy Mills is the legal affairs reporter for The Age.