Support for phone and online domestic violence support is welcomed, but how realistic is it for women to access these services when they’re not safely able to access them at home? The Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Linda Burney asks.
Australia should follow France’s example and boost family violence crisis accommodation by utilising hotel and other tourism accommodation experiencing record low occupancy rates.
As states and territories restrict movement and urge people to stay home to stem the spread of the coronavirus, we are reminded that home is not a safe place for everyone.
Domestic violence presented a national crisis before COVID-19. But as the nation stays home to reduce the spread of COVID-19, family violence support and advocacy groups are bracing for a spike in domestic violence cases over the coming months, as people are told to stay at home and self-isolate.
Experience from overseas shows that prolonged self-isolation, as well as anxieties about financial circumstances, will heighten the risk of violence against women and children.
The risk for those already living with domestic violence will only increase as they are confined to their homes.
When China went into COVID-19 lockdown, domestic violence reports to the police increased three-fold.
In Australia, frontline service providers are already reporting that the demand for services is increasing as abusers use the pandemic to escalate their violence and people experiencing abuse find their usual support options cut off.
Further adding to the growing problem for the sector is the financial impact caused by social distancing measures.
Many volunteers are of an age that places them at a higher risk of contracting coronavirus and donations have dried up due to rapidly changing economic conditions.
While the government’s recent announcement of $150 million for domestic violence support services is welcomed, the funding is primarily targeted at phone and online counselling and support.
Many in the sector have expressed their concern that women and children who are at home during self-isolation will have limited opportunity to use these services.
Australia should look at what other countries are doing nationally to help women and children be safe during this stage of the pandemic and the wide-scale lockdown and job losses.
The French government, just one week after moving to a nationwide lockdown, put in place a strategy for multiplying the points of contact for women needing help, using pop-up support centres and empty hotels.
The pop-up support centres are located in stores across the country so women can drop in for help while getting groceries and medicines.
Up to 20,000 hotel nights will be paid for by the French government so that victims can escape abusive partners.
And, in a separate move, the French government have also enabled women to report domestic abuse at their local pharmacies, safe places’ if ringing from home is not possible.
These initiatives were launched across the country after reports of domestic abuse to police increased sharply by 36% in Paris and 32% elsewhere in France once restricted movement came into force.
Unlocking otherwise under-utilised tourist accommodation during this period of economic hibernation is a practical option for women for whom home isn’t always safe.