Domestic abuse experts are warning that the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s safety are only just beginning to be felt in Australia.
As isolation restrictions begin to ease, the risks for women with abusive partners or family members will remain heightened for months and potentially years.
Expert body Australian Women Against Violence Alliance and campaign group Fair Agenda are advising that everything we know about the behaviour of abusers suggests the immediate and ongoing effects of the pandemic will lead to increase danger in homes. And as we transition into eased restrictions, we may see this danger compounding, further increasing safety risks for victim-survivors.
As we enter a recovery period, experts warn governments must prepare for escalating abuse in homes across Australia, as perpetrators may use violence as a response to a sudden loss of control they could exert during lock down.
Increases in surveillance tactics, harassment and threats from perpetrators are likely as travel restrictions are loosened.
A surge in contact with services from victim-survivors who had previously been unable to reach out is also expected. There will be an increasing demand for crisis accommodation and case management support, as many women will see an opportunity to escape from their abusers for the first time since restrictions started.
“We know abusers are obsessed with building power and control over their target, and that they
tend to escalate their abuse when that control is threatened,” says Renata Field, Domestic Violence NSW spokesperson. “It’s why victim-survivors are most at risk when they try to escape.”
Job losses and increased financial stress will see increased violence in households , while the same economic barriers will see women unable to leave.
Dr Merrindahl Andrew, from Australian Women Against Violence Alliance, says the pandemic is adding the kind of pressure, stressors and upheaval that history shows is likely to exacerbate the violence and control that abusers are using and put more women at risk.
‘We know abusers are obsessed with building power and control…and that they tend to escalate their abuse when that control is threatened. It’s why victim-survivors are most at risk when they try to escape’ – DVNSW talks to this media release from @FairAgenda @AWAVA_women https://t.co/zWKfr2y5Yo— DomesticViolenceNSW (@DV_NSW) May 8, 2020
Compounding risk factors will also see more people affected by violence for the first time.
Time is of the essence right now, and governments need to fund specialist women’s and family violence services to ensure everyone can access the service support they need for their safety.
It is also essential that the legal system makes the safety of victim-survivors and their children a priority. Those at particular risk, due to visa status and disability, need to be assisted to access support.