By Margie Robinson – Research Officer at the WA Centre for Rural Health specialising in primary prevention of family violence.

As we are all required to retreat to the safety of our homes to combat the spread of COVID-19, some women are keenly aware that their home is not the safest place for them to be and others are discovering this for the first time.

Family and domestic violence (FDV) continues to be one of the biggest health issues for women and children in WA. The Women’s Report Card shows 20.2% of women reported having experienced physical violence from a partner since the age of 15, with 2.5% of women experiencing physical violence from a partner in the last 12 months. Unfortunately women living in RRR areas already experience higher rates of family violence than those in metropolitan areas; hospital data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that living in remote or very remote areas are a staggering 24 times more likely to be hospitalised for domestic violence than people in major cities.

Family violence involves a range of behaviours that are intended to cause fear and exert control over an intimate partner or other family member. It doesn’t only refer to physical violence but also includes non-physical forms of violence such as psychological or emotional, financial, spiritual and legal violence.

Professor Sandra Thompson from the WA Centre for Rural Health says “This is a stressful time for everyone. Unfortunately, mandated public social distancing measures due to COVID19 can increase family violence in the private space, through intensifying opportunities for surveillance and social isolation (preventing people from seeing family and friends) which are common coercive control tactics. This makes it even harder for victim-survivors to access the support that they need. It is important that people who are experiencing family violence know that support services continue to operate and there is help available”

Current research from Women’s Safety NSW is showing not only an increase in the number of people seeking support for FV since social distancing measures have been put in place, but also an increase in people reporting violence occurring for the first time and reports of abuse specifically related to COVID-19.

The Women’s Council of WA has information about how people that use family violence may use COVID-19 to further control their victims including: withholding necessities such as food, hand sanitiser or disinfectants; providing misinformation about the pandemic to frighten and control them; intensifying monitoring of phones and other devices; increasing criticism of parenting skills; and using the pandemic as an excuse to justify their use of violence.

Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence Minister, Simone McGurk said in a recent media release ‘We know that people experiencing family and domestic violence are at increased risk when they are isolated from family and the community, and are unable to leave or put other protective measures in place”. Recognising that some people are at increased risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, the WA Government is moving to bring into force important laws to protect victims of family and domestic violence by amending a number of laws including enabling restraining order applications to be lodged online.

The Federal Government has increased funding to FV support services during COVID-19 including the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Counselling Service 1800Respect and other community based services in response to the increase in demand.

It is essential that people experiencing abuse know it is not their fault, and they are not alone. Support services are still available during pandemic.

If you are experiencing FV or are concerned about someone who is, the following helplines can provide advice over the phone and refer you to your local service provider.

  • Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline – 1800 007 339
  • Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline – 1800 000 599
  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) is the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service and also has a web chat counselling service and a very informative website.
  • Local police can provide assistance and referral to local services.
  • Always Call 000 if you are in immediate danger

If you are worried that someone you know might be experiencing FV, the Domestic Violence Resource Centre(7) has some great information on how to safely support your friends, family or neighbours. 1800Respect also provides advice over the phone about how to best support someone that has told you they are experience FV or you are concerned about.

About WACRH: The WA Centre for Rural Health of the University of Western Australia is one of 16 University Departments of Rural Health in Australia. The main office is based in Geraldton in the Midwest of Western Australia, with a satellite office based in Karratha in the Pilbara. It aims to improve rural, remote and Aboriginal health through research, education, student support and community service activities. For more information, visit: www.wacrh.uwa.edu.au.

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