Many people around the world are experiencing high levels of stress in response to the spread of Covid-19 and increased mental health complaints have been predicted. Anxiety stems from several sources including uncertainty surrounding government requirements, health fears, the loss of employment, and prolonged isolation or lockdown.
Public health preventativeive measures are being linked to a corresponding surge in domestic violence. Lockdown and isolation strains relationships already characterised by violence and coercive behaviour. Domestic violence is “rooted in power and control”. Individuals who feel out of control may take that out on those around them. Victims may be trapped with their abusers to suffer physical violence or be subject to financial and emotional control which isolates them from the support of friends, family and organisations. Many people respond to acute stress by drinking alcohol. Liquor stores remain open and compared with the same time last year bank data suggests that recent sales have increased 86 per cent. Alcohol is a known factor which increases the risk of abuse occurring and its severity.
Australian reporting varies between spikes of violence and some domestic violence workers describing an “uneasy quiet” attributed to increased difficulties in victims accessing support. Domestic violence workers in Victoria have reported that in some cases they cannot reach existing clients or if they do get through via phone they cannot speak openly. A Women’s Safety NSW survey released March 2020 found that 15 per cent of support workers are reporting first time violence and almost 50 per cent are reporting escalating violence. In NSW, Police have reportedly instructed officers to anticipate being diverted from road safety to conducting welfare checks. In Melbourne, referrals from police to a support organisation have almost doubled in the week since the introduction of lockdown measures.
There are American reports that men have threatened to lock women out of the house so that they can get sick or withholding financial resources or medical assistance. In addition, the requirement to stay home and fear of contracting the virus is preventing victims of physical violence from seeking medical attention. Domestic abuse reports have tripled in China; increased by 50 per cent in Brazil; and, are 30 per cent higher in France. A British report states that in two weeks of lockdown the number of women killed by men has doubled from the national trend.
The imposed lockdown increases the opportunities for domestic abuse whilst at the same time removing avenues for support. In Queensland, the Centre Against Domestic Violence has cancelled all face-to-face meetings and support must now be provided exclusively by phone or email. Italian reports suggest that calls have almost stopped entirely whilst texts and emails have increased exponentially. There are fewer resources available due to economic pressures, reduced availability of volunteers and cancellation of funding and fundraising events. Shelters may be overcrowded or may not allow access due to the risk of infection.
These are strange times and the Australian government response to the spread of Covid-19 has required many organisations to make changes to the ways they interact. Legal services are essential services and East Coast Law will continue to provide quality support when needed. Telephone appointments and email contact can be made in normal business hours and appropriate health measures have been implemented for urgent face-to-face requirements.
Should you require any assistance or need advice from East Coast Law you may contact our Family Lawyers Vicki Andrews, Ashleigh Lumby or Amelia Brayley on 1300 327 826