How common is domestic violence in Australia?
Australia was experiencing a domestic violence crisis long before COVID-19 arrived on our shores, as the following statistics illustrate:
- On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner
- Almost 10 women a day are hospitalised for assault injuries perpetrated by a spouse or domestic partner
- 1 in 4 Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner since age 15
How did COVID-19 impact the cycle of domestic violence?
During lockdown, victims of domestic violence were more isolated from their support networks and communities, likely even their places of work. Abusers could more easily monitor and control their victims’ movements, even restricting their access to food or online communication channels. The respite an 8-hour workday provided vanished.
Experts have warned the pandemic could amplify the risks women face from abusers for years after the lockdown ends. As restrictions ease, support workers experience surges in demand for services from those unable to safely reach out while trapped at home with their abusers.
These increased threats are further complicated by recent job loss and financial hardship. “We know that men who perceive their role as one of dominance in their household, or feel entitled to wield control over their partner, are likely to respond to job loss or heightened financial insecurity by deciding to increase their abusive behaviour,” said Julie Oberin, Chair of WESNET, the Women’s Services Network.
However, victims may experience an additional problem. “For women experiencing abuse who have just lost their jobs, that financial insecurity might be the final straw that makes it impossible to escape,” explained Susie Smith, Co-Chair of Embolden, South Australia’s peak body of domestic, family and sexual violence services.
Are domestic violence statistics rising under COVID-19 isolation?
It’s important to note that COVID-19 didn’t cause one-off incidents of domestic violence in homes where it never occurred before – but that existing abusers attacked their victims more often.
Due to abusers watching their every movement, victims were unable to call for help. For example, South Australian women’s services providers reported significantly reduced calls for help since restrictions began in late March 2020, contrasting with online searches of ‘women and domestic violence’ increasing by 67% (in SA). Globally, Google reported seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help in the past five years with an increase of 75%.
In New South Wales, figures from the state government’s Victims Services program revealed the number of domestic violence victims seeking urgent assistance increased by 10%. Numbers of both male and female victims turning to front line services increased, with the greatest spikes in Central Sydney, St George, Orange, Wagga Wagga and Newcastle.
How is the Australian government increasing help and support?
On 29 March 2020 the federal government unveiled an initial $150 million to support Australians experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence due to the fallout from coronavirus.
The funding will boost programs under the National Plan to reduce Violence against Women and their Children including 1800RESPECT (national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling service); Mensline Australia (national counselling service for men affected by or considering using violence); and the Trafficked People Program (supports victims of human trafficking, forced marriage, slavery and slavery-like practices).
In October 2021 the NSW Government committed $484.3 million over four years to help women and children escaping domestic abuse with housing and specialist services. It includes funding for 75 extra women’s refuges, and approximately 200 sustainable, social and affordable housing dwellings.
How does the Sisters of Charity Foundation help victims of domestic violence?
Our Community Grants program helps fund vital community projects and programs that help those experiencing domestic violence escape unsafe situations and start a new life.
In the 2020/21 financial year we provided $60,000 in grants to domestic violence organisations Hearts of Purple, the LIVEfree Project, The Haven: Nepean Women’s Shelter, House to Grow, You Matter, and Moving Forward DFV Case Management Services.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, we know that many small organisations working in the domestic violence space will be facing unprecedented demand for their services – without the resources they need. The Sisters of Charity Foundation is working to get desperately needed funds to the front lines as fast as possible.
But we can’t do it without your help. Please donate now – we’ve never needed your support more.
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