Domestic violence experts warn that ongoing enforced isolation is producing a “powder-keg” situation for at-risk Australian women.
Some are concerned that vulnerable women, living with controlling abusers who monitor their phones and electronic devices, will be unable to seek help.
“One of our concerns is making sure that women who feel unsafe or who are experiencing violence or starting to notice concerning, coercive, controlling or unsafe behaviours has the ability to reach out to get support,” says Helen Silvia, the CEO of the Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre (WAGEC) in Sydney’s Redfern.
“It’s a two-fold thing: Do they have access to a device? And is it safe for them to use it? Is it being monitored? Is there someone constantly looking over their shoulder?”
Around the world, activists are raising the alarm after a surge in domestic violence cases. As countries go into lockdown, self-isolation is putting women everywhere into enforced proximity to their abuser.
In Britain over the past week at least eight women have been killed – with another four cases suspected. This represents a huge increase on the two deaths per week at this time last year.
It has also been widely reported that domestic violence rates skyrocketed in China after Covid-19 quarantine measures were introduced. Activists in the US are also warning that men are using Covid-19 to further control and abuse their partners.
In Australia, Silvia says that as lockdown stretches on – with Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggesting that it may last six months – and families face more stress with children at home from school and financial pressures, the risk of violence will likely increase.
“We know that things like job loss and alcohol abuse are not the causes of violence, but those additional external pressure and behaviours can exacerbate the situation.”
Meanwhile, Silvia says that although “it is really important that we close down non-essential gatherings and shopping centres”, the quarantine-like measures have dramatically reduced support systems for at-risk women.
Like many frontline women’s services, WAGEC has adapted its drop-in centre to appointment-only due to health guidelines, and Silvia is concerned that women may not be able to access the help they need – especially if they don’t have an existing relationship with service providers. “Where we can allocate safe phones to women, we will,” she says.
Are you or someone you know experiencing domestic violence? In an emergency called 000. Otherwise, reach out to helplines 1800 RESPECT at 1800 737 732 orthe DOMESTIC VIOLENCE LINE at 1800 656 463.