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Coronavirus lockdown: Domestic violence complaints in Australia rise even as reports by phone fall

Picture for representational purposes only. Source: PA Archive

Women's rights activists and support services across Australia have registered an increase in the number of domestic violence cases during the coronavirus lockdown. The federal and state and governments have set aside extra funding to address this challenge.

New data released by women's support services and rights activists show that due to the COVID-19 shut down in Australia, women in abusive relationships are living with their abusers in greater proximity than before. 


Highlights

  • Women are hesitant to reporting domestic violence over the phone during coronavirus lockdown
  • In NSW, domestic violence-related Google searches show 75% increase since first reported coronavirus cases
  • Federal government has earmarked an extra $150 million to support domestic violence victims

The federal government has set aside an extra $150 million to address this issue, which has seen an alarming increase in recent weeks. This is in addition to their services already being provided to support victims of family violence.

75% increase in Google searches on domestic violence in NSW

A recent survey conducted by Women's Safety NSW, an advocacy group that works to address domestic violence issues in New South Wales, found that frontline services have seen a 40 per cent increase in the number of cases since the coronavirus lockdown began.

Last month, the state's Attorney General and Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence Mark Speakman said that there had been an increase of 75 per cent in the number of Google searches related to domestic violence during the lockdown. 

The state government has earmarked an extra $34 million to fund support services for victims of domestic violence.

Rise in new cases involving migrant women in SA

Women Support Services South Australia (WSSSA) data for February-March 2020 highlights an extra layer in this social trend as it shows a significant increase in the number of cases reported by the state’s migrant women.

Alarmed by this, Saru Rana, an activist from Adelaide who runs SHAMSHIR, a social service that works for women’s and child rights, has turned her personal mobile number into a hotline for those seeking help.

“WSSSA’s Migrant Women’s Support Program (MWSP) has registered 69 new cases from South Australia’s culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds between February and March this year. This alarmed me because usually that number is maximum 30-35 in two months. I then decided to make my personal phone number a hotline for women and children in domestic crisis during this lockdown,” says Ms Rana, who is also a school teacher and political activist.

Many victims, she says, cannot make calls because they fear being overheard by their abusive partners or are stopped from stepping out of the house.

“Alarmingly, calls on my phone for help have dropped sharply, and have been replaced by desperate text messages and emails, which are then deleted for the purpose of confidentiality,” adds Ms Rana.

Referring to the MWSP data, Ms Rana adds that five out of these 69 are of Indian background.

sr
Saru Rana has turned her mobile phone into a domestic violence hotline for SA's victims during the coronavirus lockdown.
Supplied

“People might question why ‘only five’ new domestic violence victims from Indian women alarm me. This number has been recorded within this two-month period, which is officially the lockdown period. These women have shown the courage to report while living with their perpetrators 24x7,” she explains, adding such cases can rise soon.

“Based on this data, we can expect an explosion in the number of such cases once the lockdown ends because then, more victims of domestic violence will relatively be at a safe distance from their perpetrators, which will give them the space to complain,” Ms Rana adds.

30% drop in phone calls from victims in Victoria

Over the past two weeks, Dr Manjula O'Connor, a Melbourne-based psychiatrist and influential activist against domestic violence, has noted a steep fall in the number of phone calls that she and other social support services in Victoria usually receive from domestic violence victims.

"A drop of 30 per cent has been reported in the number of calls from victims to 1800 RESPECT. I have also heard of an increase in calls by migrant women. People working as respondents at such services are worried that women may not be ringing them because they are at home with the perpetrator," Dr O'Connor says.

As chair of the Family Violence Psychiatry Network of the Royal Australian New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, she has a steady stream of patients who consult her for mental health issues.

Manjula O'Connor
Dr Manjula O'Connor expects the drop in phone calls during the coronavirus lockdown to bounce back.
SBS News

"Yesterday, I have had four patients cancel their telly consult who are usually very keen to consult me. Possibly, they are at home with the perpetrator. Anxiety during the coronavirus lockdown is quite high among women," views Dr O'Connor.

A possible explanation to the drop in the number of such calls, says Dr O'Connor, is that during the coronavirus lockdown, almost everyone is at home. 

"The neighbours are all home and the perpetrators might be concerned that they will hear the noise and might report it to the police. But it is temporary and sooner or later, the calls will bounce back," she reasons.

Many domestic violence refuges centres in Queensland are full

Jatinder Kaur, a Brisbane-based women's rights activist says that in the past month, she has observed "an increase in calls" related to domestic violence made to her directly or through the police and hospitals. 

"Two of them were high-risk cases with physical injuries and needed urgent emergency accommodation. I know that all domestic violence refuge centres were full in Queensalnd recently," Ms Kaur elaborated.

If you or someone you know is impacted by family violence or sexual assault, please call 1800 RESPECT ( 1800 737 7328) or call Mens' Referral Service on 1300 766 491. In an emergency, please call 000.

Listen to the podcast by clicking the player inside the picture at the top.

 

Coronavirus symptoms can range from mild illness to pneumonia, according to the Federal Government's website. Symptoms can include a fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath.

If you develop symptoms within 14 days of returning from overseas, you should call to seek medical attention.

If you don’t have symptoms but you have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, you should also call to seek medical attention.

If you believe you may need to get tested, call your doctor, don’t visit. Or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

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