• Aboriginal women have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, according to a new report from Women's Safety NSW. (NITV News/ Women's Safety NSW.)Source: NITV News/ Women's Safety NSW.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander domestic violence workers say Indigenous women have experienced more domestic violence during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Keira Jenkins

26 Jun 2020 - 5:13 PM  UPDATED 26 Jun 2020 - 5:13 PM

Indigenous women have faced increasing domestic violence because of COVID-19 restrictions, according to a new report by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander domestic and family violence workers.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are up to five times more likely to experience domestic and family violence than non-Indigenous women. That problem has been exacerbated by COVID-19, says Women's Safety NSW's Spokesperson for Indigenous Women Ash Johnstone.

"When you already have such high rates being the kind of baseline, any extra tension and in this case it's COVID, it's just going to affect it even more," she told NITV News.

"If we're already five times more likely to experience DV or to be killed due to domestic violence, adding in something like coronavirus is just going to antagonise that even more so."

Johnstone was one of 16 Aboriginal domestic and family violence specialists surveyed for the report, distributed by Women's Safety NSW. 

From the outset of the pandemic, domestic violence services have warned of an increase of domestic and family violence during coronavirus restrictions. Ms Johnstone, who is also an Aboriginal Domestic and Family Violence Specialist with the Illawarra Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, said those fears have now rung true.

"I've had multiple clients disclose to me that COVID has directly led to them being in an unsafe environment," she said. 

"Personally, I've had women talk about increased pressure at work or stress, abusive partners manipulating the situation so they're more isolated than they were before.

"When you're trapped at home 24/7 with an abusive partner at what point can you even seek help? You've got someone there around the clock, watching your every move.

"It's been a really scary time for a lot of women."

Tracey Turner, who is an Aboriginal Domestic and Family Violence Specialist with the Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, said the number of women referred to her service has risen.

"Women are faced with the difficult circumstance where they can't just leave and visit an Aunty or a sister. They don't have the ability to escape that person at home," she said.

Ms Turner said COVID-19 had presented new challenges for women experiencing domestic and family violence, and for the workers who support them.

"Women are faced with this challenge of: 'do I stay home and deal with this perpetrator or leave and breach restrictions and face COVID?'," she said.

"It's a really difficult situation of trying to manage the abuse. Often families are walking on eggshells and for us it's difficult to support these women in ways we usually do face to face when we're working from home.

"Sometimes it's difficult to even get in contact with women."

Ms Johnstone said Indigenous women are resilient, but domestic violence services need to be better resourced to support the community, particularly in high-stress times like the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is undeniable that Aboriginal women are really resilient with the history of everything that's happened in our society and for so long," she said.

"You can just see that Aboriginal women are so strong but it would be amazing to have more government support to provide everything we need to do our job 100% and to do it to the best of what our clients need."

Ms Turner agreed, saying governments should listen to Indigenous workers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to find out what works best.

"We need more funding in the domestic violence sector, more Aboriginal workers and more appropriate services to support Aboriginal women," she said.

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