Lockdown hiding domestic violence stats

The full extent of the rise in domestic violence during the coronavirus won't be known for months.
The full extent of the rise in domestic violence during the coronavirus won't be known for months.

There's a deeply concerning consensus among anti-domestic violence advocates that coronavirus lockdown measures are cloaking rapidly escalating abuse in family homes across the country.

Job losses, financial hardship, isolation, working from home and cabin fever are among the stresses that are confronting couples, many for the first time, brought on by COVID-19.

Not to mention the added pressure of meeting the constant needs of young children while in lockdown.

The full extent of the rise in domestic violence will not be fully known for months, but experts agree the final figures will not be easy reading.

It's expected that once lockdown measures are lifted and some normality returns to life with people even just heading back to to work, DV reporting will peak, says Griffith University associate professor Jennifer Boddy.

"If we have everyone in the one household being required to isolate, victims of violence can't reach out without their presence being missed," Ms Boddy, a senior lecturer in Social Work, said.

"It's when they can get away from their partner they can get help and we are potentially a long, long way from that."

Just last Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an initial $150 million for domestic, family and sexual violence support due to the fallout from coronavirus.

Google has noted a 75 per cent increase, year-on-year, in searches for related to domestic violence and domestic violence hotlines.

The government funding can't flow through soon enough, says Domestic Violence New South Wales (DNVSW) co-ordinator Renata Field.

The peak body, which represents more than 60 services across the state, has received differing responses from its services, from a zero increase to 40 per cent, and that in itself was alarming.

"Some are saying it's similar (to usual figures) and that's very concerning because it may mean people cannot reach out for help," Ms Field said.

She said they wanted more resources poured into assisting victims once measures are lifted and the true impact of lockdown and isolation is known.

"We know some people won't be able to reach out for help until it's safe for them physically walk into services," Ms Field said.

In the aftermath of the 2009 Victorian bushfires it became apparent that there was an escalation in domestic violence from men who had shown no signs of ever being aggressive towards their partner, Ms Boddy said.

While those prone to inflicting domestic violence became even more aggressive.

"I hate to say but some perpetrators of violence will use these measures to further isolate the victim and inflict more abuse," Ms Boddy said.

"We saw some research that came out of the 2009 Victorian bushfires where women described experiencing violence after the fires that they had never experienced before.

"It's possible the stress of the situation means some men will use violence when they have not done previously."

Besides there being assistance and protection for victims, there are services for men - who find themselves in an aggressive frame of mind - to reach out to.

Men's Referral Service (MRS), which has an around the clock helpline among other services, will be pitching for a portion of the $150 million in funding to assist and reduce domestic violence.

The service had a 25 per cent increase in calls after Hannah Baxter and her three children were killed in February and that trend is likely to continue because of the coronavirus crisis, says CEO Jacqui Watt.

"I don't know if we have even seen the tip of the iceberg," Ms Watt said.

"We think women's services will have an increase, and so will we, and want to work together with them as much as we can and let people know there is someone at the end of the phone they can talk to.

"We work on the basis no one wants to be a violent partner or violent parent and we are trained to help people understand that their actions are having an enormous impact on people."

NSW Domestic Violence (1800 65 64 63)

Men's Referral Service (1300 766 491) for men, or friends and family of men using violenceI

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

Lifeline 13 11 14

beyondblue 1300 22 4636

Australian Associated Press