The ‘shadow pandemic of violence’ during NSW lockdown

The ‘shadow pandemic of violence’ during NSW lockdown

Demand for domestic violence services has increased during the latest Covid-19 lockdown in New South Wales, with providers saying they have received fifty percent more calls from women with children seeking support, as well as more men calling for help, seeking support to stop themselves from harming their own family.

One such provider, the Zen Tea Lounge, which ordinarily provides a safe space for survivors of domestic violence by way of a cafe and wellbeing centre, and by providing women with access to shelter, legal and financial support, has had to close its doors. Lockdown restrictions have meant that there just isn’t enough foot traffic to sustain business. 

The lockdown has also meant that the service needs to rely exclusively on online services or phone calls, which, according to volunteers at the service, are never as good.

 “Most of these women are very isolated, they don’t trust anyone and don’t talk to anyone.”

Australian Institute of Criminology research regarding the prevalence of domestic violence among women during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns found that there were a number of factors that contributed to the prevalence and severity of domestic violence during the Covid-19 pandemic, including:

  • victims and offenders spending more time together;
  • increased social isolation and decreased social movement, which may restrict avenues for women to seek help;
  • increased situational stressors associated with domestic violence;
  • offenders feeling out of control due to situational factors and using violence and abuse as a means of creating a sense of control; and
  • increased alcohol consumption among domestic violence perpetrators.

The study noted that the opportunities for women to contact and engage with domestic violence services or the police were constrained because of the restriction on social movement during the lockdown last year.

Rachel Sandford, a migrant domestic violence worker at SydWest Multicultural Services, agrees, with her own experience being that it is much more challenging to meet face to face with women during a lockdown in order to assess their support needs.

“[Before the lockdown] I would meet women in supermarkets, in coffee shops … but now we can’t, with restrictions,” she said.

“If their phones were being tracked or they were being monitored, these were legitimate places they could say… and I could give them information about what services were available, what their options are.

“...If we continue in lockdown, we’re likely to have a lot of victims who aren’t going to come forward, they’re going to be scared they’ll be in trouble for breaching orders.”

A further study conducted by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Centre for Justice surveyed participants (both individuals and domestic violence agencies) about domestic violence between early June and the end of August last year, and found similar results. 

“Most service providers saw a surge in demand, and nearly half said their clients reported an increase in controlling behaviours.

"We can certainly say that there was a shadow pandemic in Australia in domestic family violence," Kerry Carrington from QUT said.

The full effect of lockdowns on the mental health and wellbeing of citizens is yet to be fully realised.

We urge governments at all levels to focus their efforts not just on measures to stop the coronavirus, but also on providing support and assistance to women and children who find themselves subjected to increased domestic violence as a result of these lockdowns. We ignore this “shadow pandemic” of violence at our peril.