Domestic Violence is a Lot like Coronavirus — except victims have nowhere to hide.
“As self-isolation expands, domestic violence victims at heightened risk,” says Australian survivor and domestic violence speaker Jas Rawlinson.
‘Covid-19.’ ‘Social distancing.’ ‘Self-isolation…’
These are the words that have taken over our vocabulary in just a matter of weeks.
In some ways, it’s hard to pinpoint just what it is about the coronavirus that is most frightening. Is it the physical effects we most fear? Or is it the fact that it’s a silent, invisible epidemic; something that has the potential to kill us before we even realise what it is?
Regardless, it’s evident that many Australians have slipped into mass panic (the toilet paper induced fistfights between flanny-wearing ‘Strayans’ would tell us that much!). But as we are forced further into social isolation, it’s not a lack of toilet paper or hysterical shoppers I fear most — it’s the impact that this social isolation is going to have on our communities. In particular, domestic violence victims.
While coronavirus and domestic violence are two issues that wouldn’t usually exist in the same sentence, both have more in common than people may realise.
Just like coronavirus, domestic violence is an insidious, invisible scourge; one that is killing and infecting members of our society on a daily basis.
It’s a ‘social and cultural virus’ that is taking the lives of men, women and children — and in particular, one woman every week.
While victims of Covid19 and those at risk can seek solace in their homes, victims of domestic violence cannot. Because right now, the risk of fatality is greater within their own four walls than in public.
As a survivor of domestic violence who now mentors many other DV survivors, as well as the founder of Brisbane’s first Domestic Violence Memorial, I am worried about how greatly DV will spike over the weeks and months to come as more people are forced into isolation.
What will happen to the victims whose abusive partners are forced to work from home, giving them no reprieve from daily terror?
How many abusers will take advantage of their partner’s loss of income or work, using it as another way to increase control?
What happens when victims who have been planning their escape — and require national or international travel to do so — are grounded; forced to stay inside and unable to get to family or friends who could provide safety?
Indeed, there is no doubt that social isolation is going to create a spike in abuse if victims cannot access services.
It’s a concern that is shared by many within the domestic violence service space, including NSW Specialist Domestic Violence Program Manager, Karen McKenzie.
In the last week alone, Ms McKenzie, who works at Carrie’s Place Domestic Violence and Homelessness Services, says in the first few days of isolation measures there was a noticeable reduction in calls to their service; potentially due to a ‘perception that emergency and domestic violence services are not able to respond.’
The Maitland, NSW service provider is also concerned as to how the spread of coronavirus will financially impact domestic violence victims, leaving many unable to access adequate health and mental wellbeing support, Centrelink financial assistance, or bulk supplies for themselves and their children.
“Women with low incomes and those experiencing financial abuse will not have the capacity to purchase items in bulk for isolation periods or access supplies when needed,” she says. “And as demand for Centrelink services increases, we worry victims will not be able to access emergency Centrelink payments.”
Likewise, many survivors of domestic violence have also voiced fears for how the coronavirus pandemic will impact globally on current victims.
“I’m certain it will trigger more tragedies to occur in this nation,” shared Angela, a Victorian survivor of almost two decades of abuse.
“If this Covid-19 virus had occurred when I was in an abusive relationship, it would have made the nightmare [of abuse] much longer and harder,” she admits.
“Isolation is such an awful and depressing place to be in, and social connection is so important…just to feel cared for and cared about.”
Maril, a survivor from the United States, agrees. A mother of two, Maril says that social connection was imperative to her journey out of domestic violence. She was eight months pregnant with her second child when she took a job at her local Starbucks in a desperate attempt to escape from the abuse in her home.
It is a decision, she says, that not only saved her sanity but her life.
“I can definitively say had it not been for my job and the people I met there — who took notice when I stopped showing up, and who knew my situation — I might have been dead by now.”
“One night my ex held a loaded gun on me and our newborn, and it was two days later that my work colleague showed up saying she missed me at work,” says the survivor.
“She regularly stood up for me in front of my partner, and when I made a 6-month plan to leave, she came over every day in between shifts to help me pack and hide the evidence.”
Maril says she ‘can’t imagine’ what it will be like for female victims whose abusive partners will no longer have a job to ‘take them out of the house for a few hours.’
“A lot of women who had plans may be feeling hopeless. I can’t imagine feeling suffocated in my own house with anxiety and depression, and getting no relief from their presence,” she says.
It was only weeks ago that the nation collectively grieved over the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children, vowing to not let this issue slide from public and Government discussion. Yet, as we all know so well, it takes no time at all for society to quickly forget; to be swept up in the latest disaster.
Right now we are in the midst of a global pandemic, and one that needs immediate attention. However, it is also true that at this moment, victims are at a greater risk than ever of slipping through the cracks.
Over the past week, Ms McKenzie says that referral numbers have begun to increase and Carrie’s Place are expecting these figures and incidents to continue increasing as do self-isolation measures.
She says it’s important for victims to know that emergency services, including her own, are still operating and taking all necessary precautions and action necessary in order to continue providing support.
“Carrie’s Place will need to have immunocompromised staff members working from home but we anticipate the impact will be minimal in regards to response to women reaching out for assistance,” she says.
“We will continue to do what we do best; advocacy and problem solving to overcome the barriers for them to achieve safety.”
Her service is also liaising with peak and funding bodies to urge the Government to ‘extend temporary accommodation periods and options,’ so that women who cannot access refuges are able to self-isolate and seek safety in alternative accommodation.
“Many women fleeing violence will not have an option to stay with family or friends, and we’re also aware that communal living situations and refuges are not safe for all families; particularly, those with immunocompromised members.
“We will be taking protective measures to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19 by conducting screening processes and having additional infection control measures in place, however our Specialist Homelessness Services will continue to operate,” says Ms McKenzie.
As a survivor myself, my heart grieves for those who are not only facing the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, but also, what it will mean for their escape from domestic violence.
Now more than ever, Australians need to come together — even if it cannot be in person — to ensure that victims do not fall through the cracks.
We must come together to make sure that we check on our neighbours, and do all we can to help them get in touch with someone who can help.
And most importantly, if you are someone who is currently experiencing domestic or family violence, I want you to know this: You are not alone. Please reach out, there is someone waiting to help.
Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please contact 1800 RESPECT on www.1800respect.org.au/ or 1800 737 732.
JAS RAWLINSON is an Australian writing coach, mental health speaker, and bestselling author who specialises in empowering survivors of trauma to transform their adversities into powerful memoirs. If you’re looking for a break from all the online news negativity, grab a copy of her best-selling book series ‘Reasons to Live:One More Day, Every Day.’