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Six things to consider in confronting family violence during lockdown

COVID-19 ISSUES ALERT

Keeping people at home to keep the community safe from COVID-19. That’s been the response from all levels of government to the current crisis, and it’s arguably the only rational response there is.

But for some Victorians, home is the least safe place they could be.

Anyone experiencing family violence is likely to be in greater danger at the moment. Victim-survivors are deprived of the visibility of regular social contact and the safety of any distance from their abusers – of workplaces, schools, doctors offices, even libraries or mothers groups.

How can we detect and respond to family violence in this new world?

There have been attempts to address this question, but responding to such a dangerous threat in such unprecedented conditions can be like playing whack-a-mole, unforeseen problems popping up all over the place. And the threat is only getting worse.

With that in mind, here are six questions that need to be considered if we’re going to keep all Victorians safe during the COVID-19 crisis.

 

 

1. How can remote responses be safe from control by abusers?

Most of the responses to the heightened risks of family violence have been focused on providing remote assistance, via phone or online support. But women and children experiencing family violence might not be able to safely access a website or make a phonecall, even to call the police. How can vulnerable people get help if their means of accessing it are controlled?

 

 

2. How will victim-survivors be safely housed?

COVID-19 is causing an economic crisis as well as a health crisis. Adding to the many difficulties of escaping a violent situation, lost income will make it even harder. Victim-survivors are less likely to be able to afford new housing on their own, or to keep up the rent if their abuser leaves. What safe housing support is available to women and children to get them through the health and economic crisis?

 

 

3. How can family violence services stay open and stay safe?

Family violence services must be supported to remain operational during the pandemic. But how can these essential services continue to be delivered in compliance with social distancing guidelines, keeping providers and users safe?

 

 

4. How will police responses to family violence be affected?

There is massive redeployment of police resources to deal with the health crisis, for instance to oversee social distancing and travel restrictions. But any redeployment must not detract from the resources available to respond to family violence matters.

 

 

5. What about the courts?

There is already significant over-demand on courts, worsened by the necessary transition to remote operations. Speed is often important in family violence matters when people’s immediate safety is at stake. Will matters such as violence intervention orders be considered a priority, and how will they be heard safety? And will victim-survivors still have access to legal support to assist with intervention order hearings and other court appearances, or with renegotiating parenting orders?

 

 

6. Will family violence refuges be safe from the virus?

Social distancing can be a challenge in under-resourced refuges. If someone staying in a family violence refuge contracts COVID-19, how can transmission be contained? We’ve heard of initiatives like bulk purchasing hotel and motel accommodation and we hope to see this used to prevent outbreaks, but we haven’t seen the details yet. Will family violence victim-survivors be a priority cohort for emergency accommodation?

 

Victoria has a strong history as a world leader in preventing and responding to family violence.But the health, economic and social crises around COVID-19 present a whole new scale of threat.

The family violence sector is committed to responding to this crisis. But it will take strong and coherent planning, support and resources to keep vulnerable Victorians safe.

 

  • To arrange an interview with VCOSS CEO Emma King contact Ryan Sheales on 0418 127 153 or via email.
  • If you need a photo of Ms King, please visit the VCOSS Media Hub.