Fears COVID-19 could have a long-lasting impact on women's safety
12 May 2020 at 6:25 pm
“The risks of this crisis and the recovery period are only just beginning to emerge,” one advocate says.
The coronavirus pandemic could amplify the risks women face from abusive partners or family members for years after isolation measures end, experts warn.
With more people across the country now working from home or being made redundant, advocacy groups have previously said that many abusers will escalate their violence.
Now the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA), along with campaigning group Fair Agenda, have issued a joint statement warning that the impacts of COVID-19 on women’s safety are only just beginning to be felt – and could linger on for months or even years.
AWAVA program manager Dr Merrindahl Andrew said without further action from governments, women were vulnerable to an escalation of family violence.
“For some, the lifting of restrictions may be the first opportunity they have to escape the house without their partner stopping them,” Andrew said.
“For others, the increased opportunities for movement may mean that a separated partner starts bringing their bottled up frustration and anger back to their house, and threatening, harassing or assaulting them.”
Advocates are expecting to see surges in demand for services from victim-survivors who haven’t had the ability to safely reach out while living in constant proximity with their abuser.
They also warn of an escalation of harassment and threats by separated abusive partners who can again travel to victim-survivors’ residences.
These increased threats come as many women face greater barriers to escape due to job losses or financial insecurity.
Renee Carr from Fair Agenda said: “The risks of this crisis and the recovery period are only just beginning to emerge – and the governments’ current response falls well short of what is needed.
“There are still major gaps for women’s safety that need to be a top priority for the National Cabinet and COAG.”
The federal government last month announced a relief package that included an initial $150 million to help people experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence during the crisis, and $74 million towards mental health support.
Community groups say governments need to better fund specialist women’s and family violence services to ensure everyone can access the help they need, and ensure the legal system makes the safety of victim-survivors and their children a priority.
Maintaining access to contraception and abortion care has also been earmarked as a priority.
Carr said there were still many areas where resourcing decisions from governments were leaving women at risk.
“Both safe at home programs and refuges and other crisis accommodation aren’t resourced to help everyone reaching out to them – leaving those who need their help facing impossible situations,” she said.
“The services that should be there to intervene and hold perpetrators to account aren’t resourced to do that work at the scale needed.”
If you or anyone you know needs help, please call the national helpline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.