There has been an increase in controlling behaviour, manipulative tactics and greater numbers of women reporting violence to Queensland specialist domestic and family violence services during the COVID-19 lockdowns, a Monash University study has revealed.
Released today, the study documents the nature of violence against women during the COVID-19 restrictions and also reveals an increase in the complexity of women’s needs, greater threats to women and children’s lives and an increase in visits to emergency rooms due to an injury from violence.
The study was led by Dr Naomi Pfitzner with Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Director of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre and Professor Jacqui True, Director of the Monash Centre for Gender, Peace and Security.
Responding to Queensland’s ‘shadow pandemic’ during the period of COVID-19 restrictions: practitioner views on the nature of and responses to violence against women presents data from two surveys conducted by the Queensland Domestic Violence Services Network over a 10-day period in April (15 April to 24 April) and a two-week period in May 2020 (8 May to 22 May).
Fifty-six practitioners responded to survey one and 117 to survey two, with the majority of practitioners working in regional Queensland.
More than a third of respondents to survey one said COVID-19 restrictions had led to an escalation of violence for their clients.
Despite the easing of stage one restrictions in Queensland from May 15, 2020, allowing up to five people to gather in households, dining in restaurants, cafes and pubs and recreational travel, 70 per cent of survey two respondents said there had been an escalation of violence experienced by women.
The results echo similar findings from Victoria, published by the Monash research team earlier this month, but also highlight new concerns, including the following from survey one:
83 per cent of practitioners surveyed reported an increase in perpetrator anger / violence allegedly due to reduced income or loss of job due to COVID-19
68 per cent of practitioners surveyed reported perpetrators had more time to drink or take drugs due to a reduction in work
68 per cent of practitioners surveyed reported perpetrators used COVID-19 as a reason to not allow a victim to leave the home
Survey two revealed:
81 per cent of practitioners surveyed reported an escalation of controlling behaviour and manipulation
49 per cent of practitioners surveyed reported an escalation of perpetrators using COVID-19 as a reason for any form of abuse
36 per cent of practitioners surveyed reported an escalation from non-physical to physical forms of abuse
33 per cent of practitioners surveyed reported an escalation of perpetrators’ threats to kill the client
28 per cent of practitioners surveyed reported an escalation of clients’ suicidal ideations
21 per cent of practitioners surveyed reported an escalation of perpetrators’ threats to children
20 per cent of practitioners surveyed reported an increase in clients’ visits to the emergency department / hospital due to an injury from violence
Practitioners also described instances where perpetrators restricted children’s contact with their mother, took her extra Centrelink payments and / or monitored her contact with others.
Increases in reports of strangulation, threats to burn down homes, partners and children, pressuring victims for unwanted sexual intimacy and refusing to allow a partner to go to work were also identified by Queensland practitioners as forms of abuse that have been experienced during the period of restrictions.
“These findings contribute to a growing evidence base of the ways in which COVID-19 is exacerbating violence and existing gender inequalities in Australia,” said Dr Pfitzner.
“It’s clear that pandemic control measures, while undoubtedly necessary from a health perspective, have compounded barriers to help-seeking and intensified perpetrators’ isolation of victims from friends, co-workers and other essential support networks.”
Dr Fitz-Gibbon said, like in Victoria, practitioners supporting women experiencing violence during this period had been required to rapidly transition their services to allow for remote delivery.
“The disruption in service delivery and limited avenues for engagement with women and children is highly concerning at a time when there is a well-established heightened risk of violence,” she said.
“The shortage of safe housing options in Queensland also emerged as a significant concern. While the message from governments has been ‘stay home, stay safe’ our research clearly demonstrates why home is not a safe option for many women and children across Australia.
“Without access to appropriate crisis and long term accommodation the risks of homelessness or remaining in an abusive home are extremely high for women and children experiencing violence.”
The next stages of this project will examine service innovations and practitioner wellbeing to inform Australia’s plan for supporting women and children experiencing violence during the easing of restrictions and into the recovery period.