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Inside Policy's Research into Family and Domestic Violence and the global rise due to Covid -19.

Rivkah Nissim & Anna Connell, 20 November 2020

As those who work in frontline services know, family and domestic violence is particularly bad over Christmas and the new year. It spikes on Grand Final night and during the State of Origin. And overseas experience shows it gets worse during pandemics. Family and domestic violence (or FDV) is a subject close to our hearts at Inside Policy. We know it is gendered, overwhelmingly affecting women and children - and that globally the rise of FDV during COVID-19 has been so severe it’s been called ‘the shadow pandemic’.

As COVID-19 took hold in Australia in early 2020, we wondered - how would it impact FDV here? And what would this mean for policy and service delivery? So we embarked on a research project to understand the emerging impacts of COVID-19 on FDV in Australia and the implications for governments in designing policy and service responses.

Through our research we developed a framework which sets out four key ways in which COVID-19 may impact FDV in Australia:

  • economic insecurity, unemployment and poverty-related stress,

  • quarantines, social isolation and changing social practices,

  • virus specific forms of violence, and

  • changes to service delivery operations.

According to the literature there is a link between unemployment and economic hardship, and increased rates of FDV. The sudden onset of COVID-19 required governments to implement health prevention measures that led to significant economic insecurity for households, which may in turn have contributed to a rise in FDV.

Quarantines and social isolation pose a number of threats for women experiencing FDV. They increase exposure to the perpetrator and can make it difficult to leave violence. And social distancing measures can prevent women from inviting supportive family and friends to visit, who are often the first port of call for women experiencing violence.

COVID-19 presents the opportunity for perpetrators to control their partners in new ways. They may prevent access to preventative items like masks and sanitiser or use the threat of infection to stop their partner from engaging in certain activities or social contact. Lastly, changes to frontline service delivery due to COVID-19 have limited physical access to services, and concerns were raised that women in isolation with a violent partner may be reluctant to access phone or online supports.

Informed by this analysis, we developed with a policy pathway for governments to reduce the impacts of COVID-19 on FDV. We suggest that governments:

  • Frame policy responses to reduce the risk of FDV. This means being aware of the four key ways we’ve identified that COVID-19 may impact FDV and tailoring policy approaches accordingly.

  • Use good practice in virtual service delivery. Through our research we identified that good practice virtual FDV service delivery should be trauma-informed; non-judgmental and accessible; have safety features including options for anonymous support; provide options for case management and be tailored to specific at-risk groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

  • Monitor and evaluate interventions to address gaps, mitigate emerging risks and better respond to future waves of COVID-19 and other pandemics.

It was heartening to see the funding from Commonwealth and state governments to support those experiencing FDV during COVID-19. It’s also been encouraging to see governments framing policy responses to COVID-19 in light of FDV. For example, the Victorian Government made it clear that women could leave home during lockdown if there was family violence or the risk of violence and would not be penalised. And data indicates more people have been accessing virtual FDV services such as the national 1800RESPECT online chat function, particularly those in Victoria.

But it seems clear that COVID-19 is going to be with us for some time. At the time of writing South Australia has gone into sudden and major lockdown, with concerns about its impact expressed by stakeholders as diverse as funeral directors, celebrants and pet owners. We share our insights in the hope they shine a light on the impacts of COVID-19 - and measures to address it - on those experiencing FDV and encourage sensitive and appropriate responses.


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