How virus lockdowns have triggered a surge in domestic violence across Australia – and why there are fears it is about to get much worse
- Coronavirus lockdown triggered a surge in domestic violence across Australia
- About 13.2 per cent of women living with partners experienced a form of abuse
- Poverty and financial stress often limit women from fleeing violent situations
- Experts have warned reduced welfare payments may force women to stay
Experts have warned coronavirus lockdowns have triggered a surge in domestic violence across Australia, and that could worsen in the coming months.
The Australian Institute of Criminology surveyed 15,000 women in May about their experiences with domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At least 13.2 per cent of the women who were living with a partner reported experiencing some form of violence or coercive control since February and, worryingly, two-thirds of them said that violence began or worsened during lockdown.
Kelsey Hegarty, the chair Of Family Violence Prevention at the University of Melbourne, said varying forms of abuse had escalated amid the coronavirus.
‘The enforced isolation and lockdown are creating conditions where abuse and violence might increase,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
Domestic violence increased across Australia during coronavirus lockdowns with 13.2 per cent of women (file image pictured) living partners experiencing some form of abuse
Experts warned the domestic violence could worsen in the coming months with reduced government support payments (Centrelink pictured) forcing women to return to their partners
At least 8.2 per cent of the surveyed women experienced physical violence and another 4.2 per cent reported sexual violence amid the pandemic.
‘The nature of domestic violence has changed so people who used violence are using different control tactics during COVID,’ Prof Hegarty explained.
The survey determined couples spending more time together and increased social isolation as the major factors contributing to the rise in abuse.
Australian women in abusive relationships were given a lifeline when the government increased income support payments by $550 a fortnight during the pandemic.
‘One of the factors associated with family violence is poverty, so if people are in poor conditions, it’s very difficult for them to leave,’ Prof. Hegarty said.
Prof Hegarty explained JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments gave domestic abuse survivors the ‘ability to access housing, access services and assist their children.’
‘We know that financial stress is associated with domestic violence, in that women are caused to be poor as a result of having to flee domestic violence,’ she said.
But there were concerns that tightened eligibility and payment rates for both JobKeeper and JobSeeker, cutting the fortnightly coronavirus supplement last month to just $250, may make the situation worse.
Two-thirds of women who reported experiencing violence from their partners said the abuse had begun or escalated during coronavirus lockdown (Melbourne park pictured in September)
Prof Hegarty warned the reduced rates may force women back into abusive relationships or prevent them from leaving.
‘Any income measures that reduce their ability to manage financially will impact on all sorts of things,’ she said.
Prof Hegarty criticised the government support payment for being ‘incredibly hard to live on’.
‘A woman might have to flee without anything. No fridge, no washing machine, no nothing.
‘The ability to support oneself in that situation on JobSeeker is almost impossible.’
She called on the government to provide more financial support for domestic abuse survivors and those struggling through poverty.
‘We should have a safety net in Australia that a baseline level of income is given to all.
‘It’s fundamentally saying that we care that people can have safe housing and are able to eat,’ Prof Hegarty said.