Domestic and family violence during the coronavirus pandemic

Research tells us that domestic and family violence become more frequent and severe during major events such as COVID-19. If you’re at risk, it’s important to know what to do and where to turn for help.

As a nation, we haven’t experienced a pandemic on the scale of coronavirus in our lifetime, and the impact it’s having on household finances, routines, living arrangements and stress levels is unprecedented – and significant.

While these factors don’t cause domestic or family violence by themselves, they can act as ‘fuel’, increasing the likelihood, frequency and even severity of family violence. During self-isolation, some people will also find themselves at home with an abusive partner without access to their usual support networks.

Lives have been turned upside down by COVID-19 and, combined with uncertainty around when it will end, it has added layers and layers of extra stress for many people and families, says Anne Hollonds, former Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies and current Australian National Children's Commissioner. 

COVID-19 is a new and evolving event, but research into other natural disasters and other major events shows that family violence tends to increase by at least 30 percent in such times.

Are you at risk?

Knowing what domestic or family violence may look like is helpful here. There are tools to help you recognise the warning signs of abuse, including checklists that are specific to COVID-19, and Hollonds stresses that family violence isn’t just physical violence.

Any type of controlling behaviour is a sign of danger, she says, "and we know that type of behaviour can escalate.

During the pandemic, people using domestic or family violence may do things like criticise your parenting more, increasingly monitor your communication devices, withhold access to necessary items and use the situation as an excuse to control the family finances. An ex-partner may even take the opportunity to manipulate you or breach a family violence intervention order.

They may also use COVID-19 to justify any abusive or violent behaviour, and it works the other way, too: people experiencing the abuse may dismiss or downplay it during the pandemic, using statements like “they’re just stressed”.

Over time, the shock factor can also wear off so that people learn to accommodate and accept behaviours of domestic violence, says Hollonds.

"But not only is there help available, it’s important to reach out as early as possible."

"Most importantly, know that you don’t have to and shouldn’t wait until it has escalated to physical violence to seek help."

What you can do

Inform yourself

As well as using the tools mentioned above to identify whether you’re experiencing abuse, it can help to learn more about domestic and family violence and what steps you can take to stay safe, including creating a safety plan for you and your children.

The government’s Head to Health website has some useful information and links and it may be helpful to familiarise yourself with the signs of a healthy relationship, for the purpose of comparison.

Seek support

There are a number of formal support services available, so use the one that you feel most comfortable with, says Hollonds.

"If it feels like too much of an initial step to ring a dedicated domestic violence counselling service, using a relationship counselling service instead may be a good entry point."

Options include:

  • Relationships Australia is a leading provider of relationship support services – 1300 364 277.
  • 1800RESPECT is the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service – 1800 737 732.
  • WithRespect is a family violence and intimate partner violence support service supporting LGBTIQ+ communities and their families – 1800 542 847.If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

Look after your mental health

Domestic and family violence has a significant impact on the mental health of both the people who experience it and the family members who witness it. This is only going to be exacerbated during the pandemic, which is causing feelings of worry, unease and anxiety all on its own.

Our Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service provides regularly updated information, advice and strategies to help you manage your wellbeing and mental health, as well as 24/7 access to trained counsellors. You can give them a call on 1800 512 348.You can also connect with other community members on our dedicated community forum: Coping during the coronavirus pandemic .


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