The Economic Impact of COVID-19 Is Forcing Women to Stay in Violent Living Situations

The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including unemployment and financial dependence, are forcing some women to stay in violent households.

A new survey of 34 community services in New South Wales has found a spike in the number of women experiencing domestic violence since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Sydney Morning Herald has reported.

The survey, which was conducted by peak representative body Women’s Safety NSW, found more than 85% of these services have recorded an increase in the complexity of cases.

“The biggest concerns being flagged by frontline specialists at the moment are that perpetrators are ramping up their use of violence and abuse in the context of excessive drug and alcohol misuse, unemployment, and financial pressures,” said Hayley Foster, chief executive of Women’s Safety NSW.

“The results emphasised the economic impacts, which are driving an escalation of violence and abuse, while at the same time leaving victims with less financial means to escape their abusers.”

In July, the Australian Institute of Criminology released results from a study which linked the escalation of violence with the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey of 15,000 Australian women found that in the three months prior to the survey, which was conducted in May this year, 4.6% of respondents had experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former cohabiting partner.

Almost 6% had experienced coercive control and 11.6% reported experiencing at least one form of emotionally abusive, harassing or controlling behaviour. Two-thirds of women who experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former cohabiting partner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic said the violence had started or escalated in the three months leading up to the survey. Many of the respondents pointed to safety concerns as a barrier to seeking help.

Mark Speakman, Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, told SMH that he was aware of the added pressure of frontline services, which has prompted an investment of more than $30 million by the State and Federal Governments.

“Twenty-eight people were murdered in domestic violence incidents in NSW in the year to June 2020, with tens of thousands of domestic violence assaults reported to police,” Speakman told SMH.

According to former senator and inaugural chair of Our Watch, Natasha Stott Despoja, Governments have to start creating policies with a “gendered lens” to help women in these dangerous situations.

“This crisis has disproportionately affected women. Workplaces and governments must not lose sight of the link between gender equality and preventing violence against women,” Stott Despoja told SMH.

“That means applying a gendered lens to all policies and legislation, like ensuring the economic stimulus measures do not disproportionately benefit male-dominated industries.”

For help or support, you can call Safe Steps on 1800 015 188. The helpline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week so someone will be able to help you at any time of the day or night. The organisation also offers telephone interpreters should you or someone you love who is experiencing family violence need that service.

If you’re unable to call or simply prefer not to, you can also contact the Safe Steps team through their live webchat from Monday to Friday between 9am and 9pm via the Safe Steps website.

Otherwise, 1800RESPECT is operating as usual during the COVID-19 pandemic and is open 24 hours to support people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse. If you are in immediate danger, please call 000.

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