Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, frontline services, along with peak bodies and government, have expressed concern about the heightened risk of domestic and family violence during COVID-19. In fact, international experience shows that during periods of lockdown, family violence significantly increases.
This is borne out by Berry Street’s data which shows a worrying overall increase in police referrals to our family violence programs in Victoria1.
Sarah Rogers, Manager for Triage and Response for our Northern Family Violence Service, says that the level of family violence has increased during COVID-19.
Last month our programs saw year-on-year increases in family violence reports: in the Central Highlands, the increase was 30% while Melbourne’s Northern suburbs2 saw a 14% increase.
Family violence is prevalent in our community and has increased in complexity and severity in these unprecedented times. COVID-19 has certainly exacerbated risk factors like alcohol and drug use, unemployment, and crowded home conditions.
With community awareness and understanding of family violence growing in Victoria, we had expected to receive more referrals every year as more people, the majority of whom are women, are seeking support. But the spike in numbers during and after periods of lockdown cannot be attributed to that.
In the Central Highlands in Western Victoria we’ve received an additional 673 police referrals in 2020 compared to 2019 so far. In May, referrals almost doubled compared to 2019 (96% increase) and in June they were up 69%.
Barriers to seeking help
It’s no surprise when you think about it – during lockdown there are barriers that prevent victim-survivors accessing and talking to support services and seeking help.
Social distancing and restrictions have created less privacy: it’s much more difficult to call or look up a support service while living with a perpetrator full-time. Victim-survivors with children are also often juggling caring for their children and looking after their own safety.
When Victoria first went into lockdown, referrals initially dropped in Melbourne’s north.
However, as restrictions eased, with more time alone and out of their homes, people were more able to seek help. This is reflected in the significant year-on-year increase for June.
The impact of COVID-19
Common themes that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic include:
- significantly more people accessing our service for the first time
- an increase in physical assaults
- an increase in the complexity of cases
- a spike in child to parent family violence (often elderly or older mothers experiencing violence from their adult sons)
- more people calling the police out of concern for their neighbours, which shows community awareness and neighbourly responsibility.
COVID-19 has greatly impacted people’s lives, both in the home and socially. Before tight social restrictions, people were able to leave their homes and stay with a friend or family member for safety.
“The curfew and restrictions mean that people are more socially isolated from their support networks,” Sarah Rogers says. “But it’s important to remember that people at risk of family violence can break curfew and travel more than 5kms to seek safety.”
Vulnerable children and families at risk
Berry Street is concerned that vulnerable families across Victoria have not been getting the level of support that they normally would because of COVID-19.
Denise O'Dowd, our Senior Manager Family Violence (Western region), says that the lack of ‘eyes on children’ is a big concern.
“During periods of tighter lockdown, children are not attending school or organised sport, and there’s reduced social activity and family support.
There are less eyes on children and a higher chance of them being exposed to and experiencing family violence.
If you are experiencing family violence, you are allowed to leave your home and seek help, even during periods of lockdown.
While everyone is under pressure right now, that’s not an excuse for violence.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 000 and speak to the police. Other 24/7 contacts include:
- Support if you are experiencing violence: 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre (1800 015 188)
- Men’s services: No to Violence (1300 766 491) or MensLine (1300 789 978)
Berry Street's family violence services are continuing to operate. While there is currently no face-to-face contact due to COVID-19 restrictions, our services are being provided remotely to support victim-survivors.
Learn more about our family violence services in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and the Central Highlands in Western Victoria.
- Berry Street provides free family violence services in Melbourne’s Northern suburbs - Hume Moreland and the North East (delivered through the Orange Door in Heidelberg) - and the Central Highlands in Western Victoria.
- Includes both our specialist family violence programs: Hume Moreland and the North East (delivered through the Orange Door in Heidelberg).