Fears rise over outbreak of domestic and family violence linked to lockdown


Indigenous social workers in the town of Bourke, NSW, fear the closures have created increased rates of domestic and family violence.

The man from Gomeroi and director of the Bourke Aboriginal Corporation’s social and emotional well-being program at their center of excellence and well-being, Joseph Clarke, said the lockdowns don’t just keep victims of domestic violence back and family at home with the perpetrators, but also make it much more difficult for them to report the abuse.

“Domestic and family violence is endemic,” he said.

“COVID is being used as a weapon. Essentially, [perpetrators say] “You can’t go anywhere, you have to stay at home”, whether the abuser is male or female, it doesn’t matter. “

Social epidemiologist Dr Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat is from the Yupungathi and Meriam peoples and serves on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women Steering Committee in New South Wales.

She said they have seen an increase in domestic and family violence in indigenous communities that is not reflected in reported statistics.

“[Survivors] have difficulty accessing services to report it, ”she said.

“What we are seeing are native families who would typically have had three or four [in the household] now suddenly have six to eight people living there.

“And the abuser might not just be the intimate partner, it might be a child, a sibling, or whatever.”

Keren Barker works in Bourke as the director of the domestic violence program of Birrang Enterprise Development Company, “Gawimarra Burrany Ngurung, picking up the pieces”.

Barker said victims of domestic and family violence are often unaware they can leave the lockdown to escape.

“I went through this with family members who needed to escape domestic violence, and I tell them, ‘It’s okay, you can actually go,’ and they’re just terrified of it. idea of ​​having trouble for breaking a health order, ”she said.

“There were so many messages about immunization, and there were also messages about domestic violence around that time, but they just weren’t as thorough as the immunization message.”

New South Wales Minister for Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Mark Speakman has confirmed that those who experience violence do not need to stay at home.

“Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) is a serious and devastating crime that affects people from all walks of life. The lockdowns consist of staying at home to protect the community from COVID-19. But for SVD victim-survivors, home is often not a safe place to start, ”he said.

“Stay-at-home orders do not apply to people fleeing domestic violence, and the NSW government has worked hard to get this message across.”

Speakman said the “Speak Out” campaign against domestic and family violence has run ads in retail stores, women’s restrooms, on social media and on the radio to let people know they can leave the home. house to call for help or stay safe during a lockdown.

But Barker said there are many people in his community who are unaffected by the ad.

“Not everyone has Facebook. I see a lot of things being shared on Facebook, but not everyone has access to it, so they don’t know what they are actually capable of doing.

The Gawimarra Burrany Ngurung program aims to build respect and resilience in the community, working with both perpetrators and survivors of domestic and family violence.

But the restrictions make it much harder for Barker and his staff to keep up with the crowd.

“It’s really difficult, because a lot of our work is based on our connection with those we support,” she said.

“[It’s difficult] not having access to just going to chat or chat with someone, rather than ringing the bell and not knowing if the perpetrator was there.

With the lockdown restrictions in New South Wales easing on Monday, Clarke fears being isolated for so long will make it more difficult for survivors to access services again.

“The biggest risk factor is that the abuser has had access to the victim for so long,” he said.

“Whether or not the person in crisis is ready to come forward after being isolated for so long is a delicate question. Because, if they’ve been isolated and out of public sight for a while, it could be a little intimidating.

Dr Lee-Ah Mat said being in isolation with an attacker during blockages would have long-term impacts.

“It’s really going to cause a lot of damage to the mental health of a lot of people,” she said.

“People who have programs in place, plans for themselves and the kids, it’s going to send them back; in some situations we put people back into a situation of control where they have lost control and the abuser has regained full control, ”she said.

“We now need to put in place support to help victims get back on track, to help them get back on a plane of self-determination and resilience.”

Barker said she looked forward to meeting her clients in Bourke once the restrictions were relaxed.

“I really can’t wait to be able to go out and have a conversation with someone, in a safe place, and to be able to just have that connection and let people know that they are not alone,” he said. she declared.

By Sarah Smit

If you are a victim of family or domestic violence, please contact:

  • National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Counseling Service – 1800 RESPECT
  • NSW Domestic Violence Line – ‍ 1800 656 463
  • Child helpline – 1800 551 800

Visit respect.gov.au for more information and to download free resources.


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