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Recognising domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Alison Ross and Kathleen Coggins / 13 July 2020

While Australia continues to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, with varying degrees of restrictions still in place throughout Australia, it is important to consider the many Australians whose family homes are not always the safest place to be.

Following the handing down of the landmark Not Now, Not Ever report, the Queensland Government developed the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Strategy 2016–2026 to implement the report’s recommendations. In accordance with their strategy to support Queenslanders affected by domestic and family violence, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Queensland Government has recently launched a new awareness campaign. 

In this alert, Partner, Alison Ross, Special Counsel, Kathleen Coggins and Law Graduate, John Hickey discuss how the purpose of this campaign is to provide awareness to Queenslanders regarding the types of abuse that are considered domestic and family violence and outline the resources that are available for those who are experiencing or perpetrating violence and abuse in the family home. The campaign website can be accessed here.

The hidden impact of COVID-19 on families

The COVID-19 lockdown measures that have been implemented nationally have meant that many victims of domestic and family violence have been required to spend additional time at home with their abusers to a degree that may be significantly different from usual arrangements. The effect of this is that some victims of domestic and family violence are cut off from the respite typically available to them by attending work, hobbies or school, or through their usual support network of friends and family. While these lockdown measures have slowly relaxed in most Australian states, incidences of domestic and family violence will continue without significant social reform. 

A recent report by Monash University measuring the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on domestic violence has found that mass unemployment, anxiety in relation to housing security and the volatility of Australia’s economy continue to be the major contributors to increases in domestic and family abuse. Despite the current environment, it remains crucial that victims of family and domestic violence seek assistance as soon as possible. 

Recognising the significant threat that the pandemic is likely to have on families across Australia, the Federal Government recently announced a funding package of $130 million for domestic and family violence services. 

What is domestic violence?

Domestic and family violence is defined in section 8 of the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (Qld). It includes any of the following forms of abuse:

  1. Physical – Physical violence includes actual or threatened assaults on your body by using their body, objects or weapons. This form of violence includes assaulting children and pets, denying you access to your home, preventing you from seeking support services, and depriving you of sleep or food.
  2. Verbal/Emotional – Verbal and emotional abuse includes intimidating, harassing and humiliating behaviour towards you either in public or in private. This form of abuse also includes insults regarding your sexuality, body image, intelligence and parenting skills. 
  3. Social – Social abuse includes controlling behaviours such as dictating who you can see, who you can speak to, and who you are permitted to communicate with. With the current COVID-19 isolation measures, controlling whether you can visit your support network of friends and family is also a form of social abuse. 
  4. Psychological – Psychological abuse includes behaviour and derogatory comments for the purposes of causing you vulnerability regarding your personal safety and mental health and undermining your feelings of self-worth. 
  5. Digital – Digital abuse, commonly known as cyber abuse, includes using technology or social media to bully, harass or intimidate you. This form of abuse includes threatening to, or actually sharing, private photos, videos or conversations online without your consent, as well as directing who you can and cannot have conversations with on social media. It also includes taking control of your social media accounts without your permission. 
  6. Sexual – Sexual violence includes any forced or unwanted sexual activity. 
  7. Financial – Financial abuse includes refusing to allow you to access money in your personal bank accounts, accumulating debt in your name without your knowledge, and preventing you from seeking or keeping employment.
  8. Cultural – Cultural abuse includes preventing you from practicing your personal religious and cultural beliefs. 
  9. Stalking – Stalking involves deliberate and repeated following or harassment which causes you to fear for your health and safety. This may include the individual monitoring or watching you from a distance, messaging or calling you repeatedly, or waiting outside your home or workplace. 
  10. Damage to property – Causing damage or threats to cause damage to your personal property or valuables is a form of domestic and family violence. 

In order to constitute domestic and family violence, these forms of abuse can occur in any personal relationship, including relationships with:

  • current partners;
  • ex-partners;
  • carers or support workers;
  • parents, guardians or other family members; and
  • adult children.

What legal options are available if I am experiencing family violence?

In Queensland, victims of domestic and family violence are able to apply for a protection order. A final protection order will ordinarily apply for a duration of five years. There is similar legislation throughout the other states and territories of Australia.

Protection orders can impose restrictions upon a perpetrator of domestic and family violence including (but not limited to) preventing the perpetrator from contacting or approaching the victim including at their home or workplace, staying in a particular property, approaching or contacting the victim’s family or friends, or attending upon a child’s school or day care centre. There are many other orders a Court can make for a person’s personal protection, depending upon their particular circumstances. 

To obtain a protection order, the Court must be satisfied that the order is necessary or desirable to protect a person from domestic violence.

Key resources to access during (and beyond) COVID-19

If you, or someone you know is currently experiencing or using any form of domestic or family violence, you should seek immediate help by contacting one of the support services listed below. If you are in immediate danger, please call 000.

1800RESPECT – Call 1800 737 732 to access counselling and support for people impacted by sexual assault and domestic or family violence.

Beyond Blue – Call 1800 512 348 to access Beyond Blue’s coronavirus mental wellbeing support service.

DVConnect Womensline – Call 1800 811 811 to access Queensland’s only 24-hour crisis response telephone helpline for anyone identifying as a female, including those in the LGBTIQ+ community.

DVConnect Mensline – Call 1800 600 636 to access confidential telephone counselling, information and support for Queenslanders identifying as male, and who may be experiencing or using domestic and family violence.

InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence – Call 1800 755 988 (weekdays 9am-5pm) to get in contact with a specialist family violence centre for women from migrant and refugee backgrounds.

Kids Helpline – Call 1800 55 1800 to access confidential phone and online counselling services for young people aged 5 to 25.

Lifeline – Call 13 11 14 for crisis support and counselling, with a focus on suicide prevention.

National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline – Call 1800 880 052 (weekdays 9am-7pm). This hotline is a free, independent and confidential service for reporting abuse and neglect of people with disability.

Relationships Australia – Call 1300 364 277 to access support groups and counselling on relationships, and for abusive and abused partners.

Victim Assist Queensland – Call 1300 546 587. This hotline helps Queensland victims of crime to get back on their feet after experiencing violent crime or domestic and family violence in Queensland.

If you have any queries in relation to domestic and family violence, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Family and Relationship Law team. 

Authors
Alison Ross
Partner
Alison is a Partner of our Family and Relationship Law practice who works exclusively with HG Private clients.
Kathleen Coggins
Special Counsel
Kathleen is a Special Counsel practising exclusively in Family and Relationship law.

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