Domestic violence worsens in rural and regional areas during the COVID-19 pandemic – as safe housing shortage means victims have nowhere to go
- A hundred domestic violence practitioners took part in a study during COVID-19
- The study found an increase of women being abused during COVID-19 lockdown
- Abusers were ‘given new opportunities to assert power’, one academic said
More women in regional and rural Queensland have reported being strangled, threatened with having their homes set on fire and pressured for unwanted sexual intimacy during the coronavirus pandemic.
Abusers have also restricted contact mothers have had with their children, taken their Centrelink payments and monitored their interactions with other people, a new study has found.
More than 100 domestic violence service practitioners took part in a Queensland Domestic Violence Services Network and Monash University study to document the nature of violence against Queensland women during the health crisis.
It found an increase in manipulation and behaviour to control women, an escalation from non-physical to physical abuse, and more hospital and emergency department visits for treatment of injuries from violence.
More women in regional and rural Queensland have reported being strangled, threatened with having their homes set on fire and pressured for unwanted sexual intimacy during the coronavirus pandemic (stock)
‘The home is the number one crime scene in our society and the ‘family man’ is our most dangerous organised criminal,’ Monash University Criminology Professor Jude McCulloch told AAP on Tuesday.
‘If you say those things it’s quite shocking, its sounds hyperbole, but it actually demonstrates the empirical evidence.
‘That’s the degree of seriousness with which we should view family violence.’
Dr Naomi Pfitzner led the project, and said being forced to stay at home to avoid coronavirus infection gave abusers new opportunities to exert power and control over women.
A shortage of safe housing accommodation means many women wanting to flee abusive relationships don’t have anywhere to go.
‘If we want to priortise the safety of women and children moving forward in our response to the coronavirus, then we need to provide sustainable housing options so they can leave violent relationships and homes,’ Dr Pfitzner added.
Calls on governments to drastically increase funding for alternative accommodation were made long before the pandemic struck.
The federal government put forward $78million for new emergency accommodation in February, with the state and federal governments both stumping up additional cash since then.
But experts say it is only a fraction of what is needed to address the gender and family violence crisis.
‘We’ve never had a safe housing model that adequately meets the needs of women and children experiencing family violence, so there isn’t a go-to plan,’ said Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon, director of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre.
The scourge of domestic violence is considered a national emergency in Australia, but the sector that deals with it daily says it is getting worse.
There is no modelling which shows how much housing would be needed to meet the needs of women and children who are being abused, but Dr Fitz-Gibbon says it is critical.
‘We are really underestimating the scale of the problem and if we look across the funding that we dedicate to other issues in the community, it really beggars belief that this isn’t considered one of or if not the number one issue Australia is facing,’ she added.
‘The government needs to create an investment in safe housing that we’ve never had before, and meaningfully shift the dial in terms of women’s access to short term and long term safe accommodation.’
Women have been worst hit by the financial implications of the pandemic, and trying to leave now, especially in circumstances where they are not the primary breadwinner, will be even harder.
‘We do not want to wait and see what that means in terms of number of women and children killed,’ Dr Fitz-Gibbon said.
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