Amid COVID, police were responding to family violence calls every 7 minutes

 During the world’s harshest coronavirus lockdowns, Victoria Police were responding to a family violence incident, on average, every seven minutes. As the world reckons with the immediate effects of a pandemic, there are serious consequences to trying to slow the spread. 

Home should be where everyone should feel the safest, but the reality is many Australians don’t. The pandemic has only made things worse.

In 2020, Victoria’s incidents of family violence are the highest ever in recorded history, with the state’s police responding to related calls every seven minutes.

Women, 35-39, are the demographic most affected by violence at the hands of a family member, making up 75 percent of victims. In contrast, 25 percent were men, and this has increased by more than 6 percent in the last 12 months.

“2020 has exposed just how prevalent family violence is across our community,” says Safe Steps CEO Rita Butera, who’s responsible for Victoria’s 12th Walk Against Family Violence on Wednesday, November 25, which normally takes place around Melbourne’s CBD but this year, due to physical distancing measures, will encourage participants to complete a walk from home.

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“A virus doesn’t cause family violence – gender inequality and disrespect does.”

Indeed, intimate terrorism has flourished across the globe in the COVID-era, something experts had feared amid a period of intense lockdowns at home, where the violence commonly takes place.

In Spain, calls to the country’s domestic violence emergency number increased by 18 percent in the first two weeks of the nation’s lockdowns; in France, incidences reported a spike of 30 percent.

Here in Australia, an Australian Institute of Criminology report released in July—the peak of our lockdowns—showed that one in 10 women in a relationship had experienced physical or sexual abuse amid the pandemic.

This was due to a few factors: victims and offenders were spending more time together; increased social isolation; increased stress at home due to money and job insecurity; and an increase in alcohol consumption in intense lockdown periods.

“Although a significant proportion of women did seek help from police, government or nongovernment agencies and informal sources, many were unable to because of safety concerns,” authors of the study wrote.

While the health implications of the virus have subsided, for now, the flow-on effects of financial stress and job insecurity will be felt for many more months to come.

“Now is an important time to send a strong, positive, visible message to all victim-survivors that we stand with them, and against all forms of family violence,” says Butera.

For confidential family violence information, counselling and support, contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. 1800RESPECT can also refer you to a crisis centre in your state.