March 30, 2020

Helping stop domestic violence during COVID-19, a real community scourge

As we all do our bit to contain the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) through our community, another sinister and often unseen type of harm – domestic violence – is more terrifying than the virus itself.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing anxiety and stress for many: financial pressures are increasing, and people are being told to self-isolate and spend more time in their homes.

Domestic violence agencies are reporting an increase in calls for support, with cases of perpetrators using the virus as a coercive threat against their former partner.

The Commonwealth Government also reported a surge in Google searches looking for support services for domestic violence during the pandemic.

These stories are horrific.

During this time, it’s imperative that we each check in on friends or family who you know, or suspect might be living with family violence. If you see or hear about domestic violence report it to the police.

If you know someone who is thinking of trying to change their situation, get the right legal advice early so that decisions can be made with access to all the information.

Living in fear

Only recently the news was filled with the tragic story of Hannah Clarke and her three children who were incinerated by her ex-husband and the father of the children.

The story sent shockwaves around the nation as people grappled with asking who would do such a thing, and why?

What emerged following their deaths was that Hannah had been scared for her and her children for years. It also came out that a Protection Order (the Queensland equivalent of an AVO) had already been made to protect Hannah from her ex-husband.

There were also reports of stories from Hannah’s family and friends describing how Hannah’s ex-husband had been controlling during the relationship. That she was constantly ‘accountable’ to him, that he forced her into sexual acts and punished her and the children if she didn’t comply.

In short, Hannah had lived in fear of this man for years.

How bad is it?

While the ending of this story is horrific and unimaginable, the story itself is all too common. Let these numbers sink in for just a moment, particularly now when people have little choice but to stay home to avoid infection:

  • 1 in 6 Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner.
  • 1 in 4 Australian women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.
  • On average 1 woman a week is killed by a current or former partner.

In the Illawarra, Domestic Violence accounts for over 60% of police call-outs. That means 60% of police time is spent responding to reports of Domestic Violence.

Domestic violence is about control

This kind of behaviour is all too common and is something that we see a lot in Family Law practice. As lawyers, it’s important to understand the dynamics of family violence and understand the very different ways in which it operates.

Domestic violence doesn’t just mean hitting. It means controlling another person’s actions. Where they go and for how long, who they speak to, what they wear, how much money they are allowed to spend, who they can go out with.

It can be financial control, social isolation and constant criticism, put-downs and threats.  In short, family violence makes being at home almost intolerable. We at Foye Legal have years of experience with those affected by family violence.

We understand how difficult it can be to talk about, and the fear that is involved in a decision to change your situation.

What can I do? 

There are a number of things that everyone can do.

You can call out bad behaviour when you see it or hear about it from a mate.

You can be an open and non-judgemental ear for a friend who is trying to figure out what to do.

You can check in with people who you think might be having a hard time. 

The best thing you can do is believe women when they tell you about it, because “good blokes” aren’t always good behind closed doors. Unfortunately, all of Australia now knows this to be true of Hannah Clarke’s ex-husband.

Remember, the standard we ignore is the one we accept.

Story By

Roberta Allen