Coronavirus

Domestic Violence Centres Are Being Overwhelmed In The Pandemic

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Kim Sattler: I’ve been involved in the sector for four decades. I cannot remember a time where we’ve seen the levels of domestic violence like we’re seeing it now.” 

Throughout the pandemic more people have been calling domestic violence helplines and domestic violence centres are being totally overwhelmed.  

To understand what’s happening I spoke to Kim Sattler, a case worker from Illawarra Women’s Health Centre who’s been dealing with these issues on the ground, every day.  

Kim told me that the centre she works at has seen a massive increase in the number of women turning up at their door since March.   

KS: What we are seeing in the past few months is a 30% increase on our normal traffic in terms of domestic violence. 

It’s a problem that’s spiking all around Australia.  

One survey of 15,000 Australian women in May found that one in ten have experienced domestic violence during the Covid-19 crisis.  

And for a third of these women, it was the first time they’d experienced any physical or sexual violence in their relationship.  

According to the advocacy group Destroy the Joint, 37 women have been killed by violence since the beginning of the year. Nine women were killed in May.  

Kim believes that there’s something about the pandemic situation that emboldens perpetrators.   

KS: “I think it gives some perpetrators more control and more excuse to stop her from going out  We’re seeing everything. We say every day, we’re going to hear something we’ve never heard before again this week or next week, and I reckon I’ve heard a lot over the years and I’m shocked at the things that I’m hearing [now]. 

The lack of resources for workers on the front line of this crisis has become a huge issue.  

At the centre where Kim works, women are being faced with a two-month-long waiting list just to get into counselling.  

Back in March, the federal government committed 150 million to domestic violence services but the way that money is actually being handed out has been described as a ‘slow drip’.  

Nearly half of that promised funding won’t be distributed for more than a year.  

And 20 million of that package is going towards information services including 1800RESPECT and Mensline.  

KS: “A crisis line will give a woman advice but it doesn’t actually physically help her get to a safe place.”  

Kim told me, as much as hotlines are helpful for getting preliminary information, the process of caring for somebody who has left a household after enduring abuse is incredibly complex.  

Medical appointments, emergency accommodation, food, clothing and finances are all issues that need to be looked after by a local person on the ground.  

Kim believes that states also need to pay much closer attention to how police are trained to deal with domestic violence situations, because problems with emergency response have become more and more obvious over this period.  

KS: Some of these women have tried to go to police and tried to say it to other people, and have just been told it’s not serious, everybody argues, you have to try and sort your own problems out’. 

Despite all of these issues, Kim stressed that there is always help and anybody caught in a domestic violence situation should reach out for help either by calling a helpline, domestic violence services or a women’s health centre.  

KS: “Don’t take a knock back as the only response. It’s just like anything else, you’ve got to shop around sometimes but we can always talk to somebody about making plans before they have to make a move and you can get as much advice as you want.” 

The Takeaway 

The pandemic is exacerbating Australia’s domestic violence problem and frontline workers are desperately need resources.  

But that won’t just mean cash thrown at the sector for things like information lines. These centres need targeted budgets to help local people with local connections because this is a problem that only seems to be getting worse.  

If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call: 

1800RESPECT  

1800 737 732 

Or call 000 for all emergencies