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COVID-19 and Family Violence FAQs

COVID-19 and Family Violence FAQs

COVID-19 and Family Violence FAQs

For up to date public health advice, please visit the Department of Health and Human Services website

For further advice for the community sector, please visit the VCOSS website

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COVID-19 and family violence

How does a pandemic affect the occurrence of family violence?

Research demonstrates that family violence increases after emergency and natural disaster situations like bushfires, earthquakes and hurricanes. Based on these experiences, we can anticipate that incidences of family violence will also increase during the widespread community outbreak of COVID-19.

Family violence advocates in China have already reported that family violence incidents tripled for the month of February 2020 compared to February last year. Research into other natural disasters in Australia and overseas indicates family violence could increase anywhere from 30% to 100%

Research found that family violence increasedin the aftermath of Victoria's Black Saturday bushfires due to a tendency for people to revert to strict gender norms during times of natural disaster and uncertainty (e.g. men being the protectors and decision makers and women being the carers). These strict gender norms reduce women’s autonomy and can put them and their children at further risk. Research also found that women’s experiences of violence tend to be dismissed or excused more often during times of disaster or emergency with statements such as “he is just stressed.”

Other contributing factors that can increase family violence risk, and are likely to be factors in the COVID-19 crisis, are increased financial insecurity, employment and housing insecurity, and families spending sustained periods of time together due to lockdown. Victim survivors also may have a reduced ability to flee family violence during this time, as well as have reduced access to support and community supports if schools and community services are closed for containment reasons. In this environment, it is important family violence services work with health services and police as key partners in identifying and responding to family violence.

An initial survey of DV Vic members found mixed reports regarding referrals and requests for support in the first month of COVID-19 social restrictions, with some specialist family violence services reporting a significant increase in demand while others experienced no change or a decrease in demand. Both an increase and reduction in demand reflects the expectations of how COVID-19 would impact on family violence. In the following months of the pandemic, demand for family violence services has returned to pre-COVID levels.  

In June 2020, Monash University published “Responding to the ‘shadow pandemic’: practitioner views on the nature of and responses to violence against women in Victoria, Australia during the COVID-19 restrictions” which found an increase in the frequency and severity of violence against women alongside an increase in the complexity of women’s needs. 

DV Vic is partnering with Monash University to further understand what is influencing the trends in demand for different services. 

It is important for anyone experiencing family violence to know that family violence is never OK, no matter the circumstances or situation. 

How does COVID-19 interact with gender?

See the following news articles: 

Gender Equity & Women’s organisations unite on Covid19 disaster 

What women need during the time of coronavirus 

Beyond sex and gender analysis: an intersectional view of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and response 

The Coronavirus Is a Disaster for Feminism 

COVID-19: the gendered impacts of the outbreak 

The COVID-19 Outbreak and Gender: Key Advocacy Points from Asia and the Pacific 

COVID-19 is not gender neutral 

The coronavirus fallout may be worse for women than men. Here’s why. 

Why Covid-19 is different for men and women 

Why we need women’s leadership in the COVID-19 response 

How does COVID-19 affect women with disabilities?

Tailored responses for people with disabilities experiencing family violence are more important now than ever, as more people with disabilities may be in isolation with abusive family members who they rely on for their care. There are concerns the disability support workforce may be impacted by the pandemic or there may be risks of transmission from exposure to the workforces. COVID-19 could also impact state government workforces like the TAC, volunteer programs and other safeguarding programs like Office of the Public Advocate’s Community Visitors. If people with disabilities cannot access their usual services, the few protective factors between them and the person using family violence against them may disappear.  

For more on how COVID-19 affects people with disabilities click here

Women with Disabilities Australia (WDA) are regularly updating and adding to this list of resources around disability access and inclusion during the COVID-19 upheavals. It includes practice information on access related to communication, healthcare, disability support workers, getting groceries, dealing with social inclusion, mental health as well as Easy English materials on COVID-19.  

This is a practice resource for person-centred COVID-19 planning tool for people with disability. While not focused on family violence risk, it can be used alongside family violence safety planning tools as a prompt for disability accessibility considerations (i.e. communication, personal support, decision making support, housing, transport, etc) in the COVID-19 context. 

How does COVID-19 affect LGBTIQ+ people experiencing family violence? 

WithRespect, the statewide family violence and intimate partner violence service supporting LGBTIQ+ communities and their families, has a new COVID-19 and Family Violence for LGBTIQ+ people resources page. 

Rainbow Health have produced a tip sheet for LGBTIQ+ inclusion for COVID-19 remote services

Equality Australia have recently released a report on the impacts of COVID-19 on the LGBTI+ communities and building a strong response.   

How does COVID-19 affect women on temporary visas experiencing family violence? 

Victim survivors of family violence who are temporary visa holders face multiple layers of disadvantage and barriers to accessing support services. During this time, the situation is compounded as many women on temporary visas will be isolated with abusive family members and may not be eligible for government support.  For example, if a woman has lost her job as a result of COVID-19 measures and she is on a temporary visa, she currently cannot access government support packages such as Jobkeeper.  Women on temporary visas may not have access to Medicare which can compromise their access to medical services. 

For more information on how family violence affects women on temporary visas please click here and here

There has been some recent media highlighting the gaps in support for survivors of family violence with temporary migration status here and here

What can my service do? 

  • If you are working with a victim survivor who is on a temporary visa, you can contact inTouch for secondary consultations regarding legal and immigration issues. 
  • If you have a query about issues related to temporary migration you can contact Refugee LegalVLA or Department of Home Affairs
  • Contact Red Cross, who have received short-term funding to deliver emergency relief and casework support for people who are on temporary visas.  

There is information about COVID-19 in a range of languages here

How can my service best support women from refugee and migrant communities during COVID-19?

How does COVID-19 impact access to reproductive health services? 

Women will face additional barriers accessing reproductive health services, including contraception and abortion care, during the COVID-19 pandemic. This comes at a time where more women will be isolated with abusive family members and the incidence of family violence, including sexual assault and coercive behaviours which control a woman’s ability to make decisions about her reproductive health, are likely to increase. 

1800 My Options provides information about contraception, pregnancy options and sexual health in Victoria and can link women to information and services. 

To access a situation report for sexual and reproductive health rights in Australia produced by Marie Stopes click here

How does COVID-19 increase the risk violence for people who work in the sex industry? (provided by Project Respect) 

The sex industry is still operating. However social distancing regulations have driven the industry further underground,  exposing sex workers to increased risk of experiencing violence as they are providing services at client’s homes with no oversight or ability to report if they experience violence.  

Women forced to work by sex industry business owners are potentially then subject to fines for not abiding by social distancing rules. The continuing barriers to accessing support for people on temporary visas is forcing them into sex work and to also take greater risks to access an income.  

The economic impacts of COVID-19 and social distancing restrictions mean there is an increased risk of women experiencing sexual exploitation (exchange of sex for basic necessities including housing and food) from a range of people including intimate partners, family & household members, and property owners. 

The COVID-19 environment has created an environment that increases the risk of trafficking and re-trafficking in a domestic setting for people to earn an income - trafficking does not require movement across borders. 

Sex workers are moving sexual services online. This assists with physical safety, however they often don’t have broader knowledge about tech safety and potential future issues of tech-facilitated abuse.  

Specialist family violence service continuity during COVID-19  

How will specialist family violence services continue to deliver services to victim survivors of family violence during COVID-19?

All specialist family violence services (SFVS) throughout Victoria remain open and are offering support to all survivors of family violence.  Each service has developed a service continuity plan that aligns with the DHHS Guidelines and the DV Vic Code of Practice.

SFVS continue to be available for secondary consultations related to family violence. This is particularly important during the pandemic, as while some victims survivors are unable to contact Speicalist Family Violence Service directly, they may have ongoing contact with other health,  human service or community service providers.  All service providers are encouraged to work with their local networks and partnerships to broker access to family violence information and support. 

How might services change during COVID-19?

During the pandemic, most specialist family violence services (SFVS) have transitioned to remote service delivery and are limiting outreach and face-to-face services to circumstances where this type of support is absolutely necessary (for example, to settle a family into a specialist family violence refuge). Nonetheless, SFVS are continuing to provide the full range of case management support that is usually available via telephone, text, and online.   

DV Vic is working with services to develop a resource bank on good practices as victim survivors are potentially at greater risk due to possible isolation and quarantine with people using violence against them, while less services are meeting with victim survivors face-to-face. 

We reiterate that even though the mode of service delivery has changed, specialist family violence services continue to provide a full-range of support services to victim survivors. 

Will specialist family violence services be screening clients for COVID-19?

Yes.  Importantly, screening victim survivors does not affect if they receive a service.  However, it will affect how services are provided and help agencies protect their staff so they are able to continue to provide support to others. 

We are working with specialist family violence services to incorporate possible impacts of COVID-19 into risk assessments and safety planning. Services will also be working with Victoria Police and other partner agencies at a local level to put strategies in place, particularly for high risk clients known to be in isolation/quarantine.  

Please see the DHHS website for the most up to date information about COVID-19 and assessment tools. 

What is the police response to family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Victoria Police have indicated that their family violence response will not change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  They will continue to response to family violence using a risk management approach.  Police have access to personal protective equipment and have been provided with information on how to respond to someone who has or may have the COVID-19 virus. 

There is information about COVID-19 in a range of languages here

What is the court response to family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic?

joint statement has been issued on behalf of the Victoria courts and VCAT on operational changes resulting from the Stage 4 Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions. Attendances at a court building must be by prior arrangement (except for urgent family violence applications). 

Victim survivors are allowed to leave their house to attend court to apply for a Family Violence Intervention Order if that is the safest option. Answers to frequently asked questions from people coming to the Magistrates court can be found here.   

Family Court COVID-19 updates and information can be found here. This includes information on the newly established COVID-19 list that will see applications fast-tracked through the Family Courts and heard by a judge within 72 hours.  More information on the COVID-19 list can be found here

What can my service do for victim survivors of family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic?

During the pandemic, your service may come into contact with vicitm survivors of family violence and have an opportunity to assist that person. Until now, your service may not have thought about their role in responding to family violence, and might still be learning about their responsibilities under the MARAM Framework and Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme. It's important all services are equipped to identify family violence and know how to appropriately and safely share information and refer victim-survivors to specialist support services. For more information about the MARAM Framework and Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme, please refer to the resources and information available

Ways that your service can help victim survivors: 

  • Communicate safely: Think about secure ways to communicate with the victim survivor (e.g. through Whatsapp or Signal). Agree on a code word or signal they can use to let you know they need help or need you to call 000.   
  • Be attentive: Tune in and be alert to any increase in risk, such as change or escalation in type of violence being used, increase in threats, increased level of fear or anything else that raises concern. Call 000 if you believe a victim survivor is at immediate risk. 
  • Understand their situation: If you are concerned about someone's safety, and if it is safe to do so, you can ask: ‘how are things at home?’ ‘are you unsafe or afraid?’ ,‘has there been a time before or during the isolation period that you were very afraid? Has this changed during the isolation period’? ‘do you have any immediate safety concerns for yourself, any children or family members in your care?’ 
  • Contact support services: Contact a specialist family violence service for advice on how to support the victim survivor, including determining if immediate intervention and coordinated responses are required.  
  • Prepare for escape: Support them to prepare a bag with essential items – such as money, keys, clothes, bank cards, driver’s license, medication, birth certificates, passport and other important documents for them and their children. Reassure them they can leave their address if they are afraid or unsafe, even during lockdown. If they have to flee and are stopped by the police, they can inform the Police of the situation and will not be penalised for seeking safety. 
  • System supports: Ask if they have an Intervention Order or if one is needed. Consider if any intervention order needs to be amended. 
  • Refer to the MARAM Practice Guides and MARAM COVID Practice Notes for further information and guidance.  

What can my service do for perpetrators of family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

It is possible that some people you work with may disclose that they are perpetrating or using family violence against others. It is important to not ignore a disclosure from a perpetrator, but it is also not recommended that workers challenge perpetrators about their use of violence without the appropriate training and expertise. Doing so could increase risk to the victim survivor(s). Acknowledge what has been discussed and offer to make a referral to an appropriate service such as the Men’s Referral Service or With Respect (LGBTIQ Family Violence Service). These services are also able to provide secondary consultation to practitioners.  

 If your organisation is prescribed under the MARAM and Information Sharing Schemes, it might be appropriate to voluntarily share this information with other services to support collaborative responses to manage the risk. Refer to the MARAM Practice Guides and MARAM COVID Practice Notes for further information and guidance.  

If there are immediate safety and wellbeing concerns call 000. For further information see https://ntv.org.au/  

Family violence response during coronavirus (COVID-19) video series 

This video series produced in July 2020 provides an overview of how the Victorian Government has been working with the family violence sector and across government departments and agencies to respond to family violence since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.  

Service delivery in refuge or crisis accommodation

Please see official advice from the Department of Health and Human Services regarding self-isolation for clients. 

There are particular challenges to the provision of refuge and crisis accommodation during the public health emergency. The Department has issued  Q&A Guidelines specifically for family violence refuges that  address these complexities. Anyone with family violence risk-related crisis accommodation needs should continue to be directed to safe steps, who will continue to provide services throughout the COVID-19 epidemic. 

Operational and administration issues

Working remotely - How to communicate with clients confidentially and safely?

As many organisations transition to ‘working from home’ arrangements for staff, it is vital to consider how this will change the way staff communicate with clients and the impact on staff who may be working from home in isolation for some time.

WESNET have a range of tips and resources regarding using technology safely to communicate with victim-survivors of family violence and resources to assist family violence organisations to set up for working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Whilst these resources have been designed for family violence organisations, aspects may be applicable to a broader range of organisations who may be communicating with victim-survivors under working from home arrangements.

WESNET also provides the following resources:

Many of WESNET’s resources draw on those developed by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) in the United States.  NNEDV also provide a Digital Services Toolkit.

Justice Connect is also offering tailored legal advice for services including information on client safety, securing data with increasingly remote workforces, and managing cancelled public events.

Organisations should also review and update staff well-being and vicarious trauma mitigation strategies to ensure these are responsive to staff working from home for prolonged periods, and ensure staff know what support is available and going to be provided to them while they are working from home and in greater isolation from the normal team environment.

Practice with victim survivors who are isolated and/or in quarantine

DV Vic continues to work with specialist family violence services to ensure they're able to deliver services and responses to victim survivors. The Foundational Framework and Principles of the Code provide a best practice compass to navigate through current complexities and maintain a commitment to intersectional feminist, inclusive and safety-focused support. DV Vic has maintained a register of practice challenges and has developed tailored practice advice for specialist family violence services during this time. 

DV Vic has also developed FAQs for victim survivors and friends/family/supporters which have been updated in response to Stage 3 and Stage 4 restrictions in Victoria. 

Last updated: 27 August.