On 30th March 2020, Australia announced a $150 million boost in funding to tackle domestic violence after support services reported a rise in COVID-19 related family abuse.
Worryingly, domestic violence is increasing around the world as we engage in social distancing lockdowns. Europe, the UK and the US are all reporting a surge in domestic violence calls and China’s rate has tripled.
There has also been a 75 per cent surge in Google searches for help in relation to domestic and family violence during the ongoing Australian nationwide shutdown of non-essential services to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The lockdown in response to the COVID-19 crisis, has mandated that we practice social distancing by staying at home. However, this means that those who are vulnerable to family violence are in situations where they are spending a great deal of time at home with the perpetrators. For those in strained situations, going to work helps to create regular separation. Spending many hours together at home is exposing those already in abusive situations to violence that they cannot escape.
The uncertain financial impact of COVID-19 and the loss of control are compounding the problem, and tensions between couples and families are rising.
A Lack of Control
During this crisis, our lives have been incredibly disrupted where our regular routines, and the things we love to do, have been affected. For most people, our routines for work, education, exercise, entertainment and socialising have changed or ceased. Around the world, millions have lost their jobs, been temporarily stood down, or had their hours or pay reduced. This is leading many to feel like their lives are no longer under their control.
It’s a normal response when people feel powerless in one area of their lives, to try to establish more power in other areas. For people in vulnerable family relationships, the issue of power and control is amplified. Domestic abuse is an effort by one partner to dominate and establish psychological, emotional, physical, financial and sexual control over the other partner. The cycle of domestic violence includes the phases of building tension, violent incident, remorse and apologies; followed by a honeymoon period.
In this COVID-19 crisis, we are seeing increases in abuse in vulnerable relationships and a rise in violence levels in already violent homes. Self-isolation is placing domestic violence abusers under additional strain and this group doesn’t typically have well developed emotional resources or coping skills. The need for control is also leading to abusers refusing to allow their partners to leave their homes at all, for fear of catching the virus.
Social distancing is also impacting access to support for abusers with attending counselling services becoming more difficult. The problem is, it’s unclear right now how long the social distancing requirements will be in place. The longer it goes, the more likely the increase in domestic violence.
See our article, COVID-19: Safely Working From Home.
What Can Business Do to Help?
Although domestic violence sits outside the remit of what occurs at work, companies have a significant role to play. A critical area where business can assist is in training employees on warning signs, support and personal safety.
- Train About Warning Signs: People who experience domestic violence are often more likely to confide in a co-worker. They are generally reluctant to talk to managers of supervisors. One thing a company can do is to train all employees to recognise the warning signs and risk factors for domestic violence. Tap into Safety offers a dedicated module on domestic violence that teaches signs of domestic violence, coping mechanisms, and advises where to seek help.
- Establish a Support Network: Companies can provide support across the business for employees experiencing domestic violence. An effective team which include the employee’s supervisor, trusted co-worker/s, the human resources department, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider and union representatives.
- Encourage At-Risk Employees to Develop a Safety Plan: All employees should ensure their safety at home during COVID-19. It’s a good idea to develop a plan if things go wrong. The Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria has a comprehensive list of actions to include in a safety plan:
- If you sense trouble, move to a ‘lower risk space’: rooms with two exits and fewer things that can be used as weapons, where you can be seen or heard from the outside.
- Learn – and teach your children – to position themselves ‘between trouble and the door’.
- Teach your children how to call police 000 and to know their home address.
- Where possible, have a charged phone and a hidden second phone.
- Create signals and code words that tell your children to go to a pre-arranged safe place.
- Create signals for neighbours and family members, such as a porch light or drawn shade.
- Have an escape plan and back-up and rehearse in the dark and with your children.
- Keep spare keys, important documents and hidden cash for emergencies.
- Be aware that travel restrictions may impact your escape or safety plan.
- Consider how you can use essential services such as your GP, other health services, school, post office or supermarket as part of your safety plan.
See our article, COVID-19: Reduce Your Employee’s Anxiety.
Australian COVID-19 Domestic Violence Contacts:
- If you are in danger call 000 or contact the police in your state or territory
- 1800 RESPECT (ph. 1800 737 732) for national information, counselling and support.
- No to Violence COVID-19 update (Men’s Referral Service ph. 1300 766 491)
- Lifeline (ph. 131 114)
- Relationships Australia (ph. 1300 364 277)
- safe steps on 1800 015 188
The lockdown in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the uncertainty of the length of the lock-down, the fear of losing your job and the need to socially distance is leading to higher domestic violence calls and cases. Vulnerable people, including your employees, are in situations where they are spending a great deal of time at home with the domestic violence perpetrators.
Self-isolation is placing domestic violence abusers under additional strain, and this group doesn’t typically have well developed emotional resources or coping skills. The need for control is also leading to abusers refusing to allow their partners to leave their homes at all, for fear of catching the virus.
It’s unclear right now how long the social distancing requirements will be in place and how much your vulnerable employees will be threatened by domestic violence. A critical area where business can assist is in training employees on warning signs, providing support networks and developing a personal safety plan.