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Media Release 17 March 2019

Women abused by partners are more at risk during Covid-19 outbreak.

Women’s Refuge is committed to providing a safe response that follows government health recommendations during the Covid-19 pandemic and making staff and client well-being the utmost priority.

However, the pandemic response of social distancing and self-isolation may mean that women living with family violence are more at risk. In China, family violence advocates reported a surge in people needing help to stay safe from their abusers, with one city put into lockdown recording nearly double the usual volume of family violence police callouts.

COVID-19 is too new to predict exactly what impact it will have on family violence here. But

Women’s Refuge Chief Executive Dr Ang Jury says that although it’s clearly very necessary, self-isolating will likely mean an escalation of violence for many women.

“Isolating and social distancing can have unintended consequences for women who are living with the people abusing them. Isolation from wider family, friends, and colleagues is a well-known method abusers use to exercise control over victims. Increased isolation also means victims are unable to seek respite from their partners by getting out of the house and doing everyday things.”

When victims are already isolated from others and are confined to the house, there are many more opportunities for their partners to use physical, sexual, or psychological violence against them. This, too, can have far-reaching impacts – restricting women’s access to money, for instance, becomes much more problematic. If their partners restrict their access to household income, buying the essentials for a two-week period of more can be almost impossible.

Services, too, may be harder to access when staff are taking extra precautions about illness or are also self-isolating. That means more of the responsibility for supporting people at risk falls to the community. Dr Jury says there are a lot of small things that friends and family can do to offer support.

“Checking in with people you’re concerned about in advance and that they’re in regular contact with people they trust – these things can make a really big difference”.

Women’s Refuge is working with government to ensure women can still access help. It will remain open during the pandemic and the crisis line will continue operating. If anyone is worried about someone they think might be at risk of violence, they can call 0800 REFUGE, which is available 24/7.