In a recent Statistical Bulletin published by the Australian Institute of Criminology the results of a survey conducted in May 2020 by Hayley Boxall, Anthony Morgan and Rick Brown were published.
The survey results derived from an online questionnaire of some 15,000 women about their experiences of domestic violence during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is particularly poignant at the moment, given recent Australian evidence from New South Wales and Queensland which found that there was no increase in domestic violence reported to Police in March or April 2020. Interestingly some Australian Domestic violence and men’s behaviour change services reported an increase in calls for support.
It is generally accepted that the majority of women do not engage with Police or support services when they are in a current relationship with a perpetrator. However, there are increasing concerns that the circumstances surrounding the pandemic have made it even more difficult and potentially unsafe for victims to seek support. The aim of the study was to measure the prevalence of domestic violence since the beginning of February 2020 when the pandemic first started to impact Australian society.
In the three months prior to the survey:
- 8.2% of women in a cohabitating relationship experienced physical violence;
- 4.2% of women in a cohabitating relationship experienced sexual violence;
- 22.4% of women in a cohabitating relationship experienced emotionally abusive, coercive and controlling behaviours.
- 11.1% of women in a cohabitating relationship experienced a combination of all three behaviours.
More alarmingly and seemingly in conflict with commentary that there has been no increase in reports of domestic violence to Police is the following:
- 2.9% of women in a cohabitating relationship had been a victim of physical or sexual violence by a current or former cohabitating partner for the first time in the last three months.
- 5.4% of women in a cohabitating relationship experienced emotionally abusive, harassing or controlling behaviour by a current or former cohabitating partner for the first time in the last three months.
- 2.2% of women in a cohabitating relationship experienced coercive control by a current or former cohabitating partner for the first time in the last three months, meaning they had not experienced emotionally abusive, harassing or controlling behaviour prior to February 2020.
Many factors have been named as being attributable to this increase, including situational stressors such as financial problems and concerns about job security, restriction of movement of victims because of lockdowns and victims and perpetrators spending more time together resulting in victims sometimes being further controlled and monitored.
Alarmingly it seems the pandemic has corresponded for many women to the first time they have experienced domestic violence, at the very least and equally alarming is that women who were in abusive relationships before the pandemic began saw an increase in the complex manifestations of domestic violence. Further, many women were found to be unable to seek support at least in part because of quarantining and social distancing requirements.
Just because it hasn’t been reported doesn’t mean it is not happening. In an environment where we may be facing further lockdown restrictions, the question is, will this get worse?