Covid brings surge of domestic violence support requests Our local newspaper, The St.George and Sutherland Shire Leader, recently published an article on the impacts Covid has had on local Domestic Violence Support Services. You can read the article here: The Leader: Calls to St George, Sutherland domestic violence services surge (August 3, 2021) Domestic Violence is a concern all year round in the Sutherland Shire & St.George regions with our Southern Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service receiving on average 350 referrals from Police each month for immediate domestic & family violence support. The article quoted local Domestic Violence Support Service, The Family Co. CEO Ashleigh Daines, and highlighted the following issues about how many women are at increased risk during Covid lockdowns: The Covid-19 situation and subsequent lockdowns have increased complexity around domestic violence reporting and domestic violence support, and while on average we haven’t seen a substantial peak in referrals to our service, we have had a lot of feedback about the increased difficulties women face in lockdown (when living with the perpetrator of the violence). For people who have left a violent relationship, the lockdowns have given them an opportunity to seek help via remote channels that they may not have been able to access previously due to work demands. They noticed that the week the Sydney lockdown was announced, we experienced a 60% increase in calls for support ahead of lockdown. There was a combination of traditional intimate partner violence, but also an emerging concern around violence between adult children still living at home with their parents. During July 2021, they received a 20% increase in referrals since the same period last year. What they noticed was a significant increase in the risk assessment of the referrals we get, with many more cases being considered where women are under serious physical threat of harm. What this means for our service is there is more demand on protection and security services as we have to employ additional measures to keep women safe from serious/ life threatening harm from a threatening (ex or) partner. They have received a significant amount of feedback that women who are experiencing domestic violence in their current relationship are facing additional barriers to leaving their situation, including Concerns about alternate accommodation options with reluctance to move to refuges (and not knowing the other people there) or imposing on family or friends (who are uncomfortable having visitors in their home) The rise in the local property market since Covid has impacted women’s choices to leave as they can’t secure future accommodation in the area (close to children’s school and friends) Income insecurity - women have lost their jobs or concerned they won’t be able to get one (many women’s work experiences are in industries like travel and hospitality, which have been hardest hit through the lockdown) In cases where partner’s lost their job, women are feeling like they need to financially support their partner to keep their joint assets (eg the family home) Increased isolation - restricted even further from seeking support from family or friends - perpetrators use Covid as a reason to keep them at home. Women are also citing technology abuse is an emerging concern as they can’t use their devices to access services and support. With children being at home all the time, a mother’s ability to have alone time is reduced, meaning they can’t access support Some perpetrators are not letting their children go to childcare “because of the virus”, which is limiting opportunities for financial independence, which would assist them to leave the relationship. Lots of children are acting out at home (sometimes impacted by escalating tensions in the home) and mothers don’t feel confident in managing the complex behaviours by themselves. Why is it important for women who might be in domestic violence situations to seek support, especially during lockdown? The nature of lockdown restrictions, employment pressures and other factors can exacerbate triggers for domestic violence. The restrictions can be further used by perpetrators to isolate their victims and increase their dependency on them. It is especially important during lockdown for women to try to reach out to get support - to have a person who can listen to them, believe them, and give them emotional and practical support that can help them make clearer decisions about their options for the future. It is important to have safety planning conversations to know in advance what to do if violence escalates to ensure physical safety, how to diffuse escalating tensions, or how to get appropriate help that doesn’t further jeopardise safety of all family members. Support services can also provide access to information, referrals and advocacy in accessing various Government and non-government services and systems, which can improve chances of obtaining safe and affordable housing or a secure income. It is important for women to know that the lockdown restrictions don’t apply to them if they need to leave the home to safely access support services. They can go for a walk, or get in the car, separating themselves from the perpetrator in order to get help. If they need immediate Domestic Violence crisis support, they can call the Southern Sydney Women’s DVCAS on 02 8508 4300 – Sutherland Shire or 02 8508 4350 – St George or they can reach out to The Family Co. directly on 9528 2933, Monday - Friday between 9am and 5pm if they want to know more about getting some longer term support from a DV Caseworker, or being part of a DV support group They can also call the 1800 Respect Hotline, which is available 24/7 if after traditional business hours. They can also go to their GP and ask for a referral to a support service, a mental health plan that allows them access to free counselling. It’s important to know that you do not need a referral to access our service. You can seek help directly if needed. While the SSDVC is pleased local media are giving this important issue a voice, these messages are important for the community to be aware of, all year round.