Intimate Partner and Family Violence and COVID-19

Content warning: This article is about violence and may be distressing for some. Reader discretion is advised. 

During times of crisis the risk of intimate partner and family violence escalates. Intimate partner and family violence are rooted in power and control. Job insecurity, money pressures and a sense of powerlessness against the pandemic may see some people escalate their abuse, use abusive behaviours more often, or for the first time.

Some people in our communities experience intimate partner and/or family violence, and as we see physical distancing implemented, we recognise that for some people in our communities, home is not a safe place to be. It may in fact be the most dangerous place to be.

As a result of the current restrictions put in place due to COVID-19, people who experience violence may find that they have fewer opportunities to seek help, and the strategies they use to stay safe may need to change. COVID-19 may also be used as a further way to control people and isolate them from family and friends, for example restricting their movements, denying the person access to medical treatment or threatening to kick them out if they show symptoms.

With fewer opportunities to be out and about seeing people it is also important that as a community we look out for one another and maintain contact. For someone who may be experiencing violence at home, you might be their only access to help.

Getting Help and Staying Safe

It is important to know that there is support out there for you if you are experiencing intimate partner or family violence. Services including ACON remain available to provide assistance to our communities, and the NSW Government is supporting domestic violence services with additional measures in response to COVID-19.

It’s also important to know that you can leave your home due to intimate partner or family violence. The NSW Public Health Order specifically outlines that people can leave the home to ‘avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm’. People can also leave the home to move to a new place of residence or between different places of residence. If you are feeling unsafe, you can leave your home. This is true whether the abuse you are experiencing is physical or psychological or some other form of abuse. Intimate partner and family violence can take many forms. No matter what form abuse takes, there is support for you, and you have the right to leave the abuse.

You also have the right to leave your home for other reasons, such as to access domestic violence services, but also to do things like attend work, shop and exercise.

If you are living with family or other people who you may be fearful of you may be weighing up between your safety and your right to express yourself and your identity freely. These are difficult and personal choices, and it is important to think about your safety and consider planning for what you may do if things do not go well and you need to leave the home.

If you can safely connect with supportive people or community and social groups outside of the home, for example through online groups, this can be an important way to access the support and affirmation that you have a right to. Services like QLife are also available for support. QLife provides anonymous peer support and referral for people in our communities wanting to talk about a range of issues including sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships. Qlife provides both telephone and webchat support.

If you are unsafe at home, it can be helpful to make a safety plan. This could be a plan for leaving an abusive relationship or family (of origin or chosen family), or it might be about strategies you can do temporarily to make yourself safer while remaining in the home or relationship. You can read more about Safety Planning on our Getting Help page. This page has a list of important things to consider for your safety plan.

There are some additional considerations during COVID-19 such as:

Preparing for an incident:

  • Staying safe online. People that use violence may monitor and restrict technology. You can find extensive tips for staying safe online in the eSafety Commissioners COVID-19 advice for women experiencing domestic violence and Wesnet’s Technology Safety Plan page. These pages include tips to find another device (like a friend’s or neighbours if you can), set up new or separate email accounts, change the passwords on your accounts, and use a private browser.
  • Be aware that during COVID-19 a person may use new or escalated tactics of abuse, so even if you have not previously felt that your physical safety is at risk, you should still plan for your physical safety now.
  • Also be prepared for an increase in your own emotional distress and a decrease in your ability to make decisions as a result of escalating abuse at home, planning around your safety now will make decisions later easier.
  • Think about the best and safest time of day for your friends to contact you and communicate this with them.
  • If you have decided to reach out for help, create a plausible reason to leave the house such as getting groceries, and contact your friends or a support service then
  • If you are not able to leave the house, you could call a service or use a service chat function while the other person is asleep, or you could call while in the bathroom and running the shower to make some noise.
  • Identify safe areas of the house, where there are ways to escape or hide if possible.
  • Get to know your neighbours so that you can reach out to them and escape there if needed or they feel more confident to call the police during an incident.

During an incident: 

  • Consciously engage your existing strategies that work for you.
  • Try to avoid particularly unsafe areas such as the garage, kitchen and bathroom.
  • Remove long jewellery – especially necklaces, as well as ties and scarves that could be used to pull you, choke you or restrain you.
  • Position your body to protect your vulnerable head/neck, torso and groin or other vulnerable areas like existing injuries or chronic pains.
  • If possible, stay in open spaces near a door and avoid being cornered.
  • Try to keep any children and pets away from danger, including witnessing verbal or emotional abuse. Though remember this is not always possible and any harm done is the responsibility of the person causing harm.
  • In the case of emergency call 000 and ask for ambulance or police.

After an incident: 

  • Keep a record of the incident, including documenting any visible injuries and keeping any related communication such as text messages. Detail any third party or emergency response such as ambulance or police and keep copies of any documentation you are given. Keep all of these in a safe place or email them to a trusted person, deleting the email from your sent messages.
  • Also keep a record of abuse that is not physical, such as threats and harassment, or records of the other person controlling your finances or monitoring you.
  • Access medical treatment should you or your dependants need it – ideally with a support person.
  • Reach out to your allies and supports.
  • Consider accessing further help and supports, especially if during the incident you experienced a sudden escalation or unfamiliar patterns of behaviour in the person using harm. We have provided a few below.
  • To report to police, keep in mind you can request Domestic Violence Liaison Officers (DVLOS) and Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers (GLOS) and also support from ACON’s client services.
  • Remember that your brain and body will process traumatic incidents in unique and creative ways – you may experience any number of physical, mental and emotional responses. These are signs that your body is trying to process and cope with what you are experiencing – not signs that something is wrong with you.

There are services that can provide support to people in our communities who are experiencing intimate partner and family violence. Mainstream sexual, domestic and family violence services such as 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) and Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia (R&DVSA) (1800 424 017) are trained to respond to people who are unsafe and can work with people of all genders, and sexualities and can be contacted 24/7. Both 1800RESPECT and R&DVSA have information specific to our communities on their websites and also have webchat options if it is not safe to speak on the phone. In an emergency, you should contact 000 for support.

ACON counsellors and care coordinators are also available to provide support to community members who are over the age of 18 and are experiencing intimate partner and family violence, to access care coordination, you can undergo a brief assessment in person or over the phone, and you can contact our Sydney office 02 9206 2000 for more information. Inner City Legal Service are able to provide legal support to people who have experienced intimate partner violence, and you can make an appointment by calling 1800 244 481 or emailing Twenty10 is able to support community members who are under the age of 18, and you can contact them on 8594 9555.

‘I’m Concerned About a Friend’

With physical distancing restrictions a person experiencing abuse at home will have fewer contact points with people who show concern or may notice changes in a person. It is therefore important that we look out for one another and maintain contact. You never know when you might be the link to someone getting help.

If you are concerned about the safety of a friend or loved one, there are ways that you can intervene and support the person. You can read more about how you may be able to intervene to support your friend in our Bystander ToolkitDuring this time, some important additional tips to remember are:

  • Assume that the person using violence can hear, see and/or monitor all communication you have with the person.
  • Ask them what the best way and time to contact them is and keep asking because it might change.
  • Ask them if there is anything you can do to support them, like shopping for them.
  • Share messages about supports available for people experiencing intimate partner violence on your public social media pages- this way the person you are worried about may be able to see the message, without the user of violence questioning why it was sent to them.
  • Let your friend know that you believe them, that the violence is not their fault and that they are not alone.