The bushfires at the beginning of this year and then coronavirus have created additional challenges for our community, including increased anxiety, social isolation and financial stress.
There is strong national and international evidence indicating violence against women and children increases, takes new forms, or may be revealed following emergencies and crises.
We know that emergencies and crises can also intensify existing violence, particularly where women are separated from their social networks and have less opportunity to reach out. The breakdown of broader community support structures may mean that women and children who are already experiencing violence or who have recently left violent partners are put at further risk, by needing to rely on a perpetrator for survival or access to services.
During the pandemic, prevention and response to family violence has remained a critical priority for the government with all Victorian family violence and sexual assault services continuing to operate.
Coronavirus has had a significant impact on the family violence service system as it has shifted from face-to-face to remote service delivery. The sector has continued to deliver and has adapted to challenging and changing conditions.
While Victoria experienced an initial decrease in demand for police and family violence services with the introduction of social distancing measures, year on year evidence shows increasing rates of family violence in Australia during COVID-19.
As we release this second rolling action plan the full impact of COVID-19 is not yet known but it has already driven change and innovation in how we design and deliver services. We will consider these as we continue to deliver the reform.
Impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19)
Necessary physical distancing measures including working from home and flexible learning for children have resulted in women, children and young people spending extended periods of time with perpetrators. These circumstances can make it challenging to discreetly and securely access support services and escape family violence.
Women are also disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19, with increasing employment instability due to overrepresentation in affected industries such as the arts, hospitality and retail, where woman account for 55 per cent of the workforce, and education and training (73 per cent).1 Early drawing-down of superannuation may also further entrench long-term disadvantage.
For children and young people, time away from school environments has limited opportunities for formal and informal support.
For many older people, the pandemic has resulted in increased social isolation and a higher risk of experiencing elder abuse. Data compiled by the Crime Statistics Agency from a range of sources has highlighted a significant increase in family violence incidents for people aged 55 and older during this period.
Demand on family violence services in Victoria has fluctuated during COVID-19 as restrictions on movement have changed.
We know with restrictions on movement that opportunities to reach out for help using traditional avenues are often limited and there are more barriers to seeking help.
International evidence and experiences in Australia with bushfires tell us that there are spikes in family violence which may only emerge fully following emergencies and crises.
By mid 2020 there were indications of increasing demand and complexity of calls and referrals to services.
While it is too early to reach any conclusions about the full effects of the pandemic on the nature and extent of family violence in Victoria, there are indications that demand is likely to grow as restrictions in Victoria ease, especially in areas and communities that have been most affected.
Data and research on coronavirus (COVID-19) impact
Family violence service providers have highlighted new trends in the patterns and severity of violence experienced by women accessing their services.
Research by Monash University reports the specific tactics of violence have changed or increased during COVID-19, including:
- escalation in technology abuse, for example monitoring movement and restricting communication
- using misinformation around visa status
- threats (including threats of suicide and self-harm)
- access to children; undermining parenting
- exploiting changes in power dynamics and limiting access to service supports
Alongside research on the patterns of family violence, there is associated data and reporting relating to fatigue in the family violence sector and further data suggesting we can also expect demand to increase for services such as legal advice, counselling, financial advice and housing.
The COVID-19 Family Violence Data Portal, developed by the Crime Statistics Agency, shows COVID-19 impacts on family violence.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the family violence response
Family violence response and support
Family violence frontline services including crisis accommodation, police and courts, and sexual assault services continue to operate and support women, children and families at risk.
Government and the family violence sector have adapted to the challenges arising from restrictions, with many frontline staff working from home and delivering services remotely. This has provided opportunities to use technological innovations and new service delivery models to manage the safety of victim survivors and keep perpetrators accountable for their behaviour.
Victoria Police: Operation Ribbon
Victoria Police commenced Operation Ribbon on 13 April 2020. Members of the Family Violence Investigation Unit follow up with known family violence offenders and conduct compliance checks with court orders.
The operation has involved police visiting victim survivors and communicating with them through several different channels to ensure their safety and wellbeing.
As of 1 November 2020
29,151 contacts to:
- 20,593 AFMs (affected family members/victim survivors)
- 8,548 perpetrators
- 57.4% phone
- 37.5% face to face
- 5.1% email and other
Coronavirus (COVID-19) investment for family violence services
On 10 April 2020, the Victorian Government announced an investment of $40.2 million in crisis accommodation and specialist services for people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, family violence.
On 17 August 2020, the Victorian Government announced $20.43 million would be directed to more initiatives to combat family violence and address increasing demand for perpetrator intervention services during COVID-19.
These funding allocations have delivered a range of family violence-related initiatives and services, including:
Victim survivor support
- short-term accommodation for victim survivors who do not feel safe self-isolating or recovering from COVID-19 at home
- capacity-building of family violence and sexual assault services, including Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations
Perpetrator intervention programs
- men’s behaviour change programs and one-on-one case management for perpetrators of family violence
- funding that will enable family violence perpetrators, or people who believe they are at risk of using violence, to move into short-term or long-term accommodation
Adolescents who use violence
- dedicated support for adolescents using violence and their families
The Victorian Government also announced $3 million for 12 women’s health services across the state to continue their work to prevent family violence, ensuring these services can continue to deliver prevention of family violence training, advice and support to organisations in their local areas.
Family violence reform innovations during coronavirus (COVID-19)
- rapid shift to online service delivery including Community Corrections Services, courts and specialist family violence services, perpetrator interventions (where appropriate and safe), Victorian Legal Aid centres, and online chat functions to enable safe contact
- Audio-Visual Link technology in courts to promote access to justice for victims where appropriate and safe to do so
- fast-tracked rollout of an online Family Violence Intervention Order application form through the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria
- availability of remote court trial hearings for victim survivors of sexual assault
- support for government schools during remote and flexible learning with additional resources to assist school staff to identify family violence risk and support vulnerable cohorts; includes a rapid move to providing remote access to wellbeing support including counselling for students, as well as online training and advice for the workforce
- increase in the frequency and length of practitioner remote contact with both victim survivors and those at risk of perpetrating family violence, including perpetrator interventions moving to a multi-intervention service model
- development of targeted MARAM Practice Notes for each sector, responding to victims and perpetrators and focused on supporting collaborative practice between specialist and non-specialist services
- accelerating development and widespread use of online training enabling professionals to continue to be trained in MARAM
- building risk questions specific to coronavirus into online family violence MARAM assessment tools which can be adapted to be used in future crises
- partnering with public health to ensure that wherever possible COVID-19 related health operations have served as a platform to identify family violence and provide information and support
- advertising family violence support services in places people visit during social distancing restrictions, such as workplaces, health services, pharmacies and supermarkets
- producing video and audio police messages for culturally and linguistically diverse communities on reporting options and the support services available, with messages recorded in 27 languages and disseminated via a range of media
- establishing the COVID-19 Aboriginal Community Taskforce to provide a comprehensive, coordinated and culturally safe response to the impacts of coronavirus on Aboriginal Victorians. The Taskforce comprises representatives from Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, Victorian Government departments and other community members and provides advice on impacts across all socio-economic domains, including family violence
- developing and implementing Community Corrections' resources to encourage perpetrators to engage in help-seeking behaviour, including:
- the publication of a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Perpetrator Guide
- implementing a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Victim Survivor Guide
- developing and running training specific to coronavirus (COVID-19) and family violence for Corrections and Community Services staff
Additional reform-level activities related to COVID-19 are included in the various priority areas throughout the Rolling Action Plan.
As we continue to learn from the impacts of the pandemic we will continue to assess and implement those innovations and learnings, in line with our commitment to continuous improvement across the reform.
Reviewed 09 December 2020