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 over-representation 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%).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.
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)
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.