Information for professionals concerned about family violence risk during coronavirus (COVID-19)

With an expected increase in family violence due to self-isolation and distancing, it is important to ask about family violence and to let people know that there is specialist support and services available.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020 at 2:57 am

People working in medical and other service industries, such as nurses, doctors and pharmacists, may be more likely to come into contact with clients or service users experiencing or at risk of harm from family violence and sexual assault.

Why the likely increase or escalation of family violence risk?

With more people staying at home to reduce the spread of coronavirus, there will be less access to friends, family and community based networks. This can significantly limit a person’s opportunities to get help and support.

Children, young people and older people, people with health conditions, disability or additional communication needs are at increased risk during isolation, and from reduced access to supports.

What is family violence?

Family violence includes emotional abuse, financial abuse, physical or sexual violence, and increasing controlling behaviours, including restrictions to the victim’s ability to communicate with friends or family. 

You may already be aware that a client or service user is experiencing family violence, or you may begin to see signs of risk during the period of isolation.

Be aware that any escalation or change in the frequency or severity of violence (i.e. the violence getting worse) is an important time to seek support. 

Remember, If someone is in immediate danger call 000.

What you can do

When speaking with a client or service user that you are concerned is experiencing family violence including sexual assault:

Continue communicating

If you are worried about them and it is safe to do so, you can ask: 

  • ‘Has anyone in your family done something that made you or your children feel unsafe or afraid’?
  • ‘Has this changed during the isolation period’?
  • ‘Do you have any immediate safety concerns for yourself, any children or family members in your care?’

Safe accommodation

Talk to them about their options for safe accommodation during this time.

This could include staying with family and friends for an extended period of time. If someone is planning on leaving call safe steps 1800 015 188 or a local family violence service for advice.

Safety in their own home

If they are staying in the same location as the person using violence, they may need other ways to protect themselves and their children or other family members.  Call safe steps on 1800 015 188 for advice and support.

Leaving home to escape harm

Let them know that whatever Victoria's coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions are people can leave their home to escape harm or the risk of harm relating to family violence. They will not be fined if they need to do so. Call safe steps on 1800 015 188 for advice and support.

Safe communication

Think about secure ways to communicate, such as using Whatsapp, Signal etc. Agree on a code word or signal to let you know they need help or need you to call 000.  

Other system supports

Consider seeking advice from a specialist family violence service about access to a Family Violence Intervention Order if there is not one in place, including whether it may need to be amended.

Ways that services can help

  • Call 000 if you believe they are at immediate risk.
  • Contact a specialist family violence service for advice on how to support the service user/client – they can assist with risk assessment and management – including determining if immediate intervention and coordinated responses are required.
  • Refer the service user/client for specialist family violence support if you believe they are an elevated or serious risk.
  • Refer to the MARAM Practice Guides for further information and guidance.

Key contacts: state-wide, after-hours services

safe steps

For women and children who are victims of family violence and information about refuge and secure accommodation.

Victims of Crime Helpline

For adult male victims of family violence and victims of violent crime.

Child Protection

For children and young people whose safety is at risk.

  • phone: 13 12 78 (5pm-9am, Monday-Friday, 24hrs on weekends and public holidays)

Sexual Assault Crisis Line

For victims of sexual assault.

Men’s Referral Service

  • for men using controlling behaviour
  • for women seeking information
  • for family or colleagues of people who are using or experiencing family violence

Phone: 1300 766 491 (8am-9pm, Monday-Friday; 9am-5pm, Saturday and Sunday)

Kids Helpline

A free, private and confidential, telephone and online counselling service for young people aged between 5-25.