New fears for abuse victims in COVID-19 lockdown

LOCKED inside with no escape, no support and a higher risk of contracting coronavirus is the harsh reality of vulnerable Townsville women forced to isolate in their home with an abuser.

The Federal Government's self-isolation measures have made life hell for victims of domestic violence who are proven to be at a higher risk of emotional, physical or mental abuse in a time of crisis.

These vulnerable and dangerous situations are deeply concerning for members of the Townsville domestic violence sector who are grappling to find ways to respond to the expected increase in rates.

North Queensland Domestic Violence Resource Service (NQDVRS) co-ordinator Mandy Thompson said the isolation guidelines were a powerful control tool for perpetrators.

Isolation was a key tactic used by abusers to reduce a victim's interaction with their usual circles and keeping them in the palm of their hands.

The added pressure of reduced income, uncertainty and high stress levels in the COVID-19 outbreak also added to a victim's risk.

Ms Thompson said these findings were not new, with research proving domestic violence spiked after times of crisis, including natural disasters and times of dire straits.

Queensland Police data showed a huge spike in domestic violence breaches in the month following Townsville's floods last year, with more than 300 offences recorded.

This year, more than 540 breach of domestic violence order offences have been recorded between January and February.

Ms Thompson said many people had not returned to normality after the floods and these groups were particularly vulnerable with the escalated stress of another crisis.

She feared another spike would emerge in the statistics when the pandemic finally settled, but was worried about the uncertainty.

"These women are going to have escalated anxiety, increased fear and those heightened fears of being unsafe which is what we try to avoid," she said. "We have no control over this, the whole community has no control, but especially these victims."

Griffith University Deputy Head of School associate professor Jennifer Boddy said victims of long-term abuse also have weaker immune systems, making them more susceptible to contracting coronavirus.

Prof Boddy, a member of the Domestic Violence Research Network, said the lasting impacts of this isolation period will be determined by how quickly peak bodies act now.

She was also concerned for the future of women's shelters given the ban of indoor mass gatherings and the social distancing recommendations.

>>If you are experiencing domestic violence, call NQDVRS on 4921 2888 or DV Connect on 1800 811 811.

Originally published as New fears for abuse victims in COVID-19 lockdown

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