A “Shadow Pandemic”: COVID Leads to Rise in Domestic Violence Offences

by Jarryd Bartle

Since the start of the pandemic, concerns have been raised that a combination of household isolation due to lockdowns as well as work and financial stress could lead to a wave of domestic violence offences not just in our state, but across the nation.

The United Nations has declared an increase in family and domestic violence during COVID-19 a “shadow pandemic” requiring urgent government action and well-funded services.

The following outlines what we know about domestic and intimate partner violence rates in NSW during the pandemic.

Family Violence Service Usage Is Up

There has been an increase in the number of people seeking out specialist family violence services throughout the pandemic.

Women’s Safety NSW surveyed 53 frontline specialists at 34 community services across NSW, finding rising rates of women experience domestic violence since the onset of the pandemic.

Forty-five per cent of respondents stated that their client numbers had continued to rise throughout the pandemic with 69% noting an escalation in abuse triggered by unemployment and financial pressures and 80% noting an increase in high risk cases with COVID-19 a key factor.

There has also been a dramatic spike in calls to national and state-wide domestic violence hotlines. 

Crime Statistics Are Stable

According to the latest data on recorded criminal incidents from June this year rates of domestic violence related assaults appear stable, however this may reflect a delay in recorded incidents.

Family violence is notoriously underreported to police making official crime statistics an incomplete picture of incidents. We will have to wait for more in-depth victimisation surveys to be completed before we get an accurate picture of crime rates.

A more complete picture of domestic violence rates in NSW is scheduled to be released in December this year. 

Risk of Violence May Vary

A recent paper by the Australian Institute of Criminology indicates risk of domestic violence during the pandemic is likely to depend on a number of complex interacting factors.

The paper found that financial stress prior to the pandemic was a strong predictor of violence, as was a previous history of an abusive partner.

Two-thirds of women (67%) who had experienced violence prior to the pandemic by their partner experienced an increase in violence, compared to 3% of women whose partners had not previously been violent. There was a strong association between previous experiences with coercive control and the first onset violence.

Social isolation was a key factor in violence. Women who reported having less than weekly contact with family and friends outside of their household during the pandemic were significantly more likely to experience violence than women who had contact with family and friends more than once a week.

Marginalised communities also experienced an increase risk of violence.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women with long-term health conditions that impacted their everyday activities were more likely to experience violence.

Where To Get Help

There are a number of hotlines and specialist services available for victims of domestic and family violence in NSW.

Australia has a 24/7 national counselling helpline for victims of domestic violence which can be contacted via 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

Author

Jarryd Bartle

Jarryd Bartle practised as a criminal defence lawyer before moving on to specialist consultancy. He has written for several publications including The Guardian, VICE and The Conversation, covering a range of criminal justice-related topics.

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