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No spike yet for domestic violence crisis lines

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South Australia’s domestic violence services say they have not yet received a spike in calls for assistance, despite fears the coronavirus pandemic could see incidents rise by up to 40 per cent.

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But crisis services were preparing for more calls as virus restrictions continued.

It follows the death of a 35-year-old woman at her Morphett Vale home on Thursday.

The woman was heard screaming for help but neighbours did not call police.

The mother of three’s 38-year-old estranged partner was charged with her murder on Friday.

According to White Ribbon Australia, across the country one woman is murdered by her current or former partner on average each week.

Domestic violence services are considered “essential” by the State Government and continue to operate during the coronavirus pandemic to provide phone assistance, counseling and emergency accommodation to women in crisis.

Women’s Safety Services SA services director Ginny Cisneros told InDaily while the peak body had expected the number of calls to its domestic violence crisis line would increase during the pandemic, it was yet to see a spike.

“We know domestic and family violence occurs within a pattern of abuse and control, and that controlling behaviours are inclusive of restricting people’s relationships and interactions with family, friends and services,” she said.

“COVID-19 will intensify the experience of control for our clients and also has the potential to increase risk for our clients.

“These circumstances can make it difficult for women to find a safe time to call the Domestic Violence Crisis Line (1800 800 098), which we believe is the reason we haven’t seen a spike in calls.”

InDaily reported previously that calls to self-isolate to combat the spread of the coronavirus could have unintended consequences on women whose risk of experiencing domestic violence while distanced from their support network is exacerbated.

A downturn in the economy, job losses and casual and contract worker uncertainty have added to the sense of unease and fear in the community, which is in turn expected to boost tension in some family homes.

Centacare SA family services executive manager Kara Pilitz said she expected the number of calls to her agency’s domestic violence phone line would increase by as much as 40 per cent during the coronavirus pandemic, but that spike hadn’t happened “yet”.

She said that figure was based on the increased number of domestic violence-related calls in the eastern states, which have been hardest hit by the coronavirus in Australia.

“Anytime there’s a natural disaster we always see a spike in family violence and research shows that,” she said.

“Why we see spikes after a natural disaster is because of the additional pressures like financial pressures, a lot of people are out of work, health and emotional wellbeing challenges, which may increase the risk of problems for some women.

“The fact we haven’t seen that spike (coinciding with the coronavirus) is a concern, particularly when we think about the number of women who feel they are unable to access help in a safe way.”

Pilitz said Centacare was preparing its frontline workers to respond to the expected increase in calls, while also scaling back face-to-face services to combat the spread of coronavirus.  

“A lot of our crisis work prior to this has been delivered over the phone when women can’t come in face-to-face – they don’t have the capacity to do that,” she said.

“Our workers are actually really skilled at doing that phone work and assessing the risk over the phone.  

“They’ve actually adapted to this new model quite well.”

 A spokesperson for national domestic violence crisis line 1800RESPECT said the organisation had experienced an increase in contact across Australia coinciding with the spread of the coronavirus.

“Our counsellors are very experienced in how to sensitively handle contacts from those who are in the same house as someone using violence,” the spokesperson said.

“The caller’s safety is our main priority.”

Women’s Safety Services SA has also encouraged women experiencing domestic violence to call its domestic violence crisis line (1800 800 098) if they are in need of support.

“During this time it’s really important we look out for one another- so if you are concerned about the safety of someone you know, we encourage you to call the Domestic Violence Crisis Line,” Cisneros said.

“Our counsellors can help make a plan to support the safety of women and children.

“WSSSA is an essential service, we are continuing to operate and are looking at different ways women can contact us safely.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 for 24/7 counselling. 

You can also contact 1800RESPECT through webchat which can be accessed on its website and speak with a counsellor.

If this article has raised issues for you, you can call LifeLine on 13 11 14.

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