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More SA women flee homes during pandemic

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Demand for emergency accommodation spiked by 15 per cent over the peak COVID-19 lockdown period, as restrictions and heightened stress exacerbated abuse in South Australian homes, the state’s leading frontline domestic violence service says.

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Women’s Safety Services SA, which runs the state’s domestic violence crisis line, said women experienced more “intense” violence at home over the three month period from March to May this year, when coronavirus restrictions were in full force and many people were either isolating or working from home.

Over that time, the service also received an influx of calls from women who had previously not been identified as vulnerable to domestic abuse.  

SA Police statistics show a marginal increase in domestic violence-related offences over the March to May lockdown period – up by 6.5 per cent compared to the same time period last year.

There was also one death recorded in April – a 35-year-old mother of three whose former partner was charged with her murder.  

WSSSA’s Crisis and integrated responses executive manager Kathrine Cock described the data as “concerning”, but she said it was positive to see more women seek support.

“Past experience and research tells us that domestic and family violence is exacerbated by community crisis,” she told InDaily.

“During this time we have seen an increased depth of complexity from callers related to COVID-19, including the consequences of restrictions and emerging patterns of perpetrator behaviours that have been exacerbated during the pandemic.

“Over March, April and May, the Domestic Violence Crisis line has seen a 15 per cent rise in emergency accommodation placements compared to the same time period last year.” 

InDaily reported in April concerns from some domestic violence support services that the coronavirus pandemic could see incidents rise by up to 40 per cent, as at-risk women were forced to self-isolate at home with their perpetrator, away from their support networks.

While the height of the COVID-19 lockdown is over, WSSSA is still concerned that ongoing restrictions and the threat of a virus resurgence stemming from the eastern states could put more women at risk of exacerbated violence.

“We know domestic and family violence occurs within a pattern of abuse and control,” Cock said.

“Extreme circumstances placed on households can increase the intensity of controlling behaviours and provide further opportunity for this to occur, such as financial abuse and emotional abuse.

“As a community we need to ensure we reach those most vulnerable at the times they need it.”

SA Police says it has been “carefully monitoring” reports of family violence throughout the pandemic, but there are “no discernible patterns or trends that would make this period any more or less concerning than at other times throughout the year”.

“Each matter is assessed on its individual circumstance and would be traumatic for the families involved, whether that is during any COVID19 regulations or prior to this period,” a spokesperson said.

“SAPOL are constantly working with key stakeholders and support services to ensure we understand the drivers and impacts of domestic abuse and that our responses provide a holistic service to vulnerable families.”

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman told parliament this afternoon it was a “real worry” that women were at increased risk of experiencing domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, but police and the State Government were monitoring the situation closely.

People who feel concerned should contact the 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) phone number, DV Crisis Line on 1800 800 098, or contact SAPOL through 131 444 or Triple 000 if it is an emergency. 

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