COVID-19 and Family Violence: Information for family and friends

For up to date public health advice, please visit the Department of Health and Human Services website.

As we learn about any changes or updates to family violence services, we will do our best to update this page as new information and resources become available. Please note service details below may change without notice.

Updated 24 March  2020

COVID-19 and Family Violence

For many people, including victim-survivors of family violence, being at home is not always a safe place.

We expect family violence incidents will increase as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know this because of research and evidence that family violence can become more frequent and severe during periods of emergency. For many people, public health measures introduced to reduce the spread of COVID-19 such as ‘social distancing’ and isolation; as well as increased financial insecurity and reduced ability to leave relationships may increase their risk of family violence.

We know that a person’s experience of violence is more likely to be dismissed or excused during times of disaster or emergency. Times of stress and hardship are never an excuse for violence. All people deserve to live free from fear and family violence. As friends and family members of someone experiencing family violence, it is important to be mindful of the impact of COVID-19 on their health, safety and experience of family violence. now is an important time for activating our communities.

Someone who uses family violence may use COVID-19 as a tactic or reason to use violence more frequently or more severely.

For example, they may:

  • Withhold necessary items such as food, medicine, hand sanitizer or disinfectants.
  • Misinform victim-survivors about the pandemic to control or frighten them.
  • Use the pandemic as an excuse to gain total or increase their control of the family’s finances.
  • Threaten or prevent victim-survivors including children from seeking appropriate medical attention if they have symptoms or hide your Medicare card.
  • Increase their monitoring and criticism of victim-survivors’ parenting such as blaming them if children ‘misbehave’ or are upset.
  • Further isolate victim-survivors including children in the home by restricting their movements within the house, forcing them or the children into specific spaces in the house, or disabling their mobility devices.
  • Increasingly monitor victim-survivors’ personal communication devices such as mobile phone, email, online messaging.
  • Use COVID-19 to excuse, blame or justify their abusive and violent behaviour.
  • An ex-partner may use COVID-19 in their attempt to reconcile or enter/live in the victim-survivors’ home. People using family violence may try to emotionally manipulate victim-survivors to allow them to stay to ‘help’ them with the children.
  • Breach a family violence intervention order.
  • An ex-partner may use COVID-19 to threaten victim-survivors about isolating the children. This could include using Family Law contact orders to bluff them and allow them in to stay or have contact with the children.
  • Feel more justified and escalate their isolation tactics.

The person perpetrating family violence is responsible for their abusive and violent behaviour. Victim-survivors and children are never responsible.

Supporting friends or family experiencing family violence during COVID-19

Social distancing, isolation and quarantine are important government public health policy measures that will assist in the reduction of COVID-19 infections.  However, these measures may also increase risk to victim-survivors of family violence, including children, where families are at home with someone who chooses to use family violence.

Social isolation is a risk factor for family violence. We already know that physical and social isolation is often used to facilitate the use of power and control over victim-survivors. When victim-survivors are isolated from friends, family and support systems, it can significantly limit their opportunities to get help.

This is an important time for activating our communities. If you are concerned about a friend, family member, neighbour or colleague’s safety and wellbeing, you should check in on them regularly and offer what support you can.

For general information on how you can support friends or family members experiencing family violence, please visit the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria website.

Safety planning

Safety planning is thinking about things you can do to be safer when living with family violence.  Many victim-survivors have a safety plan in place, and you may already part of someone’s safety plan.

The best way to make a safety plan is with the help of a support service, particularly a Specialist Family Violence Service. However, trusted friends and family members can also play an important role in safety planning, particularly during times of increased risk like COVID-19.

You can assist by:

  • Checking in regularly via phone, text or social media.
  • Agreeing on a safe word, sign or signal that the person experiencing family violence can use to alert you that they need you to get help.
  • Calling Police via 000.
  • Keeping copies of their important documents, and/or storing a ‘escape’ bag for them.

You may also need to consider:

  • Travel restrictions may impact a victim-survivor’s ability to leave or to develop or implement their safety plan. For example, it may not be safe for them to use public transport.  You can help them by thinking of an alternative, such as you or someone close picking them up from a pre-planned location such as a hospital emergency department or police station.

If you’d like to know more about family violence safety planning, please visit the 1800RESPECT website.

For support

While people are encouraged to stay at home, they may feel isolated from you and other friends or family. To help them feel less isolated, try to maintain social connections online or over the phone with them, if it is safe to do so. Keep up routines such as regular catch up calls.  Think of the COVID-19 restrictions as an opportunity to re-engage with your friends who might be unsafe, using your own social isolation as an explanation for why you’re calling more often than usual.

It is also important that victim-survivors know that they can reach out for support and that there are specialist family violence services there to help them. Our message to all victim-survivors, family and friends, and other service providers is that even during the pandemic, specialist family violence services are open and available for support and advice for anyone experiencing family violence who is worried about how potential self-isolation or quarantine will impact on their safety and well-being.

  • If you are concerned for someone’s safety, please call 000 or contact the police in your state or territory.
  • For confidential crisis support, information and accommodation please call the safe steps 24/7 family violence response line on 1800 015 188, if it is unsafe to call email safesteps@safesteps.org.au.
  • For confidential phone help and referral in Australia, please contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732, the National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line.
  • For a specialist LGBTIQ family violence service, please contact W|Respect on 1800 LGBTIQ (1800 542 847) or visit www.withrespect.org.au
  • For support for men, call Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491