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 post as new information and resources become available. Please note service details below may change without notice.
Last Updated: Tuesday 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 and community containment measures introduced to reduce the spread of COVID-19 such as social distancing and self-isolation, as well as increased financial insecurity and reduced ability to leave relationships may increase their risk of family violence.
Times of stress and hardship are never an excuse for violence. All people deserve to live free from fear and family violence.
During this time, people using family violence may use COVID-19 as a tactic or reason to abuse you. For example, they may:
- Withhold necessary items such as food, medicine, hand sanitizer or disinfectants.
- Misinform you about the pandemic to control or frighten you.
- Use the pandemic as an excuse to gain total or increase control of the family’s finances
- Threaten or prevent you and your children from seeking appropriate medical attention if you have symptoms or hide your Medicare card.
- Increase their monitoring and criticism of your parenting such as blaming you if the children ‘misbehave’ or are upset.
- Further isolate you or your children in the home by restricting your movements in the house, forcing you or the children into specific spaces in the house, or disabling your mobility devices.
- Increasingly monitor your personal communication devices such as mobile phone, email, online messaging.
- Use COVID-19 to excuse, blame or justify their abusive and violent behaviour towards you and the children.
- An ex-partner may use COVID-19 in their attempt to reconcile or enter/live in your home. They may try to emotionally manipulate you to allow them to stay to ‘help’ you with the children.
- Breach a family violence intervention order
- An ex-partner may use COVID-19 to threaten you about isolating the children. This could include using Family Law contact orders to bluff you to allow them in to stay or have contact with the children.
- Feel more justified and escalate their isolation tactics.
Please know that Specialist Family Violence Services, Children and Family Services, services for men using family violence, Victoria Police and other government and community services know this and are taking steps to ensure everyone’s safety.
The person perpetrating family violence is responsible for their abusive and violent behaviour. You or your children are never responsible.
A safety plan is a personalised, practical plan that includes ways to remain safe while in a relationship, planning to leave, or after you leave. Public health measures that are in place to contain COVID-19 might require you and your family to stay home where possible and have limited social contact. Having a safety plan can help you to protect yourself during this difficult time. The best way to make a safety plan is with the help of a support service, in particular a Specialist Family Violence Service. Remember, you are the expert in your safety and you can take steps to manage this.
Things to consider for increasing safety during a family violence crisis:
- If you sense trouble or find yourself in an argument, move to a ‘lower risk space’: rooms with two exits and fewer things that can be used as weapons, where you can be seen or heard from the outside.
- Kitchens, bathrooms and garages are more dangerous than living rooms, dining rooms or bedrooms. Learn – and teach your children – to get positioned ‘between trouble and the door’
- Teach the children how to call police 000 and to know their home address.
- Where possible have a charged phone and a back-up plan in case you are separated from your phone, for example have a hidden second phone.
- Create signals and/or code words that will let your children know to get out and go to a pre-arranged place of safety.
- Create signals that will let your neighbours/family members know to create a supportive or defusing presence or call 000. For example, a turned-on porch light, drawn shade, or an “I can’t come over on Thursday after all” phone call.
- Have an escape plan and back-up. Rehearse getting out in the dark and with the children. Keep spare keys and important documents where you can get to them readily. Have some money stashed away for emergencies.
- Consistent with their age, their instincts and their skills, develop safety plans for the children – about calling help or getting to a place where they will be safer.
- Do whatever it is you need to do to buy time and/or space, to defuse the situation, or to protect yourself and your children.
- Be extra mindful of good hygiene practices: wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face, minimise contact with surfaces that other people have had contact with. See the DHHS website for more information.
- Travel restrictions may impact your escape or safety plan – it may not be safe for you to use public transportation or interstate flights may be cancelled.
- Think about the types of essential services you may come into contact with during the COVID-19 restrictions (such as school, GP and other healthcare services, post office, supermarkets, etc.) and how you can use them as part of your safety plan. For a list of essential services that will be available during the restrictions, visit the DHHS website
- Your plan should be flexible enough to enable you to implement contingency plans if your original plan becomes unfeasible.
Creating Your Safety Plan
For general advice, please visit the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (DVRCV) website. DVRCV’s Gathering Support booklet is another helpful resource.
For advice on developing a safety plan see 1800RESPECT.
Children and COVID-19
- Support a regular routine, for example the time children get up and go to bed should stay as before.
- Support school age children to continue education activities, rather than seeing this time as a ‘holiday’.
- For some children, school can be seen as a safe space. Is there a safe space at home? Is it safe for you to talk to your partner about making the children’s bedroom a safe space for them?
- If a child has an existing health condition, speak to their health professional about how to manage this through this period of social distancing and possible self-isolation or quarantine.
- Have a family meeting and discuss with children how you plan to manage being stuck at home together. Be open with them about why they can’t play sport, attend other activities, or visit family and friends – this conversation should start early so that they get used to the new restricted routine.
- The person using violence in the household may target the children more than usual by blaming them for their own anxieties, frustrations and feelings of disempowerment. Have a safety plan in place for you and the children should you need to get help in an emergency.
DVRCV’s What’s Okay at Home website is a resource for children and young people, and their adult allies, to help understand what family violence is, why it happens, how to recognise it and stay safe, and how to help others who are experiencing it. The website includes a tool that young people can use to develop their own safety plan.
For more information on anxiety and supporting children, visit Beyond Blue
Reach Out for Help
While people are encouraged to stay at home, you may feel isolated from your friends and family and support network. Even if you are isolated, try to maintain social connections online or over the phone, if it is safe to do so, and try to stick to your daily routines as much as possible.
It is important that you know you can reach out for support and that specialist family violence services are here to help. Our message to all victim-survivors is that even during the current 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 in danger, 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 email@example.com.
- 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