Domestic Violence Victoria acting chief executive Alison Macdonald agreed women are at risk of surveillance, and that isolation is a risk factor in family violence.
“[Isolation] is a tactic that perpetrators use to enable them to control and surveil their family members and we’re particularly worried about what that will mean for people in abusive relationships who might become more isolated from friends and family,” Macdonald told BuzzFeed News.
She said the evidence, both in Australia and internationally, shows an increase in the “onset, frequency and severity” of family violence in the wake of disasters and emergencies.
“We know it from the bushfires and floods here, we know it from the Christchurch earthquake and we know it from the hurricanes in the United States,”she said.
As well, the recent horrific, high profile murder of Hannah Clarke and her children had driven a clear increase in demand for services. It generated the highest number of calls and website queries to family violence hotline 1800RESPECT recorded in any one day.
Macdonald said emergency situations “show up where the really big pressure points” are in the system, and that the sector was preparing as best it could for the coming months. But it is a highly gendered workforce and there are “a lot of women affected by having kids at home” as schools close across the state.
“There will probably be a move to online and phone-based support but we want to send a strong message to the community that these services are still here,” she said.
Figures released last week show one family violence victim is killed or is the target of an attempted murder every fortnight in Victoria. One frontline worker told the ABC she had received six reports in one week of men using the new coronavirus to threaten and coerce women by lying about visitors, or themselves, having COVID-19.
Macdonald said there was evidence during disaster periods that people reverted to more “rigid gender norms”.
“So there can be a lot of pressure on men, for example, to provide for their families and for women to just shut up and put up with it,” she said. “Those kinds of very gendered understandings of how we react and we respond to emergency situations can really be exacerbated and heightened and that in itself creates the underlying conditions that enable violence against women to continue.”