Domestic violence is not a new problem. In fact, it is one that is on the rise and becoming even more dangerous in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and major lockdown across the globe.
More than 2 million Australians face harm in the form of physical or sexual abuse and more than 3 million are emotionally abused in a domestic abuse situation. These numbers are just from partner abuse, there are millions more that face issues of child, elder, or family abuse from individuals who are not a spouse but responsible for the care and wellbeing of vulnerable family members.
Lockdowns and social distancing have turned a dangerous situation into an inescapable prison of life-threatening terror for many victims. There are few opportunities to get help or find safety and many resources are closed or unavailable to help when needed due to Covid-19.
While crime rates for March 2020 may not have reflected a huge rise in domestic violence there was a significant rise in those who reached out for emergency domestic violence assistance and information since the pandemic lockdown began.
Keep reading to learn more about why 2020 has created the perfect storm in the homes and lives of those facing domestic violence and steps you can take if you are in a family violence situation now or in the future.
What is Family Violence?
Domestic abuse can come in many forms. It isn’t just the most extreme cases where there’s a loss of life and serious physical injury. Though, the statistics on physical domestic abuse leading to death show that one woman in Australia every nine days is killed by a domestic partner. One man is killed every 29 days by their domestic partner. Physical domestic violence is an issue that needs closer attention and stricter action to stop.
Family violence goes beyond intimate partners and includes family members. This may be children, a spouse, an elderly parent or another family relationship where abuse is occurring. Siblings, children, parents or grandparents, partners, roommates may all experience family domestic violence or abuse.
It may include abuse that is:
- Psychological or emotional;
- Sexual; and/or
Intimidation and control may be overt or subtle but can have long-lasting and damaging effects on all members of the home. Children who witness abuse at home are more likely to suffer from emotional, physical, and social difficulties throughout life.
This may include spitting, hitting, pushing, punching, kicking, pinching or physically assaulting and intimidating behaviour. It can also involve actions that threaten or harm pets, loved ones, property, or safety.
Psychological or Emotional Domestic Abuse
Emotional and psychological abuse can be more difficult to recognize or define. It includes any verbal or physical action that humiliates, intimidates, harasses, and demoralizes an individual.
Any unwanted sexual contact or interaction that is unwanted or illegal, including intimidation or sexual exploitation.
Economic abuse is often committed against the elderly; however, it can be an issue between partners and other family members as well. It involves taking financial control or abusing financial assets in a way that is not authorised or in the best interest of the individual.
The Uncertainty of Abuse
When you live in an abusive situation, it isn’t always violent. You do have to always be on high alert though because it is often impossible to know what will set off an abusive tirade. It is never the victim’s fault, but you end up trying to plan each move, cautiously say each word and deliberately complete each action in a way that does not catch the abuser’s attention.
This is exhausting physically and emotionally for everyone around them. School, work, extracurricular activities, and community events can often be the only reprieve or safe time in the lives of those living in an abusive home. When all of those escapes are taken away there is the constant uncertainty and worry of upsetting the abuser.
Abuse escalates. Many domestic violence victims say the perpetrator was actually quite caring and charming at the beginning or during the relationship. This only further emotionally confuses a victim of domestic violence.
Many victims fear their abuser will kill them every day. Abuse victims often feel trapped and like they have no option but to stay and try to make the situation the best it can be. They either do not know how to leave or do not believe they deserve any better because the abuse has eroded any self-esteem or confidence the victim had.
Emotional and Financial Control
Abuse often does not start with physical violence and threats of life. But it can be the abuse that does not leave physical bruises that can leave the deepest wounds. Abusers will often isolate and intimidate their victims by asserting financial and emotional control.
This is even more effective for them than physical intimidation because when they are good at it, they can control someone with nothing more than a look. In fact, just the knowledge that an abuser would not agree with an action or decision can be enough to stop a victim from being able to move.
Trying to leave a domestic abuse situation can seem impossible if you do not have any money or any place to go. Often you have been isolated from friends, family and loved ones so it can feel like there is no one to turn to when you finally get the strength to leave. Financial control is a tactic that many abusive partners use. Either by not allowing their partner to work or simply taking their money when they do.
The family law system can help you ensure that property and joint financial resources from the marriage are fairly divided in accordance with your contributions to the relationship, and if applicable, take into consideration domestic violence. They will also ensure that both parents keep their financial responsibility for any children in the future.
Surviving and Being Able to Provide
When children are involved it is even more difficult to simply leave and start over. Not only are there the legal and emotional parenting issues but you also have to provide them a safe and secure home with the necessities of life. This isn’t easy to do if you do not have control of the household finances and you are running from an abuser.
Many times part of the intimidation used to keep domestic violence victims scared is to threaten that they will lose time with or responsibility of the children if they leave. This is a tactic that should not keep someone in an abusive situation though it can if someone doesn’t know their rights.
It can often seem like the best choice is to stay and know the children have their home, a bed to sleep in and a meal to eat than to think about walking out the door and not knowing how you will provide any of those things for them. In fact, domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women with young children experiencing poverty and food insecurity due to fleeing an abusive situation.
It takes more courage and strength than most people to leave an abusive situation. It is often something that has to happen quickly and without more than a few possessions in hand. Support and resources are needed to keep everyone safe and to be able to start over. The pandemic has limited the resources and supports available.
Dependant on Abuser
Children, partners, and elderly parents often feel trapped because they are not aware of the options and resources available to help them. There are domestic violence laws enacted in New South Wales to protect victims of domestic violence. This does not always make it easy for individuals to leave though.
In many cases, they are dependent on the abuser for the necessities of life. Elderly parents may need care and not have the financial means or capability to choose a safer option.
Domestic partners may not know of a safe place to go. Many have never had their own bank account or have the financial means to just rent or buy another home to go to.
Children are often stuck in abusive environments because they do not have an advocate to help fight for their rights and keep them safe. Many will leave home only to be brought back by the police or to have to return because they are too young and unable to provide for themselves. This can lead to even more abuse and retaliation from the abuser for attempting to leave.
Some have found the streets or foster care to be a more violent and dangerous situation than home and would rather face the abuse they know at home than face life on the streets. It is critical that victims of abuse know there are resources available and support that can help protect their rights in family law and their lives.
Legal Options for Domestic Violence
There are legal steps you can take to be safe and make the best decisions for you and your family. You’ll want to consult a legal expert who has experience with domestic violence legislation Australia has in place and is knowledgeable in domestic violence law.
Family law covers almost all family breakdown legal matters through the Family Law Act. This area of law and set of legislation deals with financial and custodial issues of any children that are the result of the relationship. All property, financial obligations and joint ownership will be divided through the Family Law Act.
Before heading to court, there may be options such as family dispute mediation and counselling. This can be beneficial in some situations but may not be enough when an abusive partner or co-parent is involved. The Family Law Act can then help protect your rights and help keep you and the children safe. A family consultant may be ordered to help determine what is truly in the best interest of the children.
The court will also help design a legal parenting agreement that details the parenting arrangements and legal rights of each parent. This can be beneficial in limiting reasons for conflict as everything is predetermined in an agreement or parenting order. This allows the adults to co-parent without the tension and stress of trying to communicate on a regular basis to come to an agreement on issues.
You can attend your Local Court in New South Wales to obtain an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order that will prohibit the abuser for continuing his abuse, contacting you or coming near you. This is an important step if you are worried about your safety or the safety of your children.
Make Your Home a Haven
Your home should be a haven from the chaos and harshness of the world. No one should come home to more fear than they are leaving outside. Your home should always be a safe place where you feel valued and comfortable being you.
Don’t wait until it’s too late. If you are in fear of family violence or need help to know your rights contact us today. We are here to support you in a discrete and safe manner and will ensure you are not alone in your journey to a better and safer life.