3 April 2020
With the escalation of COVID-19 in our community and the declaration of the public health emergency, we are preparing for an increase in demand for our essential support services. As parts of the community respond to COVID-19 by self-isolating or purchasing surplus essential food and personal items, the heightened stress on families is becoming evident.
It is important to keep in mind that the home can often be the most dangerous place for women in Australia. After the stress of a severe summer, the economic and social consequences of COVID-19 will have dangerous implications for women and children already living with family violence.
While YWCA Canberra supports the need for social distancing and quarantine, it must be recognised that these measures can compound existing triggers and create opportunity for abuse to escalate.
In the United States, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has reported that callers accessing their services say COVID-19 is being used as an excuse by perpetrators to further isolate them from family. These are unprecedented times and, while instances of domestic violence may increase, reporting rates are not likely to immediately spike. This is because those who experience violence usually wait until they are on their own to report it or until they are with friends or at work. These options are fast becoming inaccessible.
As a frontline women’s service, YWCA Canberra is working with others in the sector, including Beryl Women Inc., Doris Women’s Refuge and Toora Women, to continue performing important work during this time. Our collective goal is to remain operational during this period and to work together to ensure service continuity and to manage staff health and absences across worksites.
We have been contacted by hotels and motels in Canberra who have indicated to us that they want to work with use to make some rooms available, at reduced rate, for women and children experiencing family violence. We have been working with OneLink, the central information and connection service for those needing housing support, to secure rooms across three hotels at reduced rates. The availability of additional spaces for those experiencing violence will be important as cases of violence in the home are expected to escalate.
It is important to remember however that such accommodation, while important, does not offer long term solutions. We are continuing our advocacy for longer-term housing to be available for clients of the specialist women’s services. The support we will continue to offer clients during this period, whether they are in a hotel/motel accommodation or more sustainable housing includes important outreach support, risk assessment and case management as well as ongoing health monitoring. These support services are essential for those in crisis who may struggle to navigate community services networks while also managing their own response to COVID-19.
It is critical that the community response to COVID-19 includes sufficient resourcing and staffing for front line women’s services so that vulnerable women and children know that support is available during this time of uncertainty. With the ACT Legislative Assembly passing the Territory COVID-19 stimulus package on April 2, an increase in the women’s services capacity to support the community, which will allow us to provide not just beds but also to employ more qualified staff to provide wrap-around support that women and children escaping violence, is expected.
If you are experiencing violence in your home, you should call 1800RESPECT when it is safe to do so on 1800 737 732.
For those who have hearing or speaking difficulties or who are not in a position to speak, 1800 RESPECT also runs an online chat service which is accessible online.