Woman at window / Kate Williams / Unsplash.com
For many New Zealanders, the lockdown is starting to grind at our nerves. We’re anxious, irritable and downright stir-crazy. But if we’re safe, that is a relative luxury.
For women and children facing domestic violence, spending a minimum of four weeks largely confined at home won’t just be frustrating, it will be dangerous.
We know this because NZ has one of the worst domestic violence rates in the developed world, because the global crisis situation has been proven to drive domestic violence rates up and because our most vulnerable individuals have now been mandated to stay home and save lives — which might put their own at risk.
In Hubei province, the first to be hit by COVID-19, “reports of domestic violence have nearly doubled since cities were put under lockdown.” In some areas, the rate even tripled.
According to Adriana Mello, a Rio de Janeiro judge specialising in domestic violence, Brazil has seen domestic violence rise by “40% or 50%, and there was already really big demand [for support services].”
France going into lockdown (which will similarly last a month) preceded a 30% spike in domestic violence reports.
Entering lockdown physically separates people from their jobs, social circles and less-immediate loved ones. The resulting financial pressure, social isolation and anxiety can result in more frequent altercations at the hands of abusers whose unstable emotions manifest as violence.
Such episodes are expected to be more dangerous than usual because physical social interaction (which might have alerted others to signs of abuse like visible marks, or changed movement) have been abruptly prohibited.
Domestic violence that is not purely physical is also expected to increase. Verbal abuse, controlling behaviour and unpredictable bursts of temper can turn one’s home — ideally a sanctuary — into a living nightmare. Abusive partners use many methods to restrict movement and communication.
People in unsafe homes may find that they are prevented from taking walks, using social media or talking on the phone, which can further isolate them from the outside world. They might be financially dependent on their abuser or their employment might have been threatened by the lockdown which presents an obstacle to seeking help.
Domestic violence comes in many forms. Aside from patterns of control and harmful powerful dynamics, it’s hard to illustrate a generic unsafe home situation. People will be facing a unique set of challenges and dangers during this difficult time.
Using helplines, email, online messaging or text may or may not be viable options of seeking support while in close proximity of an abusive individual, especially if these channels are monitored. This is why a range of accessible and flexible support services are vital to helping people in need.
Shine and Women’s Refuge are anticipating the need for more domestic violence response and support services. Safe Night is a Women’s Refuge initiative that calls on Kiwis to gift a night of secure accommodation (childcare and food inclusive) to strangers in need for $20.
They have also established The Shielded Site, a powerful resource for planning and information, that can be discreetly and tracelessly accessed (as in, there will be no record in your browsing history) through websites like those belonging to Countdown, The Warehouse, ASB and TradeMe.
Police and helplines (see below) remain in operation.
It will be a long month for all of us, but longer for some.
If you are in immediate danger, dial 111 and ask for the police.
Women’s Refuge: 0800REFUGE
Shine: 0508 744 633
Are You OK?: 0800 456 450
Oranga Tamariki: 0508FAMILY
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or free text 4357
Youthline: 0800 376 633Support Villainesse