The Relationship Between Domestic Violence and COVID-19

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Like other Vinnies essential services for people facing homelessness, the Our Lady of the Way women’s refuge is still running during COVID-19.

Our Lady of the Way (OLOW) is located in Sydney and caters for single women aged 50 and over who are escaping domestic and family violence. This service operates thanks to the “Breaking the Cycle of Violence Program” and the generous contributions of Vinnies donors.

Our Lady of The Way lounge room

The hard work of our staff and a stroke of good timing meant that, by coincidence, many of the women staying at the refuge were able to move into permanent, secure accommodation right before the coronavirus hit. Several women have moved from OLOW to Vinnies’ social housing properties (which we run in partnership with the NSW Government’s Social and Affordable Housing Fund).

That means the refuge currently has many rooms available, but according to manager Michelle Anderson, referrals for new residents have dried up.

A social housing unit provided by Vinnies through the NSW Government SAHF. This apartment is now home to a woman previously housed at Our Lady of the Way.

“Before COVID-19, we were getting referrals constantly – we didn’t have vacancies, but they were still coming through. But at the moment, there are none,” Michelle says.

“I’m on a few of the local committees and a lot of other services are saying the same. We’re really scared because we know that the DV [domestic violence] doesn’t stop, we know it’s still happening, but the women can’t get out or are too scared to call us.”

Michelle explains that under more normal circumstances, women experiencing violence or abuse might have an opportunity to reach out for help when their partner or husband leaves the home for work. But with the onset of coronavirus, normal routines have been disrupted, and many people are trapped at home with their abuser.

Michelle expects the demand for support will pick up again once social distancing restrictions are lifted, but fears how much damage will be done in the meantime.

“I think for our sector, the DV sector, this is definitely the calm before the storm and it’s going to get worse. I don’t know whether those women are going to get out. I don’t know whether we’re going to see more fatalities in the news,” she says.

Even though fewer women are contacting support services for help, domestic violence agencies are reporting that traffic on their social media pages has increased. Google Australia has seen the highest rate of domestic violence help searches in five years – an increase of 75 per cent.

“I think women are starting to look to social media for information, because it’s easy to say [to an abusive partner or family member] that you’re looking at Facebook rather than a particular site,” Michelle explains.

Vinnies teams at Our Lady of the Way and other crisis accommodation services are preparing for the storm to hit, developing plans to keep operating with social distancing once they receive new referrals. In the meantime, Michelle and her colleagues are continuing to provide outreach support to women in the community, delivering food hampers and providing therapy over the phone.

The private back deck and garden at Our Lady of the Way

How to find help

For those women who are suffering or feeling unsafe at home, Michelle and Vinnies want you to know that help is available. The NSW Domestic Violence Line is available 24 hours a day on 1800 65 64 63, and it’s the avenue through which many women are referred to Our Lady of the Way.

Michelle says some women are accessing help through their doctors or general practitioners – for example, during a flu shot appointment. Doctors should be able to provide information about local services in confidentiality.

Counselling and information are available online or over the phone through 1800-RESPECT (1800 737 732). And in the case of immediate danger, call 000.