With all this talk of COVID-19, we are hearing a lot about social distancing and isolation for our health and the health of others, but what about the impact on people facing domestic and family violence in their relationships?
There are many jokes circulating on social media suggesting that divorce lawyers are rubbing their hands together in gleeful anticipation contemplating how popular they are going to be after couples are forced to spend two weeks together in mandatory isolation. I’m married so I get it (it’s one of those, ‘it’s funny because it’s true situations).
This got me thinking though, what about a person in a domestically violent relationship? Isolation and social distancing will certainly add a whole new layer of concern and heighten the risk for that person. For this reason, now more than ever, we need to be able to identify domestic and family violence, and we need to know where our neighbours, friends or family members can go to seek help.
What is domestic and family violence?
One of the most important things to remember is that domestic violence is more than just hitting, pushing or punching another person. In my experience, many people living in an abusive relationship will not identify it as such, unless they have been subjected to a significant amount of physical violence. This is concerning given that it is often the psychological, emotional and verbal abuse that can cause the most devastating injuries. The fact that a person is unable to recognise that they are in an abusive relationship is also a problem because it means that they are less likely to reach out to seek help to improve their situation and safety.
So, to be clear, domestic and family violence involves a wide range of behaviours used by one person in a relationship against another in order to exert power or control, cause fear, intimidate or harass. This behaviour may involve physical or sexual violence, but also involves other forms of violence including verbal abuse and repetitive insults, stalking (in person and through technology and social media), isolating someone from their family or friends, denying their access to money, preventing someone from practicing their religion, and many other acts too numerous to list. The key element though is that there is a use of power and an exercise of control over a person; and the injuries sustained can most definitely be psychological or physical (or both).
The other basic key fact to remember is that domestic violence does not discriminate. It occurs in all kinds of relationships, regardless of socio-economic status, sexual preference, race, or religion. Also, even though women are most often the victims of domestic and family violence, violence is also perpetrated by women against men, by men against other men, and by (and against) people who do not identify as any specific gender. Don’t assume that a person you know or love is not struggling in an abusive relationship on the basis that they, or their relationship, does not fit with a certain stereotype.
Where can someone experiencing domestic violence go to seek help?
In any emergency situation, always call the police on 000. Otherwise, a victim of domestic violence needs both social support and legal advice so that they can consider their options in respect to their legal protections, including making an application for a Domestic and Family Violence Protection Order.
For social support, we recommend clients start by calling 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), or the Domestic Violence Action Centre (07 3816 3000) if they are based in the Toowoomba and Ipswich areas. These are free government funded organisations that can provide valuable support and social services, including counselling and safety planning.
This publication has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be viewed as broad guidance only. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to render advice. No one should rely on the information contained in this publication without first obtaining professional advice relevant to their own specific situation.