Family Violence ‘Skyrocketing’ Amid COVID Lockdowns
According to the latest data, COVID-19 family violence is on the rise. A report published by Domestic Violence Victoria in January 2021 revealed that from June 2019 to June 2020, there had been a 6.7% increase in family violence reports. During this period, there were 88,214 reported family violence incidents, in comparison to 82,651 and 76,093 during the same time in previous years. With these troubling statistics having come to light, it is essential that important conversations surrounding COVID-19 family violence are held, including the best avenues to protect victims using the law.
Within these numbers, 75% of the 88,216 affected family members were females, with 24.9% being male. Interestingly, the past 12 months represent a 6.2% increase in male affected family members, out of a total 13% rise since June 2016. For women, these last 12 months have seen a 7% increase out of a total 13.2% rise since June 2016.
To address COVID-19 family violence, there are a number of new reforms currently being implemented. One of the proposed reforms is an expedited court list known as the “Evatt List”. This list will allow ‘high risk’ families to receive attention from the court in a timely manner and help to avoid current delays seen in the Australian court system. However, in order to effect meaningful change in this area, it is apparent that more needs to be done to address domestic violence in Australia during this challenging time.
Melanie Vairawanathan from Lennon Lawyers is no stranger to these numbers, having been intimately involved in family law at the prestigious Melbourne-based law firm. Melanie has been practising law since 2013 and, in 2019, returned to the College of Law to obtain a Masters of Law, majoring in Family Law.
According to Melanie, one of the central concerns when discussing domestic violence and COVID-19 family violence during COVID-19, in particular, is that people are often unaware of how broad family violence is defined, or what constitutes family violence. On the DHHS website, the definition of “family violence” is not limited to physical or sexual abuse and includes emotional abuse and any threatening behaviour.
In Melanie’s experience, COVID-19 family violence is often “more than just physical abuse”. It includes coercive and controlling behaviour and financial abuse. Because of this, it can be difficult for those experiencing family violence during COVID-19 to identify when there is a potential recourse for legal action.
To address issues surrounding coercive and controlling behaviour, the Australian government is currently considering a new approach to domestic violence laws. These new changes seek to criminalise coercive and controlling behaviour, following the lead of other countries internationally, most notably Scotland. Proclaimed as the “gold standard globally”, these reforms will aim to incorporate Scotland’s laws in attempts to address COVID-19 family violence head-on. While there has been some concern regarding the lack of specialisation in domestic violence policing in Australia, for many criminalising this behaviour will send an important message to the wider community.
One key aspect of family violence highlighted by Melanie, in particular, is when children are involved. In her experience, parties that have experienced ongoing domestic violence face significant barriers in being able to transition from ex-partners to co-parents.
The paramount consideration for any Judge determining parenting matters is the best interests of the child(ren). Being able to have a meaningful relationship with both parents is a primary consideration.
In Melanie’s experience, she has seen clients who have faced domestic violence struggle with promoting a meaningful relationship with the other parent. Because of this, it is particularly important that those experiencing domestic violence, with children, reach out as soon as they are able.
“As humans, it is almost impossible to take the emotions out of making those parenting decisions”.
Melanie’s key piece of advice for people currently experiencing domestic violence is to ask for help. “You are not alone”, she says. While many feel a sense of embarrassment or guilt when disclosing their experience to others, it is essential to know that domestic violence is a reflection of the perpetrator and not them as victims. Because of this, it is important that there are meaningful and targeted campaigns and encouraging victims to speak out, especially in times where COVID-19 may be contributing to feelings of isolation.
Melanie is not alone in this call to action regarding COVID-19 family violence. The seriousness of this increase has also been addressed in a study by the QUT Center for Justice. According to Professor Carrington, a professor at the School of Justice at QUT, during the COVID-19 lockdown, there was a significant increase of individuals coming in for the very first time, “people who had never had a history of domestic violence in their life”.
The study revealed that 62% of service providers reported that the restrictions had a direct correlation to the rise of COVID-19 family violence. In addition, COVID-19 presented the ability for perpetrators to use personal circumstances to prevent victims from reaching out, effectively weaponising the pandemic.
While COVID-19 family violence is a complex and difficult issue to navigate, there are legal avenues for defence that are essential to keep victims safe. Because of this, it is important that those currently experiencing domestic violence reach out to a qualified and experienced legal professional.
Lennon Lawyers is experienced in Family Law and can assist clients in identifying different legal avenues available. They have had considerable experience working within family law, with expertise in Victoria across various areas of law. Because of this, they are able to run matters concurrently, including IVO (intervention order) proceedings in the Magistrates’ Court. The firm also has considerable experience in personal injury matters, as well as sexual and civil assault claims – effectively making it a legal “one-stop-shop”, according to Melanie.
If you feel that you are experiencing family violence or have identified some possible warning signs, it is important that you reach out for advice. The team at Lennon Lawyers is approachable and will serve anyone, positioning them perfectly to address any family law needs you may have.
Based in Melbourne, Lennon Lawyers aims to provide practical, friendly and easy-to-understand advice to all of your civil law needs, with a focus on family law. If you are experiencing family law issues, get in touch with them now for a free 30-minute Family Law consultation:
If you are currently experiencing family violence issues, reach out to White Ribbon on +61 8 6370 0600 or [email protected]; 1800RESPECT; or Victoria Police through submitting an online report or calling 131 444.
1800RESPECT Australia’s Financial Abuse Support Toolkit is also available to anyone impacted by #financialabuse, including those in a support role. The toolkit has been developed with advocates and experts to provide the best information and advice possible. Help to raise awareness of financial abuse and the support available by sharing messaging, social media tiles, videos and links to the toolkit with your networks