How do we keep family violence perpetrators ‘in view’ during the COVID-19 lockdown?


Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Monash University; Jessica Burley, Monash University, and Silke Meyer, Monash University

Over the past few weeks, there has been increasing awareness of the heightened risk of family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, there has been a silence around perpetrators – in terms of the justice system’s ability to hold them to account during the crisis and the wider family violence system’s need to keep them “in view”.

Both are critical to manage and monitor the heightened risk and danger to women and children during this period of uncertainty and isolation.

Keeping perpetrators ‘in view’

In 2016, a government advisory panel report on reducing violence against women recommended numerous steps to hold perpetrators to account and more support to change their behaviours.

Since then, all Australian states and territories have implemented family violence reforms to ensure numerous “check points” are embedded in their systems to keep perpetrators “in view” at all times.

Keeping perpetrators “in view” refers to the process of identifying, assessing, monitoring and managing their risk over time.

Read more:
Coronavirus and ‘domestic terrorism’: how to stop family violence under lockdown

This notion of increased perpetrator visibility relies on coordination and information sharing between a range of men’s services, criminal justice agencies, family violence specialists and other support services, such as those dealing with mental health, alcohol and drugs.

But these responses have been significantly hampered by the COVID-19 restrictions, which limit the ability of victims to seek help and highlight the need for others to step in and report suspected abuse.

This raises the very real risk that new perpetrators will remain invisible for longer. Patterns of escalation among known perpetrators may also go “unchecked” unless they are monitored during this time of heightened risk.

Fewer men’s services during lockdown

One of the key ways known family violence perpetrators are held to account and kept in view is through men’s behaviour change programs (MBCPs).

These programs require men to attend weekly, group-based sessions, as well as engage in short or long-term case management programs.

An immediate impact of the coronavirus restrictions has been the suspension of some face-to-face men’s services and many MBCPs. While this has not stopped family violence interventions altogether, it does make known abusers less visible and may prevent them from getting the support they need.

Read more:
‘Cabin fever’: Australia must prepare for the social and psychological impacts of a coronavirus lockdown

Some men’s services are seeing a surge in demand for telephone services. Coinciding with the beginning of the lockdown last month, the Men’s Referral Service, a national telephone counselling service operated by No To Violence, has seen an alarming increase in calls from perpetrators of family violence.

This included a 94% increase in phone traffic and an average 20% increase in time spent with callers.

Despite the increased need, resources are still lacking. The federal government has announced a $1.1 billion boost in funding for mental health services, Medicare assistance and domestic violence support.

But this package does not specify additional funding to the Men’s Referral Service. Instead, the service makes do with funding from three states (Victoria, NSW and Tasmania).

In the absence of increased funding and availability of men’s services, proactive policing and random household checks of known, high-risk perpetrators will be critical during the lockdown.

Police resources have also been strained by the coronavirus crisis, but these spot checks should be seen as a priority. Victoria Police has recently committed to doing this.

Similarly, the Family Law Court has taken urgent action after reporting a 39% increase in applications relating to parenting orders over the past month.

Both the Family Law Court and Federal Circuit Court will fast-track cases in which there is an increased risk of family violence as a result of COVID-19 social restrictions. This may not guarantee long-term protection to women and children, but it brings perpetrators into view quicker when they are subject to urgent parenting orders during the crisis.

How the family violence system is innovating and adapting

Despite the current challenges, there has been a prompt response from the family violence service sector to the changing environment. For instance, some men’s intervention programs are adapting their strategies to reach known perpetrators who otherwise would be unsupported.

The Men’s Family Violence Intervention Centre in Victoria, for instance, has moved all 200 men in its program to online or telephone services.

To replace MBCP group sessions, facilitators contact each man and conduct a 30-minute phone call to discuss topics usually covered in group, as well as other sources of stress (job loss, financial pressure, isolation at home).

Read more:
What governments can do about the increase in family violence due to coronavirus

A pilot MBCP for perpetrators with problematic alcohol or other drug use, developed by TaskForce Community Agency, has taken similar actions.

With a new, in-person group meeting unable to start at the moment, men who had been referred to the service are now receiving a combination of phone support and educational materials via group emails. This allows the agency to “check in” with known perpetrators and keep them “in view” until the next face-to-face group can start again.

There are likely many other examples of adapted and innovative practices in Australia, which has been a leading nation in family violence reform over the last five years.

It is essential the momentum of the work advanced nationally to keep perpetrators in view is not lost during the crisis.

There is no road map to achieve this. But it is clear we must prioritise and provide resources for the monitoring, assessment and management of family violence perpetrators during this time to keep women and children safe.

The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.The Conversation

Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Monash University; Jessica Burley, , Monash University, and Silke Meyer, Associate Professor in Crimninology; Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What governments can do about the increase in family violence due to coronavirus


Melissa O’Donnell, University of Western Australia; Aron Shlonsky, Monash University; Ben Mathews, Queensland University of Technology; Fiona Arney, University of South Australia; Fiona Stanley, Telethon Kids Institute; Leah Bromfield, University of South Australia; Rhiannon Pilkington, University of Adelaide, and Rhonda Marriott, Murdoch University

Tackling a health crisis such as COVID-19, with society in lockdown can’t help but place families under strain.

It’s been reported family violence notifications to police nearly tripled in some areas of China’s Hubei province (where SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 originated) during the lockdown in February.

Some family violence organisations in Australia are already reporting a rise in demand for services.

The federal government recently announced A$1.1 billion for mental health services, domestic violence support and Medicare assistance for people at home, and emergency food relief. This support is welcome but more practical and creative measures are also required to protect vulnerable families.

COVID-19 and vulnerable children

Prior to the pandemic, in 2018-19, about 170,000 children aged up to 17 years (around 30 out of 1,000) received child protection services. These services include investigations, which may or may not lead to substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect, care and protection orders, or out-of-home care placements.

Most of these children remain in their families of origin with social workers from government and community agencies, as well as teaching, medical and other professionals supporting these families and monitoring children’s safety.

But the social structures and services which normally support children and families – such as schools, parenting or mother’s groups, and family services – have been removed or are operating at reduced capacity.

Read more:
Coronavirus and ‘domestic terrorism’: how to stop family violence under lockdown

Reduced service provision will amplify the pre-existing and COVID-19 related challenges that impact children’s safety. These include parental substance misuse, mental health problems and neglect.

Hard-to-detect types of abuse, such as child sexual abuse, are likely to increase. Studies show social isolation increases the risk for vulnerable children, allowing perpetrators greater ability to employ grooming strategies.

Read more:
Grooming: what parents should know and what schools should do if they suspect it

Existing family stress will be magnified through widespread job and income loss, food security issues in regional areas and medication shortages. The need for families to spend extended periods of time together in confined spaces will only add to the pressure, testing relationships and potentially exacerbating mental-health issues and aggressive behaviours.

One concern is that as families become more isolated due to the pandemic, children already at risk will be hidden at the same time that they are facing heightened danger from violence, abuse and neglect in their homes.

A recently released Canadian review of the literature on child welfare issues during pandemics found a number of challenges will confront welfare, family and community services. These include:

  • a decrease in in-home family support services, which reduces chances to detect and respond to health and care concerns

  • limits on substance abuse and addiction services

  • reduced visitation and reunification processes with parents, for children in out-of-home care

  • substantial court delays, including with child protection orders to determine if a child will return home or remain in out-of-home care

  • a decreased capacity among the major agencies who report child maltreatment and domestic violence, such as education and health, resulting in decreased detection of serious safety threats

  • a reduction in the capacity of police and child protection services to investigate and respond to serious safety threats.

At June 2019, there were 44,900 children in out-of-home care. Most of these children were in home-based care, with just over half cared for by relatives, such as grandparents, who are at higher risk of more severe effects of COVID-19.

Around 30% of children in out-of-home care also live with a disability or mental health issue. These children require high levels of support, which places extra pressure on carers who may be homeschooling while coping with reduced childcare and respite support.

What needs to be done

Government and community agencies are facing unprecedented and significant challenges. There is a real risk of some services and supports, that are essential to child safety, being overlooked as our attention is focused on COVID-19.

Read more:
The coronavirus lockdown could test your relationship. Here’s how to keep it intact (and even improve it)

Governments can employ a number of strategies to minimise the risk of further exacerbating issues in vulnerable families. These include:

  • continued and sustained financial support for families who suffer income and job loss, through timely access to unemployment benefits. This support must be enabled as soon as possible to reduce heightened individual and family stress

  • online consultations for mental health and addiction, so service provision is broader than just tele-health but includes community based support services. This can assist families in self-isolation to reduce symptom escalation and enable triaging of in-person support for those who need it

  • provide urgent support to service providers to develop policy on how to safely sustain service provision in the event of a community “lockdown”. Like health services, social services are essential for maintaining child and community safety.

  • use creative strategies to provide refuges and emergency accommodation for those seeking safety. Empty hotels and Airbnb rooms could be used for women and children at-risk. Regional community strategies will also be required to address this need with restricted travel being imposed

  • restrict alcohol sales, such as in Western Australia, which has imposed limits on how much alcohol a person can buy.

  • create flexible, innovative strategies, such as respite services and child care provisions for in-home support for families and carers who are vulnerable or who have children with high care needs.

  • extend care this year for young people turning 18 so they can remain in out-of-home care placements with foster and relative carers. Currently children in out-of-home care are required to leave their placements when they turn 18.

  • increase the workforce capacity for welfare and community agencies – downturns in other sectors may enable a boost in this workforce. For example people working in youth recreation who have lost their jobs could assist in youth support agencies as they have working with children checks and youth experience. Training will be challenging but not impossible.

  • encourage everyone who can to provide support to neighbours and friends who may be struggling. A phone call, virtual chat or a food delivery can make a huge difference.

This is a challenging time for everyone, but especially so for those already vulnerable. Australia can employ innovative strategies to address the health and safety concerns for our most vulnerable children and families.

The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.The Conversation

Melissa O’Donnell, Senior Research Fellow, University of Western Australia; Aron Shlonsky, Professor, Social Work, Monash University; Ben Mathews, Professor, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology; Fiona Arney, Chair and Director, Australian Centre for Child Protection, University of South Australia; Fiona Stanley, Perinatal and pediatric epidemiologist; distinguished professorial fellow, Telethon Kids Institute; Leah Bromfield, Associate Professor and Deputy Director, Australian Centre Child Protection, University of South Australia; Rhiannon Pilkington, Postdoctoral research fellow, BetterStart Child Health and Development Research Group, University of Adelaide, and Rhonda Marriott, Professor Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing, Murdoch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why family violence leave should be paid

Kate Farhall, RMIT University

Five days unpaid family violence leave is a significant improvement over no guaranteed leave at all. But research shows that finances and domestic violence are inextricably linked.

Access to a steady income can mitigate the effects of violence and provide avenues out of abuse. Paid family violence leave is one tool to achieve this.

Read more:
Infographic: A snapshot of domestic violence in Australia

Research shows leaving an abusive relationship can be costly. This includes the cost of relocation (such as breaking a lease or finding alternative housing), medical and counselling bills, increased transportation costs due to moving house or loss of access to a car, as well as lost earnings – among other financial burdens.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions places the total figure at around A$18,000.

Given this, financial hardship can bind women to abusive relationships. As such, the economic backing that ongoing employment supplies can be a critical factor in supporting women to leave abusive relationships. Continued employment can also serve to psychologically bolster victims.

The impact of violence on earnings and employment

Family violence can significantly impact lifetime earnings. This has flow-on effects for victims’ ability to live safe and healthy lives.

In Australia, approximately two-thirds of women experiencing domestic violence are in paid employment.

Research shows a significant correlation between the experience of domestic violence and reduced lifetime earnings. Some studies in the United States show a 25% loss in income associated with abuse.

Victims of domestic violence also experience higher rates of part-time and casual work, lower retirement savings and a lack of job stability. Many lose their jobs as a direct result of violence.

The effects of violence are not only felt while the abuse is ongoing, but can reverberate for at least afurther three years after the violence has stopped.

This also has substantial consequences for career progression and therefore potential future earnings.

Read more:
Paid domestic violence leave: how do other countries do it?

Victims of domestic violence are also more likely to experience food insecurity, to struggle to find affordable housing and cover the basic essentials like utility bills.

Domestic violence victims are also more likely to experience anxiety over their ability to support their children, even as compared to others on a low income. In fact, all of this is intensified for low-income women.

As Adrienne Adams and her colleagues explain, “whether it is a few hours out of a day, a few days out of a week, or a few months out of the year, missed employment opportunities translate into lost income”.

Providing paid family violence leave means we’re not asking victims to choose between forgoing necessary support for the sake of financial security.

It also means that victims may be better able to weather the storm of domestic and family violence and may be more productive at work (although more research is required to assess this).

Providing family violence leave – and ensuring that it is paid – is a fundamental aspect of workplace support for victims.

Research also shows a symbiotic relationship between financial stress and rates of domestic violence. What people think about their own economic insecurity is closely associated with higher rates of domestic violence, according to one comprehensive study in the United States.

By failing to provide family violence leave we risk re-entrenching existing forms of disadvantage and failing to address a potential contributing factor to the persistent gender pay gap in this country.

Read more:
Out of the shadows: the rise of domestic violence in Australia

Paid domestic and family violence leave only represents one aspect of a comprehensive response that workplaces can provide, yet it is a substantial one.

The ConversationThe argument that paid domestic violence leave will negatively impact employers fails to take into account actual patterns of usage, so the potential benefits seem to far outweigh the costs.

Kate Farhall, Postdoctoral research fellow, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.