Kicking Them While They’re (Locked) Down: Domestic Violence increases during the COVID-19 Pandemic

New study conducted by Australian researchers have discovered data linking economic insecurity and intimate partner violence against women during the pandemic.

By this point, we are all well aware of the drastic effects the pandemic has had on everyone. However, it is shocking to hear, that women who experience financial hardship or stress caused by the pandemic are up to three times more likely to be sexually or physically abused by their partners.

The research was conducted by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) who surveyed 10,000 Australian women to explore any links between economic insecurity and intimate partner violence (IPV) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pressures and uncertainty caused by the pandemic were associated with both onset and the increase of abuse and there is “clear evidence” to prove it.

According to the report, female breadwinners are more likely to experience abuse, suggesting the relationship between economic disparity and IPV were perpetuated by traditional gender norms.

Even bread-winning women who had never previously experienced any previous violence from their partners were still likely to experience abuse, which again, suggests that the financial stress was the new circumstance contributing to it.

It is even the case that women are more likely to experience domestic violence if they had reported their economic hardship over those who didn’t.

While women who were the primary-income earners were more likely to experience domestic violence than those who weren’t, women whose employment was impacted by the pandemic also reported higher rates of domestic violence.

The report also found that, when a partner lost employment due to the pandemic, that there was an increased likelihood of first-time physical violence or first-time emotional abuse and harassment.

Additionally, women who previously experience IPV or domestic violence were four times more likely to experience it again if their a partner had a decrease in pay, reduced hours or lost their job.

This research in essence found that the pandemic coincided with two different types of intimate partner violence. People experienced intimate partner violence for the first time in their relationships, and there was an escalation in ongoing violence.

Furthermore, researchers from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) found one in three women were affected by economic hardship during the pandemic. Economic hardship was defined as an “inability to pay for essential household expenses because of a shortage of money”. Research has shown women were more likely to lose their jobs or have precarious work situations during the pandemic.

The results out of AIC indicated that women with higher levels of financial stress were more likely to experience physical and sexual violence or emotionally abusive, harassing, or controlling behaviors than those who experienced low levels of financial stress. Employed women with unemployed partners were also more likely to experience all forms of intimate partner violence.

The authors believed that in circumstances where women had more economic power in the relationship they were seen as a threat to “gender norms”, resulting in the man becoming abusive to “reaffirm” their masculinity. They believe this is true as previous research conducted found that “men may use violence as a means of establishing control within their relationships, and mitigating any feelings of inadequacy they may have”.

Women who were the higher income earners had 1.7 times higher risk of experiencing physical violence, 1.6 times the risk of sexual violence and 1.5 times the risk of non-physical violence, according to the survey results.

Moreover, women experiencing greater financial hardship were three times as likely to experience physical or sexual abuse and 2.6 times more likely to experience non-physical abuse.

Researchers tragically found that women who experienced health conditions, or where pregnant in last 12 months, or living within children or Indigenous women were at an even higher risk of abuse.

It is also important to note that ninety-five per cent of women surveyed had a male partner. 31.6 per cent of the survey respondents said they’d experienced emotionally abuse, harassing and controlling behaviour from a partner or ex. 9.6 per cent experienced physical violence and 7.6 per cent experienced sexual violence.

CEO of Bankstown Women’s Health Service and Farifield Women’s Health Service in Sydney, Mariam Mourad, told the ABC that she had seen an increase in IPV cases, which is further anecdotal evidence of the links between the economic stresses that the COVID-19 has caused and domestic violence (both first time and increases).

We have also seen this trend internationally. Cases of domestic violence involving both women and children are on a rise in countries all across the globe, from China, Greece, Italy, Germany, and Brazil (to name a few).

Women and children who live with domestic violence have no escape from their abusers during quarantine, and from Brazil to Germany, Italy to China, activists and survivors say they are already seeing an alarming rise in abuse.

The CEO of ANROWS, Padma Raman, has stated that “harmful attitudes supporting gender norms” need to urgently be addressed to help “dismantle systems that enable these problematic attitudes”.

She also believes stable housing, income support, debt forgiveness, microloans and access to affordable childcare are necessary support measures needed for victims.

The Federal Government has drafted a national plan to end violence against women and children with a “strong focus” on women’s economic security, according to Anne Ruston, the women’s safety Minister. 

The Government also has a payment of up to $5,000 for survivors leaving violent relationships, to help overcome the financial barrier of leaving violent relationships.

We have worked on countless domestic violence cases and assault/violent cases (even in circumstances when police don’t believe there is grounds for an AVO, so we are forced to apply for protection privately). If you or someone you know needs assistance or advice, please do not hesitate to contact our office today and to see how we can help you. We understand that this can be a difficult and challenging circumstance to navigate, and we have the experience and knowledge to make a real difference.

There are plenty of free government resources such as the national family violence counselling service on 1800 737 732 or 1800RESPECT  on 1800 737 732.

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