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Domestic violence on the rise during COVID-19 pandemic

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A local domestic violence support service is calling for more government funding as it grapples with a significant spike in women seeking help during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Domestic Violence Action Centre - which services Greater Ipswich, the Darling Downs and Somerset regions - helped 8,900 victims and survivors last year alone.

In Ipswichm, the Sexual Violence service has recorded a 46 per cent increase in people reaching out for support, since 2018.

CEO Amie Carrington points out that women significantly under report due to the stigma and judgment that comes along with speaking up.

Even with under reporting, one in three women have experienced physical and sexual violence by a man that they know, Ms Carrington says.

These figures show a desperate need for more infrastructure and local services, she says, but frontline providers don't have the funding needed to provide an additional level of support.

"The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women's health and well being, and their experience of victimisation and violence hasn't been fully realised."

Ms Carrington is calling on the Commonwealth Government to set aside more money for support services, such as the Domestic Violence Action Centre, so they can assist women in fleeing dangerous households.

"It's really important in particular that our Commonwealth Government is providing suitable funds for our frontline services responding to survivors of domestic and sexual violence."

HISTORICAL PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE

The coronavirus restrictions, combined with unemployment and financial stress linked to the pandemic, have caused domestic violence cases to spike across the country.

Lockdown has forced victims to isolate at home with the perpetrator.

"We have had stories where a woman's partner would use the threat of COVID-19 and control them to perpetrate further abuse," Ms Carrington says.

"Someone had told their partner they were infected with COVID-19 and that they would infect them."

But she points out violence against women is not a new problem, and the pandemic and extra pressure it placed on families could not be solely blamed for the increase.

"It's really important to note that domestic family sexual violence were an issue that far predates the pandemic, and this is an issue that is a public health issue in Australia - it won't finish when we are able to over come the coronavirus pandemic."

EVERYONE CAN CREATE CHANGE

While federal and state governments have a responsibility to provide adequate investment in frontline providers, Ms Carrington says, they are also pivotal in setting examples of gender equality in the workplace.

"We know there is unequivocal evidence that gender inequality is the principal driver of family domestic and sexual violence."

Pressure has been mounting on the Prime Minister to take action to better protect women at Parliament House and around the country after his government became embroiled in controversy over its handling of rape and sexual harassment allegations.

"We expect our government will be setting really policy agendas on social justice and human rights."

Ms Carrington says workplaces need to look at their culture and improve policies to support survivors.

"How are women treated in the workplace, are they proportionately represented on the executive and the board, are there clear accountabilities and action taken when a woman reports concerns of sexual harassment?"

She says every person has a role to in speaking up.

"If you see someone who is speaking disrespectfully, being sexiest or abusive towards a woman it is really important that you can find the best way to speak up in that situation.

"If you are worried about someone, discretely let them know about free support services, tell them you are worried for their safety."

CONTACT

Contact DVAC in Ipswich on 07 3816 3000 or 07 3816 3282, Toowoomba on  07 4642 1354 or 07 4566 2633