Pandemic lockdown, wounded hearts

The pandemic forced people to remain indoors. Some Australians experienced partner abuse as a result. 

The COVID-19 pandemic might be coming to an end, but experts are worried about a ‘shadow’ pandemic of partner abuse. 

Partner abuse involves controlling behaviours and can be emotional or physical. 

UWA head of school of population and global health and domestic abuse expert Colleen Fisher said there has been evidence of relationships turning violent during the pandemic. 

Professor Fisher explained how partner abuse commenced during the lockdown periods: 

“People were together for extended periods of time in the same household with no access to support,” she said.

Professor Fisher said not being able to visit loved ones or health professionals led to an increased social isolation. 

“When stuck at home a victim can’t always ring someone for help because there’s usually no privacy.”  

UWA Professor and domestic abuse expert Colleen Fisher. Photo: Supplied.

In 2021 Hayley Boxall and Anthony Morgan wrote a report titled Intimate partner violence during the COVID-19 pandemic: A survey of women in Australia’. The study was published by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. 

Results found many women in particular experienced partner abuse for the first time during the pandemic. 

Boxall and Morgan found 56.8 per cent of respondents experienced emotional abuse and controlling behaviours for the first time. Meanwhile 44.9 per cent of participants experienced partner violence for the first time. 

According to Boxall and Morgan’s study one in four respondents said they were unable to seek assistance due to safety concerns. 

Despite there being evidence of people seeking help after lockdown, Professor Fisher said violence against women is still a hidden issue.

“Looking at official records of women experiencing and reporting partner abuse, they still don’t always report the issue.”  

Tension may have built within households during lockdown. Photo: Piper Duffy

In August the Australian Bureau of Statistics released results from a Personal Safety Survey, which showed 3.6 million people experienced emotional partner abuse in 2016. 

According to the PSS emotional partner abuse is when someone experiences emotional harm or fear due to being controlled by another person. 

ABS director of the national centre for crime and justice statistics William Milne said women were most likely to experience emotional partner abuse. 

“There are also various socio-economic factors contributing to the abuse, for example those under financial stress were more likely to experience partner abuse,” she said.

Mr Milne said the same survey was run in 2012 and results were quite similar. 

With the changing environment since 2016, Mr Milne anticipates future results might look different. 

“It’s hard to say what the next survey results will look like but there will be new questions around Covid-19 and partner abuse.”

Large media movements might influence the number of people reporting partner abuse. 

Mr Milne said when awareness of a type of crime starts to rise, there’s a higher rate of reporting. 

“People realise they aren’t alone and that pushes them to come forward and report the crime.”

Professor Fisher said victims who experienced partner abuse during the lockdown period might still need help.

“The ending of the pandemic won’t make a huge difference. But we can hope the media around the issue helps people feel comfortable enough to seek support.” 

Categories: COVID-19, Crime, Women

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