‘Unfathomable stress’ as virus concentrates domestic violence woes at isolated homes


From left: Friends With Dignity Directors Manuela Whitford, Zoe Scharenguivel & Julia McKenna

Domestic violence victims and support services are being put under intense pressure due to Covid-19 constraints restricting movement, but it's become an evil weapon for perpetrators who are capitalising on the situation.

Domestic violence workers say coronavirus is playing havoc with support services while being used as a tool by perpetrators.

Friends with Dignity Co-Director and Chief Financial Officer Julia McKenna said the charity had to temporarily stop services as most of its volunteers are retired or semi-retired women most imperilled by COVID-19.

The organisation, which collects goods from donors' homes to assist DV victims, suspended services but are still accepting financial donations after a Brisbane donor contracted the virus a fortnight ago.

"It is a pressure cooker," Ms McKenna said.

"Having to isolate in a home with a perpetrator is deeply concerning and most people can't fathom that level of stress.

"There is no relief which people usually get by going to work each day.

"And at the moment you can still buy alcohol but you can't watch football so people focus on other things and that can be to the detriment of others in the home."

Ms McKenna said DV statistics specific to the coronavirus outbreak were not yet available but she was not surprised to hear Google searches on DV had risen by 75 per cent in Australia, as reported by the Federal Government last week.

"We have heard perpetrators are using the coronavirus as a tactic against the family," she said.

"They threaten that they already have the virus so they have to self-isolate with the household.

"Or they bring people into the home that they say have the virus so it is being used as a tool to control."

The Federal Government last week promised $150 million in coronavirus relief funding for DV, a step welcomed by Ms McKenna.

"The number one issue we have at the moment is a lack of refuge," she said.

"We would like to see the government make more accommodation available for families that may need to flee because they have nowhere to go.

"Most of the refuges are full.

"And it is a catch-22 because people are told to not leave their homes."

Ms McKenna encouraged DV survivors to not lose hope during these unprecedented times.

"If they do need help they must call the police or triple-0 immediately or call DV Connect (1800 RESPECT) because they can put in place a plan on how to leave safely in the event of danger," she said.

Friends With Dignity is still accepting financial donations to provide assistance to men, women and children displaced by domestic and family violence.

To donate visit https://www.mycause.com.au/charity/17132/FriendsWithDignity or see their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/FriendsWithDignity.

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