FRONTLINE workers in women’s refuges are calling for public support as they brace for an expected spike in demand driven by the Coronavirus lockdown.
One refuge the Herald spoke to said they were already running short of food and aid.
Women’s Council CEO Angela Hartwig said with tightening restrictions on movements and gatherings, women risked becoming “more and more entrapped” in their homes unless they could get into crisis accommodation.
With more than 65,600 DV cases reported to WA Police in 2018/19, Ms Hartwig said she was concerned: “Refuge beds are almost always full.”
Family and domestic violence minister Simone McGurk said the situation was moving quickly.
“The state government is conscious that the current public health situation is likely to have an impact on family and domestic violence services and the need for emergency accommodation,” Ms McGurk said.
“We are scaling up our response as required.”
Earlier this week Ms McGurk’s department held a conference call with Fremantle council, St Patrick’s Community Support Centre and other agencies to discuss how to deal with homelessness during Covid-19, as well as the extra demand on refuges.
Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt said it was clear domestic violence was going to be one of the “hot bun issues” during the Coronavirus lockdown, and while he was encouraged by some local initiatives, urged the McGowan government to ramp up its response.
“I feel there is scope for the state government to be more agile and more generous in the current circumstances,” Dr Pettitt said.
The Women’s Council represents 64 women’s refuges and domestic and family violence services in Western Australia.
Ms Hartwig said while the council was striving to ensure all refuges could remain open, there were challenges around providing essential items for women and children.
“They have put in place local-level responses around how they will deal with this pandemic to ensure the risks are minimised for women and children, and the staff at the service,” she says.
The Fremantle district has had 34 beds available for women since 2008.
A phone operator who works with the WA Domestic Violence Helpline said “there just aren’t enough beds”.
“The services assisting those living with violence are already under strain,” Senator Larissa Waters said on her Instagram earlier last week.
“In response to the increased risk, the Greens have called on the Morrison Government to take action”.
Prime minister Scott Morrison has since delegated $150 million to boost domestic violence support services.
Researchers from the Australian Gender and Disaster Taskforce found that a loss of control and stability during a crisis can lead to a feeling of de-masculinisation in some men, which they could attempt to reclaim through violence, drug and alcohol abuse.
Studies conducted after the Black Saturday Bushfires in 2009, for example, showed domestic violence rates increased in the affected communities. Refuges in NSW have already reported an increase in demand.
“It’s an ego thing; and a loss of pride for a lot of men. Also, the fact that men aren’t really taught to express their emotions in a healthy way when they are growing up,” a spokeswoman from a women’s refuge centre explained.
Ms Hartwig called on the public to support women’s refuges during the lockdown.
“Link up with a refuge in your local area and find out what support they most need during this time; and continue to report to the authorities if you suspect anyone is experiencing domestic and family violence, as this can save lives”.
To find out how you can support women seeking refuge from domestic violence in your community, contact your nearest women’s refuge using the following link; https://
dlgc.communities.wa.gov.au/AdviceSupport/Pages/Online%20 Womens%20Services%20 Directory.aspx and select
“accommodation” in the “service type” drop-down menu.
If you, or someone you know, is at risk of harm from domestic or family violence, contact the Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 007 339 or the Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 000 599.
1800 RESPECT is a national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of being harmed, dial 000.
by KELLY WARDEN