‘Victims of domestic abuse more worried about their partners than the virus’

11 Sep 2020

By Matthew Lau

By Matthew Lau

Businesses have closed, jobs have been axed, and the city’s streets have been deserted – these have been just a few of the adverse effects of the economy-damaging Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). But what about the those facing an increased risk of domestic abuse during the lockdowns?

More than 2000 reports of family and domestic violence were made in WA during March 2020, the highest for any month on record. Statistics also show a 17 per cent increase in incidents of f amily violence this year.

The Australian Government has promised a $1.1 billion health and domestic violence package to help protect vulnerable Australians during the COVID-19 crisis.

According to Centrecare Executive Manager Rod West, recent trends found by the Catholic not-for-profit organisation have suggested an increase in survivors utilising services, people searching for domestic violence services on Google, and stories of how coronavirus is used to control survivors.

“The dynamics of coronavirus, like other global crises, is a prime environment for abusers to use to their advantage and choose to control and abuse people,” he told The Record.

Some tell-tale signs that a perpetrator may abuse in the home include: past abuse and abuse patterns, increased stress, compounding stressors, opportunities to abuse, and using the virus as an excuse to not attend support services.

Mr West’s advice for a victim who may feel trapped is that he or she should not hesitate to reach out (where possible) to family, friends, or a support service.

“Ask someone reliable to make regular contact if it is safe to do so and create a safe word with them to inform them that things are not okay at home and they require police assistance,” Mr West affirmed.

A victim of domestic abuse shares her story with The Record.

Joy* met her partner in the Philippines. They endured five years of long-distance when he moved to Australia on a residency visa, after which she then followed him to Perth and they registered their marriage in 2018.

Life together started well, however, once she moved in with him, conflict arose and his character changed.

“He has anger management issues. Whenever he got frustrated, he would hit me and kick me,” she said.

“I am very meek, even in the physical aspect – he’s a man, if I had fought back, I would have been overpowered.”

When Joy secured a full-time job in the customer services industr
“I tried to understand the situation, to think positively, but it was so frustrating for me too.

“Working in customer service, having to put on a strong front with a forced smile, despite the fact that my mental state had been affected, even if I thought I was a strong person, I had been affected already because of my home issues.”

In February 2020, feeling trapped with no sight of restoring their marriage, Joy planned to fly to Sydney alone to escape and to take her own life.

“I wanted to commit suicide in a way that nobody could blame my partner – I tried to protect him by removing myself from Perth.”

Fortunately, just two hours before departure, Joy’s best friend informed her that she would join her.

“I mentioned to her what I was going through and what I was planning to do if I came alone to Sydney. She was shocked and offered me support,” Joy recalled.

“I prayed: ‘Lord, I cannot do this alone’.”

Despite still holding feelings for her husband, Joy knew she had to resolve the problem when she returned to Perth.

“I decided to do the right thing by asking for help, I didn’t want him to be put to shame by others, so I spoke to one of my mentors in my charismatic church community.

“My friends from church gave me courage. It is possible; there is a way out of this.”

“I don’t have to go to work and force myself to smile. I am isolated at home alone, can do things for myself.

“Right now I might not have the love of my life, but at least I have given myself the chance to regain my self-value. I am looking forward to what’s ahead in life,” she beamed.

Prior to her role as Director of Perth Archdiocese’s Safeguarding Project, Andrea Musulin was a police officer and during her 30-year career she was the Officer-in-Charge of the WA Police Family Unit attached to the Community Services Command in Cannington. This office dealt with policy and training for WA Police on a state-wide basis.

Mrs Musulin is all too familiar with cases such as Joy’s, having also been the chairperson of the Hedland Women’s Refuge and the Carnarvon Family Support Service, which included the Gascoyne Women’s Refuge and the Domestic Violence Referral Service.

“Cabin-fever is very real and it is defined as feeling dissatisfied, restless, irritable and bored when confined,” she explained.

“For people who are feeling well, being isolated may initially provide a novel respite from daily responsibilities. However, this can quickly become stressful and anxiety provoking.”

For Catholics, being denied access to Church may actually cause some of these feelings, she added, and that “many victims of domestic violence will be more worried about their partners than the virus itself”.

“As the COVID-19 outbreak intensifies and the crisis deepens in WA and Australia, I think we can expect to see an increase in domestic violence cases due to an increase in stress and anxiety levels in individuals and families,” Mrs Musulin predicted.

“Some complicating factors – in addition to those provided above – can include financial stresses, lack of social or extended family support, increased drug and alcohol use, forced isolation, stress due to the uncertainty of where the virus may spread, increased anxieties and phobias and the limited freedom of movement.”

The way Australians responded to the outbreak by hoarding toilet paper and other essential items, she said, was an indication that there was an increase in psychosocial impacts of the virus, which could correlate with a spike in domestic violence.

“Even for people who are feeling well, being isolated may initially provide a novel respite from daily responsibilities. However, this can quickly become stressful and anxiety provoking,” she concluded.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call:

  • Centrecare: (08) 9325 6644
  • Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 007 339
  • Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline:
  • 1800 000 559
  • Crisis Care: 1800 199 008
  • Anglicare WA: 1300 114 446
  • Relationships Australia:
  • 1300 364 277
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Men’s Helpline: 1300 789 978
  • 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732

From pages 14 to 15 of Issue 25: Crises and Trauma of The Record Magazine