The Queensland Times | 25 May 2020
COVID-19 has meant we’ve all been spending a bit more time at home than we’d like.
While we are all getting sick of being shut indoors, home is supposed to be a place of comfort and safety.
For victims of domestic violence, it is a dangerous one.
The Domestic Violence Action Centre, which provides services in Ipswich, Toowoomba and the rural areas in between, has had to drastically alter the way it offers support.
New CEO Amie Carrington returned to Queensland from the Northern Territory to take on the job.
She said the pandemic has allowed perpetrators of family and domestic violence to take advantage of the situation and more barriers have been put up for victims.
Former CEO Gabrielle Borggaard said she was proud of how far the organisation had come in her 11 years at the helm, but it was still “under the pump” and “struggling with the demand” in Ipswich.
She departed in February.
DVAC supported 3644 Ipswich clients to access support for domestic, family and sexual violence related matters last year.
This year so far, it has supported about 1650 clients and responded to nearly 9,000 calls.
Ms Carrington said the pandemic has forced DVAC to adapt the way it operates, and it has made it harder for victims to reach out for assistance.
“It’s increased the complexity of the situation, and the barriers for victims and survivors,” she said.
“It really exacerbates a whole lot of the factors. There’s increased opportunity for perpetrators of violence to take advantage of the situation.
“We’ve seen examples where COVID-19 has been used as a tool to further control victims. So, for example, threats to infect someone with COVID-19 or their children as a means of coercion.
“It’s been harder for victims and survivors to use their normal support networks and to essentially get out of the house.
“Home is not always a safe place and it can actually be a very dangerous and lethal place.”
Ms Carrington said DVAC had a “significant peak” in calls after Brisbane woman Hannah Clarke and her three children were killed by her former partner in February.
“We found our phone system was struggling to cope with the number of calls at the time,” she said.
“It’s always busy here. There’s always a demand.
“I’ve never had the experience of working somewhere where the demand just never ends. It is very, very high.”
Ms Carrington started her role as social distancing requirements were in full swing.
“We’ve done a lot of work over this period to move an entire workforce essentially to be able to provide services remotely,” she said.
“One of my future goals is looking at how we can use the leanings of this time where we’ve been forced to really start working (remotely) when that wasn’t something that was a part of what we used to do.
“Although working remotely will never replace face-to-face service provision, it does enable us to start thinking about more flexible work arrangements.”
Ms Carrington welcomed recent one-off funding from the State Government, which went towards adjusting their services during COVID-19.
Local domestic and family violence support services shared in more than $257,000 of extra support from the government.
May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month and Ms Carrington said it was a time to remind bystanders they can make a huge difference.
“If you are a bystander and you are witnessing or hearing signs of family and domestic violence, please seek help,” she said.
“Call the police.”