08 May Family violence – a secondary epidemic during COVID-19 lockdown
While the country is united in its fight to eliminate COVID-19, Janeta Vasega, who manages Victim Support’s family harm response in Counties Manukau, has been working tirelessly to support victims affected by a secondary epidemic of family violence.
For Janeta Vasega, Family Harm Coordinator for Victim Support in Counties-Manukau, the safety and well-being of the victims being supported is paramount. With the current restrictions in place aimed at containing the coronavirus, ensuring victim safety has become a lot more difficult.
Family violence statistics released by police showed a 20 per cent spike in cases on the first Sunday after the lockdown on 29 March, when compared with the previous three Sundays.
It means many family harm victims are confined in their homes with the perpetrator in relationships that simply aren’t safe.
“There are women out there who don’t have a way out now. Occasionally, I will engage with victims before they’re referred to our front-line team just to ensure their safety. I have a woman who I’ve supported for a while, and I only talked to her at work because her partner was monitoring her mobile phone. I haven’t heard from her since lockdown began,” says Janeta.
While bubbles have been set up to safeguard people from COVID-19, these bubbles can also be an environment that exacerbates violence against women and children.
The pressures of the lockdown have placed further strains on relationships that were already fraught.
“There are new cases coming through and some that have a history, but may have been triggered by these new stresses that have been coming up. On the financial side of things, job losses or even not being able to go to work due to the lockdown,” says Janeta.
“For some people, if you are on the borderline of family harm incidents, going to work is sometimes your outlet. Having that time apart is enough to bring the stresses down. It’s evident in some of the arguing that not having the opportunity for that time out is having an effect.”
While the country makes good progress towards breaking the chain of transmission for COVID-19, the underlying epidemic of family violence may well increase with job losses meaning more people at home as the economic impact kicks in.
Janeta’s concerned about what might lie ahead.
“Economic stresses are definitely a contributing factor and if people are using alcohol and other means to relieve those pressures that will impact even more.”
Janeta’s firmly focused on what she needs to do now to provide support to victims who have reached out for help.
“Our Support Workers are talking to them about a safety plan. Things such as keeping their phone near, talking to them about whether there is a place or room in the house that is lockable. Having someone you can call where you might have a code word and if you say that code word they know to call the police. The Support Workers will tailor a safety plan with someone based on what their needs are at the time.”
These safety plans will be a vital part Janeta’s ongoing work to support victims to fight the secondary epidemic of family harm long after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.