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Research Findings: Impact of COVID-19 on Domestic Violence Front Line Workers

In the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australian healthcare and women’s safety professionals predicted an ‘impending increase’ in domestic and family violence (DFV) cases (Hegarty & Tarzia, 2020; Forster, 2020). As time unfolded, advocates reported increased complexities and challenges in assisting victims/survivors amidst COVID-19 (Forster, 2020). During the first three months of the pandemic 1 in 10 Australian women experienced DFV, a reported increase in prevalence of 23% (Boxall et al 2020). Given the extensive social (and also economic) costs of DFV and, challenges with seeking to prevent and respond to DFV and protect and empower victim/survivors, the team sought to explore sector experiences of operating in
this climate.

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Centre for Justice provided seed funding to conduct a nationwide survey on the Impact of COVID on DFV Workforce and Clients. The findings of this presentation were outlined at an event on 13 October 2020.  A recording of the presentation, which heard from each member of the project team, can be found here.  

Key issues to emerge from the data include:

  • increasing complexity of client needs;
  • increases in controlling perpetrator behaviours and victim/survivor isolation;
  • increased sense of advocate and client vulnerability;
  • the impacts of working from home and forced co-habitation of victim/survivors and perpetrators during lock-down;
  • challenges in help-seeking and service provision;
  • increased use of technology by workers, perpetrators and victim/survivors
  • diminished capacity in community support services and broader service system including reduced access to emergency accommodation and housing options.

One of the most concerning of our findings is the number of DFV workers reporting new clients seeking their help for the first time during the COVID-19 crisis. This is evidence that the pandemic conditions are affecting the rate of domestic violence consistent with other national and international research. Seeking to enhance responses and sector capabilities the survey also asked workers for their recommendations, which emphasised the need for:

  • better technology and technology support for workers, technology checks for clients, more mobile phones through WESNET’s Safe Connections;
  • better internet connectivity;
  • more government funding for crisis supplies and emergency and long-term accommodation and safe and affordable housing;
  • transport for home delivery of services;
  • the continuation of tele-health provisions;
  • more resources for male perpetrator programs (especially for Indigenous men).

They also need systems to be flexible, especially justice agencies and they called for enhanced policing and better communication and translation services and supports for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities.

An interim (24 July) select report of the findings was submitted to the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs inquiry into and report on family, domestic and sexual violence.  A link to this report can be found here.

A report of full project findings will be released shortly and a link to this report will be provided on the QUT Centre for Justice blog when released.

Project Team:

Professor Kerry Carrington is a Research Professor in the School of Justice in the Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology, Australia. She is the lead chief investigator on an Australian Research Council Discovery Project ‘Preventing Gender Violence: Lessons from the Global South’. Her team has undertaken a world first study on how Women’s Police Stations in Argentina respond to and prevent gender violence. In 2016 Kerry was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences Australia for outstanding and distinguished contributions to the social sciences. She is also the recipient of a number of awards from the American Society of Criminology – Lifetime Achievement award (Division of Critical Criminology), and Distinguished Scholar Award (Division of Women and Crime). Kerry is a co-author of Southern Criminology (2019) Feminism and Global Justice (2015) and over 100 other publications, as well as the Founding Chief Editor of the International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy.

Associate Professor Matthew Ball is a member of the School of Justice, Queensland University of Technology, and researcher in the QUT Centre for Justice. Matthew is a foundational scholar in the field of Queer Criminology and has an international research profile in this area. He has published several foundational texts in this field, including Criminology and Queer Theory: Dangerous Bedfellows? (2016, Palgrave), and has co-edited Queering Criminology (2016, Palgrave), and several journal special issues on Queer Criminology. He is a founding co-editor of the first international scholarly book series in this area, titled Queering Criminology and Criminal Justice. His work has also been translated into Italian.
Matthew was a part of a team of researchers who undertook the first evaluation of LGBTQ Police Liaison Officers in Australia and explored the experience of LGBTQ people reporting crime victimisation to police. Matthew’s research has contributed to the enhancement of police liaison services across Australia and the training of liaison officers. His work has also been used within commissions of inquiry into domestic violence in Australia to advocate for the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the scope of social responses to domestic violence.

Dr Joanne Clarke is a lecturer and Field Education Coordinator in the School of Public Health and Social Work at Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove. Jo has practiced extensively in the fields of homelessness, domestic violence and family law and her most recent area of research is focused on improving the experience for women with histories of domestic violence engaged in family court cases. Jo’s PhD thesis explored the ways the dominant discourses of conflict resolution, legal rationality and family law shape the experiences for women, particularly those with a history of domestic violence. Jo has an interest in how the intersections of class, race, ability, sexuality and ethnicity combine with gender and influence the experiences of violence and therefore shapes the many responses required to address violence in our communities.

Dr Bridget Harris is an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow in the School of Justice and Chief Investigator in the Centre for Justice and Digital Media Research Centre. Her work explores intimate partner, domestic and family violence in urban and non-urban locations; technology-facilitated violence, advocacy and justice; and access to justice. She is currently completing funded projects on technology-facilitated abuse enacted against women with cognitive or intellectual disability; violence against women in rural areas; and virtual reality and body-worn video camera use in the context of domestic and family violence. Her forthcoming collection Domestic Violence and Technology: Experiences, Perpetration and Responses is edited with Delanie Woodlock and will be released by Routledge.

Professor Christine Morley is Professor and Head of the Social Work and Human Services Discipline in the School of Public Health and Social Work at Queensland University of Technology. She has published extensively on critical social work practice and education, across many fields including violence against women, where she has worked in many capacities over the last two decades. Her books include Practising Critical Reflection to Develop Emancipatory Change: Challenging the Legal Response to Sexual Assault (Routledge, 2014), Engaging with Social Work: A Critical Introduction, (with P. Ablett & S. Macfarlane, Cambridge, 2019, 2nd edition), and The Routledge Handbook of Critical Pedagogies for Social Work (editor with P. Ablett, C. Noble & S. Cowden, Routledge, 2020).

Dr Laura Vitis is a Lecturer in the School of Justice, Faculty of Law, QUT, Australia. Her research focuses on how technology is used to facilitate gendered, sexual and intimate partner violence within the Global South. Her work also examines the regulation of and resistance to technologically facilitated violence and youth sexting. She has established an international research profile aligned with this research agenda. Her research on exo-judicial justice for online sexual harassment has been published in leading international journal Crime, Media, Culture. In 2017, she co-edited an edited collection entitled Gender, Technology and Violence for Routledge in their Studies in Crime and Society Series. This collection was an interdisciplinary exploration of how digital technologies both create and sustain various forms of gendered violence and provide platforms for resistance and criminal justice intervention.

Dr Shane Warren is a Lecturer in social work at the School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology. Shane has practiced as a social worker for more than 23 years in the fields of disability services, child safety and housing and homelessness. Prior to joining QUT, Shane was employed by the Queensland Government to provide expert homelessness policy and program advice in relation to youth, adults, families, women and people experiencing domestic and family violence. In 2018, Shane completed his doctoral study that focused on homelessness in the Central Queensland mining communities of Dysart, Moranbah and Mackay where he identified the influence of the mining cycle on homelessness in these communities, and community members unique pathways to, and experiences of homelessness in these communities and their pathways out of homelessness. This research emphasised the need for robust and long term social planning and policy responses that reflected the intent of the social license to operate and corporate social responsibility. Shane is a strong advocate of housing first approaches encompassing rapid housing responses and flexible support services for people experiencing, or at risk of homelessness.

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