Yes, everyone is stressed out.
Yes, everyone is fighting more.
But there’s one thing that not even the pressures and stress of living through a pandemic can excuse:
Across the world, domestic abuse rates have increased since the coronavirus was declared an international public health emergency.
In this week’s YBTV interview, family violence advocate Cathy Oddie shares her insights into what’s causing this increase and what we can do about it.
If you suspect that someone in your life may be in an abusive relationship, you’ll learn how to spot the signs of abuse, what you should say, and the best kind of support you can give.
If you’re experiencing abuse in your own relationship, you’ll find out what resources are available to help you get to safety.
What You’ll Learn
The pandemic has had an absolutely catastrophic impact for women and children in terms of domestic and family violence across the world.”
Lockdowns have been hard on everybody.
Stuck at home. No outlet to work off the stress. Supplies running low. Job uncertainty. A constant news cycle of fear and disaster.
But as bad as lockdown has been for many families…
It’s been even worse for families trapped at home with an abuser.
Family violence advocate Cathy Oddie calls the coronavirus lockdowns “an absolute pressure cooker environment.”
There’s no escape for domestic violence victims. They’re stuck at home 24-7 with their abusers. They can’t leave to seek help.
“It’s a situation where it gives perpetrators so much more opportunity to control and isolate their victims,” Cathy explains.
Do you need someone to talk to?
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)
How the Pandemic Escalated Family Violence
It’s not unusual for family violence to increase during times of crisis or natural disasters.
But the pandemic is not like most natural disasters. It’s ongoing. We don’t know when lockdown restrictions will end for good.
And we’re already seeing the impact.
The level and severity of domestic abuse is spiking. Rates of domestic homicide are increasing.
Even in relationships where there was no previous abuse, abuse is on the rise.
Cathy clarifies that “COVID-19 is not the cause of family violence, [any more than] things such as drug and alcohol abuse or mental health issues.
“Family violence is a result of the perpetrators seeking to have control and power over their victims.”
But lockdowns have created opportunities for abusers that they didn’t have before. The doors are shut, no one is listening, and there’s nowhere else to go.
No Way to Get Help
In the early days of the pandemic, “all the family violence and mental health services were poised and on edge for an absolute tsunami of calls,” Cathy explains.
But that’s not what happened.
Domestic violence victims were unable to reach out for help, because they had no privacy to do so. They couldn’t leave their home. They couldn’t talk to anyone.
“Just even being able to make a phone call to a helpline has been very difficult when you [have] someone controlling and listening into everything that you’re doing,” Cathy says.
Work or school typically gives victims a break from their home life. They can escape their abuser’s eye and use their work phone or work email for confidential communication.
But now lockdowns have closed off that avenue of communication.
Working from home can give perpetrators access to their victim’s work computer.
“If you’re noticing that your colleague always seems to go quiet [on a Zoom call] when their partner walks past them, and they have a bit of a behavioral shift, that could be a warning sign,” she says.
Spot the Signs
How do you know if someone needs help?
“If you’re noticing that your friend, your colleague, your family member, is starting to withdraw and not behave in a way that is normal for them, if they’re clearly distressed, if they’re showing any signs of injuries,” then “see [it] as an opening to ask the question… ‘Are you okay? I’ve noticed this thing or that thing’s happening for you. I just wanted to check in.'”
If you ask that question when their perpetrator is around, though, you won’t get an honest answer. So you might also wish to ask, “Is this a good time to talk?”
If it’s not, suggest catching up during a time when they’re out of the house and have the space to speak freely.
What Do You Say?
Making the decision to speak up and say something can be tough. It can feel easier to pretend you didn’t notice.
“A lot of people feel really overwhelmed when the topic of family violence comes into the picture, because they think, ‘I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want to feel like I’m interfering or maybe causing additional risk for this person,'” Cathy says.
“But what I can say to you as someone who survived two abusive relationships and also has worked across a variety of sectors responding to people who’ve experienced family violence, doing something is better than nothing.
“Showing you care, showing that you’ve noticed, is better than doing nothing.”
You don’t have to know what to say or have the right words.
“Don’t ever feel like you have to be the family violence expert, the social worker, the counselor,” she says. “That’s not what’s expected of people. It’s showing some genuine human compassion and empathy.”
How You Can Support Them
One way you can help support someone in your life who may be being abused is by giving them the national domestic violence helpline number.
In Australia, where Cathy lives, it’s 1800 737 732 (RESPECT).
In America, it’s 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
The national helplines are staffed with people who can connect victims to local services and help them develop a safety plan to leave.
Cathy also recommends keeping notes about what you’ve seen. If you see a colleague show up to work with bruises, for example, make a note of what you saw and the date. If that person later decides to take their perpetrator to court, those notes can count as important evidence.
Cathy’s Journey to Family Violence Advocacy
Today, Cathy works as a family violence advocate.
She’s been involved with a project called Safe Steps, where she’s been trained to tell her story as a survivor in a way that challenges victim blaming.
She recently provided testimony in the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence. “It was so difficult to sit in front of this massive room of people sharing some of the most traumatic hard moments of my life,” she says, “but at the same time, the fact that it could result in such lasting change is something I’ll forever be proud of.”
Cathy is now playing an advisory role on the Victoria Legal Aid Specialist Family Violence Court steering committee to help design policies and legislation that supports victim survivors.
Want to find out more? Connect with Cathy on LinkedIn.
Ask for Help
If you think you might be in a situation where abuse is occurring, Cathy wants you to know this:
Don’t feel like you’re alone and that there is no help, because there actually is a lot of help out there. It’s just making that first step to reach out and say, ‘This is happening. What can you do to help me in this situation?'”
Jump to Topics of Interest
Since 2007, Cathy has been a volunteer Survivor Advocate with Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre. This role led Cathy to make a submission and give evidence at the 2015 Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence. Her testimony resulted in two of the final 227 Recommendations, one of which led to the Review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act which was tabled to the Victorian Parliament in 2018. In 2019, Cathy became the first official survivor ambassador for Mettle Women Inc. This is an organisation that provides safe and accessible employment and opportunities for women who have experienced family violence and homelessness to establish financial independence. Recently Cathy has been appointed to the Victorian Department of Justice and Community Safety’s Victim of Crime Consultative Committee as a Victim Representative. Cathy is passionately committed to the healing, recovery, and financial wellbeing of victim-survivors of domestic and family violence. Connect with Cathy on LinkedIn.