Responding to Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence during COVID-19

 

 

UPDATED ON: 8 September 2020

 

 

Disclaimer: The recommendations provided are the opinions of the authors and are not intended to provide a standard of care, or practice. This document does not reflect a systematic review of the evidence but will be revised to include relevant future systematic review findings. The recommendations are not intended to replace national guidance. 

 

 

 

  • Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic there have been rising concerns for the safety of people in abusive relationships
  • Living under varying health orders restricting movement, the necessity of social distancing and self-isolation, reduced or no work may mean that people experiencing domestic, family or intimate partner violence could be at increased risk by having to remain in one place for extended or indefinite periods of time
  • Data from NSW [1] shows the first person trusted with a disclosure of partner violence or abuse is most often a GP

 

  • A survey of 15,000 Australian women by the Australian Institute of Criminology: The prevalence of domestic violence among women during the COVID-19 pandemic [2] conducted in May and published in July 2020, showed 4.6 percent of respondents experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former cohabiting partner in the three months leading up to the survey. Almost six percent (5.8%) of women experienced coercive control and 11.6 percent reported experiencing at least one form of emotionally abusive, harassing or controlling behaviour in the three months prior to the survey. 
  • The COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the onset or escalation of violence or abuse with two-thirds of respondents reporting physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner had begun or increased since the start of the pandemic. Many of the survey participants said that safety concerns were a barrier to them seeking help [2].
  • On 29 March 2020 it was reported that Google searches for domestic violence service had increased by 75% since the first COVID-19 case was reported in January 2020.[3] At the same time, it was widely reported that calls to help lines also increased such as 1800RESPECT (up 11%) and Mensline (up 26%) [4,5]. These increases were also reflected in NSW in a report on HSNET searches. [6]
  • Women are three times more likely to be victims of domestic violence than men; approximately 5% of men experience domestic violence. 1:6 women and 1:16 men reported having experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous partner [7]. Data from 2016 PSS shows that 96% of male victims experience partner violence from a female a partner and 5% from a male partner(ABS 2017b)[8] and may present as mental health issues (such as depression or anxiety), drug and/or alcohol use or misuse as well as physical injury.
  • The expansion of Telehealth in March 2020 to include all people with a Medicare card, meant that many GPs and other practitioners may have been faced with conducting phone or video consultations for the first time. 
  • Whilst Telehealth may have placed support for victims of violence and abuse within easier reach for some people, others may have spent far more time at home with their abuser which may have also led to increased stress and conflict whilst at the same time reducing opportunity for private telephone or video calls. Where some people may have experienced some respite from violence and abuse from partners going to work before COVID-19, they may have been subjected to even greater risks as lockdowns, job losses or suspensions and restrictions on movement came into effect.

Being able to identify and respond appropriately to either a disclosure of partner violence or the more subtle signs of its existence when conducting consultations via telehealth arrangements mean GPs can provide the best support and advice to people affected by it.

 

  • On 23 June 2020 The RACGP released a new fact sheet: COVID-19 and family violence support, which includes advice on how to manage phone and video consultations as rates of abuse and violence rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.[9] 
  • The August edition of Medicine Today published a helpful paper by Ellie Freedman and Deborah Bateman: Recognising and responding to domestic violence during COVID-19: how telehealth can help [10] which contains a step by step practical approach for GPs to recognise and respond to people affected by or at risk of domestic violence.  
  • Central and Eastern Sydney PHN have produced a 1.5 hr webinar Domestic and Family Violence: during COVID-19 and beyond Christina Antonas and Mireille Schlesinger discuss the complexities of dealing with family violence and tips for how to manage in the primary care setting.[11]

Important to note

  • There are jurisdictional differences across Australia regarding advice from the various Departments of Health and the availability of independent organisations offering services for victims of domestic and family violence
  • GPs are encouraged to familiarise themselves with local guidelines and services. We have included here a list of national and local guidelines and also other resources that may be useful including those tailored more to LGBTI communities

Note the list whilst comprehensive is not exhaustive and there may be other local resources available not listed here.
 

 

  1. When she talks to you about the violence. A toolkit for GPs in NSW. Sydney: Women’s Legal Service NSW; 2013. Available online at: www.wlsnsw.org.au/newly-updated-gp-toolkit/ (accessed August 2020).
  2. Boxall H, Morgan A & Brown R 2020. The prevalence of domestic violence among women during the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistical Bulletin no. 28. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. https://www.aic.gov.au/publications/sb/sb28
  3. Media Release 29 March 2020 Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Women, Assistant Minister for Health, Minister for Families and Social Services https://www.pm.gov.au/media/11-billion-support-more-mental-health-medicare-and-domestic-violence-services-0 [Accessed 26 August 2020]
  4. COVID-19 and its impact on the family violence legal and service system Angela Lynch 25 June 2020 Australian Institute of Family Studies Webinar https://aifs.gov.au/events/families-focus-webinar-series/covid-19-and-its-impact-family-violence-legal-and-service-system [accessed 26 August 2020]
  5. Doran M. Domestic violence services prepare for demand as coronavirus restrictions begin to ease. ABC News. 1 May 2020. Available at www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-01/domestic-violence-brace-for-demand-coronavirus-restrictions/12203178 [Accessed 1 September 2020].
  6. Changes in demand for social services during COVID-19 - Analysis of HSNet searches January 2019 to March 2020 https://www.facs.nsw.gov.au/download?file=780008
  7. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018: Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia 2018 accessed at https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/d1a8d479-a39a-48c1-bbe2-4b27c7a321e0/aihw-fdv-02.pdf.aspx?inline=true
  8. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018. Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia 2018. Cat. no. FDV 2. Canberra: AIHW https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/d1a8d479-a39a-48c1-bbe2-4b27c7a321e0/aihw-fdv-02.pdf.aspx?inline=true (Accessed 28 August 2020)
  9. COVID-19 and family violence support RACGP available at: https://www.racgp.org.au/FSDEDEV/media/documents/RACGP/Coronavirus/COVID-19-and-family-violence-support.pdf [Accessed 25 August 2020]
  10. Ellie Freedman, Deborah Bateson, Recognising and responding to domestic violence during COVID-19: how telehealth can help Medicine Today 2020; 21(8): 33-36 https://medicinetoday.com.au/2020/august/regular-series/recognising-and-responding-domestic-violence-during-covid-19-how [Accessed 26 August 2020]
  11. Central and Eastern Sydney PHN https://www.cesphn.org.au/coronavirus Domestic and Family Violence: during COVID-19 and beyond (1 hour, 29 minutes) 30 June Watch youtube recording here (Accessed 27 August 2020)