Stay-at-home measures may have reduced victims’ options and ability to seek help leading to under-reporting.
A New South Wales domestic and family violence peak body says under-reporting has been rampant during the coronavirus pandemic as new police statistics show an increase in abuse.
NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research data has revealed a 4.1% rise in domestic violence over a two-year period.
Domestic Violence NSW interim chief executive Delia Donovan says “the data is alarming but not unexpected”, as research shows major events such as pandemics, natural disasters and recessions often result in increased family violence.
“The difference for Covid-19 is the social isolation and stay-at-home measures that were in place have significantly reduced victims’ options and ability to seek help, which in turn could lead to an under-reporting in police figures,” Donovan said in a statement on Thursday.
The voices of domestic violence support bodies and workers on the frontline were essential in developing strategy, she added.
“Service provisions such as counselling and safety planning have experienced significant increases in demand over the March to May period,” Donovan said.
“Disturbingly, they are also seeing an increase in the complexity and severity of cases.”
The data shows domestic violence-related assault is among three major offence categories to trend upwards over the past 24 months – along with sexual assault and robbery with a non-firearm weapon.
The local government areas of Baulkham Hills and Hawkesbury in Sydney’s northwest recorded a 38.7% increase in reports of domestic assault, followed by Sutherland Shire in Sydney’s south which was up 31%.
Bocsar executive director Jackie Fitzgerald said the figures reflected pre-Covid-19 trends, having been collated from NSW police force crime reports between April 2018 and March 2020.
“We know that the social distancing measures which commenced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic have had a significant impact on the NSW criminal justice system,” Fitzgerald said in a statement.
On Thursday, NSW police launched a five-part video campaign to encourage sexual assault survivors to come forward. It features members of the public responding to questions about the topic of sexual abuse, including the nature of consent.
Detective superintendent John Kerlatec said consent needed to be understood and clearly communicated within the community.
“It needs to be right in the forefront of people’s minds … it’s not inferred, it’s not by accident or the way someone’s dressed,” he said.
“They may be out having a great time maybe having a few glasses of alcohol with their friends, that doesn’t infer consent.”
Kerlatec said NSW police officers were also being educated around how to treat people who report such incidents.
Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia chief Karen Willis said she had seen an improvement in community attitudes and police responses to sexual assault over the past 40 years but that perpetrators of sexual assault were slipping through the cracks upon arrival in the NSW court system.
Australian Associated Press
4th June 2020