As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all been spending a lot more time at home. For most of us, home is a safe place. A place where we are free to be ourselves. A place where we feel comfortable and protected. For people who experience domestic violence, tragically, this is not the case. Home is not a safe place but a place of danger and unpredictability.
After the horrible and unthinkable murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children in Brisbane in February this year, we are all too aware of the problem of domestic violence within our country. The statistics tell us that every week in Australia, one woman is killed by her current or former partner and one in four Australian women have experienced domestic violence. Domestic violence includes physical, emotional, financial, sexual, social and verbal abuse. It is important to note that men also experience domestic violence, but statistics show that it is women who are at greater risk of death and physical injury. Unfortunately, the implications of COVID-19 have increased the risk of violence within families. Research from China indicates that reports of domestic violence have tripled since the start of the Coronavirus and early reports from Australia are showing a similar trend.
There are many factors that are placing increased stress on relationships during this pandemic. These include financial strain, employment uncertainty, health concerns, pressures of homeschooling and social isolation. Sadly, some people will respond to this stress by using violence and abuse as a way of trying to gain power and control in their intimate relationships. For people who were experiencing violence from their partners prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, these relationships are likely to further deteriorate, and the violence and abuse are likely to increase in frequency and/or severity. For others, it might be the first time they have experienced violence from their partner. It is important to note that while the stress and hardship people are experiencing as a result of the Coronavirus is very real, they are never an excuse for violence. Everyone has the right to safety and to live free from fear.
People who use violence in their intimate relationships, often use the tactic of socially isolating their partner as a way of maintaining power and control in the relationship. Due to COVID-19, people are more isolated and have fewer options for support and respite. They no longer have the option of finding momentary safety at the home of a trusted friend or attending playgroup or work. Someone who uses violence may also use COVID-19 as a strategy to exert further power and control in the relationship. For example, this might include using the pandemic as a way to justify an increase of their control over family finances or to excuse, blame or justify their violent behaviour. With the knowledge that domestic violence is likely to increase during this pandemic, we must ask ourselves, “What can we do?”
What can we do to support and help people who are experiencing violence in their relationships?
What can we do to support people who are using violence in their relationships to help them stop this behaviour?
We need to turn to God in prayer and seek his guidance and direction in responding to this issue. We know our God is loving, just and compassionate and that he has designed us to live in healthy relationships with one another. Let us pray that God will bring safety, peace and healing to all who have been affected by domestic violence. Let us pray that God will use us, His church, to bring His light into this darkness and bring about an end to domestic violence.
God calls us to pray, and He also calls us to take practical steps to respond to the needs of people who are hurting and suffering. Here are some tips of what to do: