Family violence calls drop amid fears victims can’t safely seek help while in lockdown

Talking points

  • If you are worried that your call will be overheard, you can create a plausible reason to leave the house (ie groceries) 
  • Wait for the perpetrator to fall asleep
  • Call from a room with an exit (ie a door that locks) and no knives or weapons
  • Call from the bathroom while the shower is running
  • Email [email protected] and a crisis specialist will contact you, call 1800 015 188 or visit

Family violence experts say calls for help have plunged by up to 30 per cent despite an expected sharp increase in incidents while families are ordered to stay at home during the coronavirus crisis.

They believe the drop is due to victims finding it difficult to safely call for help while they are stuck at home with their abusers.

It comes as police prepare for a new wave of first-time victims to surface – many of them children – in what they say is likely to be a tragic consequence of Australia's social distancing measures.

If someone is experiencing or afraid of family violence, they can call Safe Steps 24 hours on 1800 015 188 or the national helpline on 1800 RESPECT. In case of emergency call 000.Credit:Shutterstock

Rita Butera, chief executive officer of Victoria’s family violence crisis centre Safe Steps, said evidence showed that family violence incidents increased during times of disaster, such as the bushfire crisis.

Her service is forecasting an "unprecedented spike" in incidents this year due to the current isolation restrictions.

But Ms Butera fears many cases are going undetected.

“This service has been going for years and we’ve never ever seen a trend down like this,” she said.

“From those that are calling we are hearing of concerns about child custody arrangements [and] of being ‘imprisoned’ at home in the name of COVID-19.

“As a result of necessary measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, children are at home, and not necessarily in sight of teachers, neighbours or community."

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Dean McWhirter, who heads the force's family violence response, said it was inevitable that more children would be exposed to harm in the home as people stayed indoors.

“Sadly and tragically we are now potentially exposing more children to the trauma of family violence," Mr McWhirter said.

Assistant Commissioner Dean McWhirter.Credit:Simon Schluter 

“They will witness trauma in the home that they may not have seen before and sadly that is going to have an impact on their wellbeing.

“It's going to be a very live issue."

Police from the state's family violence taskforce will visit the homes of some of the state’s most high-risk perpetrators in the hope of limiting the likelihood of them reoffending.

Mr McWhirter said while the situation was being managed on a case-by-case basis, this could change over time as reports were undoubtedly forecast to rise.

“We’re putting people together in very challenging and anxious times," Mr McWhirter said.

“[Our response] will be over and above our normal engagement.”

Ms Butera said factors such as pubs being closed were unlikely to have contributed to the drop in calls for help, with power imbalance and inequality the key causes of domestic violence.

“Where there is respect and equality, whether a person is drunk or not, there’s no family violence. Alcohol is a contributing factor to cases of violence but not a causation.”

The state’s domestic violence hotline was available 24 hours a day, with staff on standby for risk assessments and to provide at-risk people and children with emergency accommodation.

She asked for people to report any incidents of family violence they may see or hear occurring.

“We recognise this may be a challenging time so this is a call to action for neighbours, friends and others to make the call to us. We are here to help, we are not going away.”

A spokeswoman from national counselling service 1800 RESPECT said calls to its helpline were beginning to increase in recent days after an earlier decline.

For assistance call Safe Steps on 1800 015 188 or the national domestic violence helpline 1800 RESPECT. In case of emergency call 000.

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