Christmas is a time of joy and celebration. Most of us look forward to the holiday season in anticipation of laughter and fun, spending quality time with family and friends. It is especially true in 2020, with COVID impacting the precious time spent with loved ones.
But unfortunately for many Queensland women and their children, Christmas is not a time of joy. It is a tragic time marked by fear and intimidation with increases in domestic and family violence (DFV).
Helen Poynten, Regional Manager of Relationships Australia Queensland says there are several reasons why incidents of DFV spike over the Christmas season.
“Christmas tends to be a time of more. More family visits, more food shopping, more present buying, more alcohol consumed, more spending. This season of more can exacerbate families under strain. This can lead to domestic violence in the household.”
Domestic violence describes a person being subjected to an ongoing pattern of abusive behaviour by an intimate partner or family member. This behaviour is motivated by a desire to dominate, control or oppress the other person and to cause fear. It can be physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, financial and sexual abuse.
Helen says DFV can be experienced by anyone in a domestic or family relationship, from any age group, financial bracket, gender partnership and any cultural group, but “some people are sadly more at risk. Most people accept that DFV is gendered violence – meaning that 70% of domestic violence is experienced by women.”
Tragically, it is younger women who are most at risk. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 13% of women aged 18–24 experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence in the past 12 months, compared with 8% of women aged 35–44 and 2% of women aged 55 years and over.
According to ANROWS, 61% of women had children in their care when the violence occurred. Yasmin Dulley, Principal at Byron Family Law, says that courts and family law solicitors generally see an increase in client reports of domestic violence around the Christmas period “as well as applications made in both State (domestic violence) and Federal Courts (parenting matters).”
“This is due to a number of factors, including tension around any terms of agreement relating to parenting matters and the practical implementation of those agreements. Conflict often arises around changeover times and locations, as well as agreement on who will have the care of the child over Christmas,” Yasmin explains.
“Our role as solicitors is to ensure that parents or carers have certainty and clarity around any agreed terms or the terms of a court order, so as to reduce additional stress and conflict.”
One of the highest social risk factors of domestic violence is housing.
“Housing is a critical issue for all people who have experienced DFV, and is a major contributor to women and children’s homelessness,” says Helen. “This is why the community needs to support crisis care, including safe housing, counselling and other associated needs (like personal feminine care items, bags, etc).”
The Lady Musgrave Trust produces the Handy Guide for Homeless Women each year, a booklet that provides support services for women who are without shelter or at risk of becoming homeless.
The Family and Federal Circuit Courts have recently introduced an innovative pilot called The Lighthouse Project which Yasmin says is designed to assist families most at risk of experiencing family violence, to navigate the family law system.
“The Lighthouse Project aims to improve the safety of children and families within family law proceedings through early risk screening, early identification and management of safety concerns, assessment and triage by a specialist team and referral of high-risk cases to a dedicated court list,” explains Yasmin.
Helen says this is a social problem that everyone is responsible for ending. “A key sign of domestic violence is increased isolation of the woman removing herself from established support networks (e.g. work friends, family, neighbours) so she can’t escape the fear and intimidation.
“COVID restrictions have increased concern for women’s safety for a lot of services. There are stories of women being in awful socially isolated situations. For example, one woman’s only access to support was having a community worker in the car with her when she had a scheduled driving lesson, as this was the only time her partner let her out of his sight.
“Don’t be afraid to ask if your friend is OK. But make sure you do it safely,” she says. This includes not asking how they are going in front of the person that could be abusing them. “Choose your timing well for her. This often includes the children’s safety – be mindful of their situation, too.”
Helen adds, “There is often a lot of shame felt by women living in domestic violence. The best thing you can do is show compassion and not judge your friend. We want them to know we are here for them and willing to help.”
This Christmas, keep your eyes and ears open to what may be happening behind closed doors near you. It takes a village to stop domestic violence and women’s homelessness before it happens.
If you or someone you know are experiencing domestic and family violence, there are many services available in Queensland that can help:
- If it is an emergency, contact Queensland Police Service (000) for immediate response. QPS have an automatic referral to a counsellor who will support women and advise them of the support services available.
- DV Connect (1800 811 811) is an organisation that provides crisis support and counselling, as well as a women’s refuge service assisting women and children affected by a domestic violence incident to obtain placement into crisis care.
- 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) is a telephone helpline for friends and family to report if someone they know is experiencing domestic violence.
- Relationships Australia QLD (1300 364 277) is an organisation that provides relationship support and advice to individuals and families across Queensland.
- Mensline (1800 041 612) is a national telephone and online support, information and referral service for men.
- Immigrant Women’s Support Service (07 3846 3490) offers support to immigrant and refugee women from non-English speaking backgrounds and their children who have experienced domestic and/or sexual violence.
- Women’s Legal Service (1800 957 957) and Legal Aid QLD (1300 65 11 88) provides free legal advice and legal support services to victims of domestic violence, including in relation to applications for a domestic violence order, children’s Court matters and Family Law matters generally.