A Case of Domestic Violence During Covid19 Lockdown
Carly is in lockdown for covid19 with her 11 year old son, and with a man she recently moved in with and his two young children. Things are not going well for Carly on many fronts. She has been forced to close her business and due to isolation restrictions she is spending all her time with this man that she hasn’t known for long, only to realise he is abusive and controlling and she has no escape.
Authorities had warned that domestic violence numbers were going to go up due to the lockdown, that women will be unable to have any time apart from the men who control and manipulate them and that children who might normally escape abusive situations through attending schools and playdates, will be forced to stay at home with abusive parents with little or no option to get away from their abusive behaviours.
Carly had used her shop previously to escape her partner’s abuse. She could sleep there if she had to, and she had to on a number of occasions. Together she and her son would go there for some reprieve, in order to calm things down a bit.
The abuser had cottoned onto her strategy and removed from the shop some of the items that made an overnight stay comfortable. He took away a couch, a tv and other items for a more relaxing night. Without this option, Carly decided all she could do to escape the abuse was to drive around in her car. It was abuse which involved constant accusations regarding her choice of clothing, relationships to other men and motivations when using her phone and making contact with others.
So that is what Carly did. She drove around and around Melbourne in her car, at a time when police were pulling drivers over and fining them for not being at home.
Carly had nowhere to go.
She felt unsafe in her home with her abusive partner and the rules of covid19 banned visits to family or friends. In desperation, Carly rang Safe Steps Family Violence & Response Centre, the agency of primary contact for victims of family violence.
Carly was told that the abuse she described was not bad enough.
She could not get her message across that she felt frightened and alone. She felt she had nowhere she could go and she was too afraid to go home.
One of the worst things her partner did was pretend she wasn’t there, that she didn’t exist.
So, he didn’t talk to her. He made dinner for himself without making any for her. He even organised couches and chairs so there was no room for her to sit by instructing his children to spread out. Carly felt controlled, ashamed, unwanted, and humiliated
She felt like a piece of shit.
Eventually I spoke to Carly and took it upon myself to ring Safe Steps back and explain her situation. I was able to explain the abusive behaviour and suggest some strategies for communicating with Carly that would empower and support her, to allow her to better tell her story.
Finally Support For Carly to Find Alternative Accommodation
A new worker then spoke to Carly again and this time, a better understanding emerged of her situation and Carly was taken to a city hotel. Her son joined her there having been returned by his natural father after a school holiday visit.
Carly was now safe but had no money and no plan.
The people who were meant to help her did not feel very helpful or caring.
Carly is put in to contact with a housing worker. There is confusion over payment of the hotel costs with Carly anxious she is expected to pay a proportion.
In her traumatised state, she finds it difficult to understand her instructions and the information shared. Jumping to familiar conclusions based on her low sense of entitlement and poor self worth, she assumes the worse, that she must bear some of the costs.
I am able to call the agency again and clarify the arrangement. It is confirmed that Carly is not required to pay for the hotel. However, I have no luck locating the housing worker who is apparently allocated to her and who would contact her with the new arrangement of accommodation to commence the next day.
Vouchers were issued for purchasing of clothes and food. Carly had only the clothes on her back. Her son had only the dirty clothes in a bag returned by his dad.
The next day Carly visited Kmart to buy what she needed. However, when she returned to the hotel she was called by an agency worker as they had been informed she had left the building. Carly felt ashamed that someone had dobbed her in, even though she was instructed to go out and use her voucher to purchase what she needed.
A System Set to Support the Vulnerable Doesn’t Work.
Carly does not have faith that the agency backup is reliable.
Some of this is due to historical trauma of her own, some of it to poor communication on behalf of the agencies.
She only knows she is exiting the city hotel the next day and that some arrangement is being made by someone else in another agency to secure further housing.
I try to call Carly the next day to see what is happening. The housing service has not rung me as promised to explain the arrangement. My calls remain un-returned by the housing worker specified.
Eventually Carly texts me.
She has returned to the perpetrator.
She can’t talk to me now because he is monitoring her calls. He checks her phone texts as well, so I understand I must be cautious with texting as well.
Women in violent relationships do not have the freedom to call for help on a regular basis, even without covid19. They do not have the freedom to send texts seeking assistance and alerting people to their needs.
Most women and children through this covid19 crisis, will be putting up with the violence, sucking up the abuse, remaining silent and carefully controlling their own behaviour, to minimise the risk to their safety, for they are unsafe if accused of upsetting their partners.
Safe Steps told me their service wasn’t busy, that fewer women were calling the service.
This is an obvious, expected consequence of locking down women suffering domestic violence.
These women can’t call or are taking risks to call.
I just hope they are alive to begin again their best efforts to survive and try and find the help they so desperately need.