Advocates for action on family violence are concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic has become a desperate time for women experiencing family violence who are dependents of temporary visa holders, with their ordeal compounded by barriers in accessing social services due to their visa status.
In normal times, three in ten women – age fifteen and above – will have experienced physical or sexual violence in Australia according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
However, the overwhelming stress families experience from COVID-19 lockdowns have resulted in a spike in calls for help from victims of family violence according to Michal Morris who heads Victoria-based inTouch multicultural centre against family violence.
- The inTouch multicultural centre against family violence says COVID-19 is adding another layer of stress to victims
- inTouch is experiencing higher than normal caseloads due to COVID-19
- Advocates say migration status limits a victim’s ability to access support services
The organisation’s bilingual case managers and immigration lawyers have been busy providing remote support to more women than usual.
Morris says whilst many women on temporary visas lost their jobs due to the sudden change in employment status, they’re ineligible for government support like Centrelink, Job Seeker and Job Keeper.
As the only Australian multicultural support agency for family violence with an onsite legal centre, approximately 40% of inTouch clients were on temporary visas in 2018 to 2019.
Morris says inTouch has noticed a new pattern in perpetrators using COVID-19 as a weapon against vulnerable women with low English proficiency who are only able to access information from their abusers during the lockdown.
The virus has added that extra layer.
She says if a woman is experiencing feelings of unsafely for whatever reasons: emotional, financial, psychological, sexual as well as physical, and if they’re feeling threatened for their lives or their children’s lives, it means they’re experiencing family violence and they can seek help.