Tasneem Islam CHIA
AIDH Nursing. Midwifery Network Committee Member, & Senior Application Specialist, Monash Health
The rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 resulted in lockdowns and stay-at-home mandates in over 90 countries (Majumdar & Wood, 2020). Emerging data from front line health and support services reported that during this period, violence against women had increased (Viero et al., 2021). This alarming crisis and human rights violation has been labelled ‘The Shadow Pandemic’ by the World Health Organization and United Nations (UN). While all types of violence against women have seen an increase in Australia, domestic violence or intimate partner violence was most pronounced, and includes physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual violence, financial abuse, and coercive control (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2020).
Prior to the pandemic, globally one in three women experienced physical or sexual violence, mostly from an intimate partner. A 10-27% increase in reported domestic violence was observed across 4 US states in 2020 (Boserup, McKenney & Ekbuli, 2020). The increase in violence against women has had a disproportionate impact on women with disabilities due to dependence on perpetrators and the denial of essential living activities within the household (Majumdar & Wood, 2020).
Several factors contributed to the global rise of reported violence against women. Firstly, health and social support systems underwent significant strain. In some countries, resources were diverted from violence against women response and support, and directed towards COVID-19 relief efforts (UN Women, 2022).
Secondly, movement restrictions caused by lockdowns led to more time spent in isolation with abusers in the domestic setting, restricting opportunities for women to seek help in person. Overall, situational stressors including job insecurity and financial difficulties were also linked to exacerbation of violence (Sánchez et al., 2020). Abusers may feel a loss of control as a result of these situational stressors and see abuse as a means with which to regain it. Other contributors reported in some countries included increased alcohol consumption and use of firearms (Sánchez et al., 2020). Reports of increases in assistance sought from violence support centres are common following natural disasters and other catastrophic events (Viero et al., 2021). This has been attributed to a decrease in sense of security – access to shelter, food and transport – and likelihood of developing anxiety or depression amongst perpetrators of abuse (Akel et al., 2022).
Sources of assistance sought by victims of violence include government and non-government services, police and informal support networks. Health professionals working within these support systems are essential for violence against women screening and response (Sánchez et al., 2020). Civil society organisations and women’s rights organisations acted as early warning systems on the front line and integrated services into COVID-19 responses (Majumdar & Wood, 2020).
For health services during the pandemic, adopting and increasing use of telehealth allowed for ongoing vital support for patients and communities while reducing risk of exposure to COVID-19. Of particular importance for domestic violence victims was access to health services via methods that preserved privacy and personal security – for example, taking advantage of when an aggressor left the home, to seek help from support services (Sánchez et al., 2020).
In a global effort to leverage technology and combat the shadow pandemic, UN Women has partnered with technology giants Google, Facebook and Twitter to distribute information and resources to survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence (UN Women, 2022). Machine-learning can also be used to better predict violent incidents (Grogger et al., 2020). In 2021, Queensland Police trialled an artificial intelligence system to identify potential high-risk domestic violence offenders for welfare visits to help prevent serious escalation (Smee, 2021). In October 2022, the Australian Government approved the proposal to allow all workers access to 10 days’ domestic violence leave (ACTU, 2022).
As lockdowns ease, telehealth services remain an essential component of support for women in distressing circumstances. It is important to note that many cases of domestic violence are unreported or underreported (Akel et al., 2022). Online access to legal and psychosocial support are crucial in bridging the underreporting gap. The alarming increase in violence against women on a global scale warrants awareness, scrutiny, response planning and funding and resources to provide rapid support across various platforms, including telehealth.
Australian Council of Trade Unions [ACTU] (n.d.) 10 days paid Family and Domestic Violence leave enshrined into law after decade of union campaigning. Retrieved October 28, 2022, from https://www.actu.org.au/actu-media/media-releases/2022/10-days-paid-family-and-domestic-violence-leave-enshrined-into-law-after-decade-of-union-campaigning
Akel, M., Berro, J., Rahme, C., Haddad, C., Obeid, S., & Hallit, S. (2022). Violence against women during COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of interpersonal violence, 37(13-14), NP12284-NP12309.
Boserup, B., McKenney, M., & Elkbuli, A. (2020). Alarming trends in US domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The American journal of emergency medicine, 38(12), 2753-2755.
Boxall, H., & Morgan, A. (2020). The prevalence of domestic violence among women during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://doi.org/10.52922/sb04718
Grogger, J., Ivandic, R., & Kirchmaier, T. (2020, February 5). Comparing conventional and machine-learning approaches to risk assessment in domestic abuse cases. Cep.lse.ac.uk. https://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/publications/abstract.asp?index=6853
Smee, B (2021, September 13). Queensland police to trial AI tool designed to predict and prevent domestic violence incidents.. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/sep/14/queensland-police-to-trial-ai-tool-designed-to-predict-and-prevent-domestic-violence-incidents
Majumdar, S., & Wood, G. (2020). UNTF EVAW Briefing Note on the Impact of COVID-19 on violence against women through the lens of Civil Society and Women’s Rights Organizations [Review of UNTF EVAW Briefing Note on the Impact of COVID-19 on violence against women through the lens of Civil Society and Women’s Rights Organizations]. In UN Women. UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. https://untf.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/Field%20Office%20UNTF/Publications/2020/External%20brief/External%20brief%20for%20publication%206%2019/impact%20of%20covid-19_v08_single%20page-compressed.pdf
Sánchez, O. R., Vale, D. B., Rodrigues, L., & Surita, F. G. (2020). Violence against women during the COVID‐19 pandemic: An integrative review. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, 151(2), 180-187.UN Women, 2022
Viero, A., Barbara, G., Montisci, M., Kustermann, K., & Cattaneo, C. (2021). Violence against women in the Covid-19 pandemic: A review of the literature and a call for shared strategies to tackle health and social emergencies. Forensic science international, 319, 110650.