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Family Violence and Harm - a secondary epidemic

"We're not even over the worst of it...I fear what is to come."
Janeta Vasega, Victim Support Family Harm Coordinator - Counties Manukau

As the financial stress and social costs of the COVID-19 pandemic become apparent, there has already been a rise in the incidence of violence within Kiwi families – leading to a ‘secondary epidemic’ of family violence.

For so many, it has been a time of job loss, financial stress, and challenging family dynamics – as many have been forced into close quarters together with tempers beginning to dangerously fray.

Like many support agencies working on the front-line community response, Victim Support is concerned that all these stress factors could potentially lead to further increases in family violence.

For Janeta Vasega, Family Harm Coordinator for Victim Support in Counties-Manukau, the safety and well-being of the victims being supported is paramount. During the first lockdown in March, Janeta foresaw the need that would arise as families had to spend lockdown cooped up together.

“Economic stresses are definitely a contributing factor to family violence and if people are using alcohol and other means to relieve those pressures that will impact even more. Physical violence and psychological and emotional abuse could be more severe and lesser incidents, like arguments and shouting, more frequent.”

With the restrictions in place aimed at containing COVID-19, ensuring victim safety suddenly became a lot more difficult. While ‘bubbles’ were set up to safeguard people from COVID-19, these bubbles also had the potential to be an environment that exacerbates violence in the home.

And, as Janeta predicted, the pressures of lockdown did place further stress on relationships that were already strained and she’s certainly very concerned about what may lie ahead.

“Being isolated from people is a high risk for women as they do not have a reason to be away from the house. We are heading for even more troubled times and victims need to have the courage to call for help.”

While the country continues to take lockdown measures towards breaking the chain of transmission for COVID-19, the underlying epidemic of family violence looks likely to increase – with job losses meaning more people at home as the economic impact potentially worsens.

And it is not only Janeta that’s concerned.

A recent report from NZ Police, which looks at the likely impact of an economic recession on policing in New Zealand in the next six to 12 months, shows officials have been preparing for significant changes to the country’s criminal landscape as people lose their jobs and businesses fail.

The report projects that there could be a 20 to 100 per cent increase in family violence investigations over the next two years, modelled largely on the doubling of family violence incidences in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes.

These predictions include incidents involving people who have never come to police attention, or that would otherwise not happen were it not for the added pressures of a pandemic-fuelled recession. (See link at bottom of this article for more on this internal report from NZ Police).

Janeta is still getting self-referrals stemming from the Level 4 lockdown earlier in the year.

“We had a lot of women who have had the courage to speak out now and get help for incidents that happened in March and April,” she says.

It seems like things are just going to keep getting tougher out there as the whole country once again battles this grave threat to our well-being.

Janeta wants to ensure that Kiwis can be sure of at least two things – that Victim Support will continue to provide a 24/7 first response to anyone experiencing serious crime, loss, trauma or violence and that this vital lifeline will remain free of charge for all who need it.