Family Law Blog and News

Domestic Violence – Thrive Beyond Divorce Podcast Episode 3

In this episode, Chrissy Leontios, Specialist Domestic Violence and Family Lawyer, talks with Jennifer Hetherington about the increased risk factors during COVID19, options available for victims to find help or escape an abusive relationship. They also talk about how family, friends and neighbours can help.

If you are in danger, please call 000. If you cannot safely speak, press 55 when the call is answered.

Here are some extracts from the episode

Jennifer:

One of the things I’d like to cover with you today, and it’s really our focus is how the COVID- 19 Coronavirus pandemic and particular the sheltering at home or isolation directions are impacting on domestic violence and victims of domestic violence.

I’ve seen that Google’s seen a 75% increase in the number of searches for domestic violence. But there’s been a decline in calls to domestic violence hotlines. And I think that isn’t indicative that there’s a decline in domestic violence,  it might actually be because victims can’t actually safely contact hotlines.

Chrissy:

Absolutely. We know, for example, that the time or greatest risk for a victim of domestic and family violence is the time of separation because it’s the sense of loss of control of the perpetrator and it puts them at most risk of being killed.

So when we look at when they’re in the same space, living under the same roof, if the perpetrator wants to find out that the victim was trying to access safety advice in relation to leaving the relationship, leaving the home or obtaining legal advice, that could certainly put them at much higher risk of increased violence, abuse, or even death.

So it certainly makes sense that we’re seeing a decline in victims reaching out for help because they are in isolation. They are trapped and they would be perceiving that it’s very unsafe for them to be reaching out in the event that the perpetrator heard or learned they had attempted to escape.

Jennifer:

I really want to focus at the moment on the risk factors because you’ve, just really highlighted that the situation in which people find themselves at the moment is heightening those risk factors. And I just wonder if we could just talk about some of those. So isolation in particular.

Chrissy:

Iisolation is always a risk factor and it’s a behaviour that we see perpetrators use to have power and control of the victims to keep them away from their support networks, their family, their friends even work as well.

And now we’ve got the situation where that’s still the case, that the perpetrator tries to use isolation, but now it’s also been forced upon them as well. But they are in the home away,  physically away from their support network. And away from work colleagues as well who may be able to pick up on a daily basis that something’s the matter that could offer them a question or the victim has the ability to speak to other people. So isolation is a huge risk factor at the moment. We’re seeing people trapped under the same roof as their abusers and this is just really unprecedented. It’s a very dangerous time for victims of domestic and family violence.

Jennifer:

Yes, not having those coworkers every day noticing that something’s wrong where they might’ve been aware that there’s a situation at home. But the flip side of that is where the victim’s never spoken out and there’s no way of people seeing that there’s been a sudden change and that isolation could be really increased. There’s no way that someone can just go to a family member or a friend and have a chat. Perpetrators can potentially use the isolation to even more closely monitor the movements of their victims

Chrissy: 

I think perpetrator surveillance has never been so high, or so dangerous before. It’s increased that surveillance over the victim, the spouse, the partner has certainly increased.

Jennifer:

We’ve talked about power and control and surveillance. What do you think COVID-19’s impact on that is?

Chrissy: 

It’s exasperating and it’s certainly increasing and it’s manifesting in such a dangerous way now. Whereas before the victim may have had an opportunity, like we said before, to go out and seek services, speak to people,  remove themselves from that home, the isolation now is just an increased risk factor for them. So certainly having a massive impact on them.

Jennifer:

We know that the most serious forms of domestic violence are really underpinned by this need for a perpetrator to have power and control. And that that’s really at the crux of domestic violence. In an earlier podcast I did we talked about the locus of control and how people are really feeling right now that they’ve lost control over what they can do, their movements. There’s so much uncertainty.  I wonder if you had any comment to make about how that loss of control generally in life might be translating with domestic violence?

Chrissy: 

I think it’s a good example because often, and this is why we can never label domestic violence as behavioural or psychological,  because we know perpetrators that use domestic violence are using it in the home and they’re not using those violent intimidating behaviours in the workplace or out in public. So they’re choosing those behaviours. So that’s what we know about domestic and family violence power and control.  The power and control is over their spouse and they’re not necessarily using that in other parts of their life.

But now if they do have the sense of disempowerment because they’ve lost their job, or they’re just feeling that general disempowerment that most of us are feeling because COVID’s made everything feel so out of control, but then now that their behaviour is to have power and control over the victim and it has given them more of a sense or desire to have power and control.

So that could be another driver. It’s just another way of looking at it and it’s certainly could be increasing their sense of ownership of their spouse and partner and wanting that power control in the home.

Jennifer:

Working from home and now we have home learning thrown in the mix. There’s a lot of potential there for conflict, loss of control and, and the lack of the ability for someone to take a pause outside of that situation and get themselves into a safe space for someone to simmer down.

How have you found that COVID 19 has changed the ability or ways in which victims seek help from you?

Chrissy: 

It’s becoming much more difficult. We found before in the past where they were still living under the same roof and they were coming to us for domestic violence related advice, they could contact us in their lunch break at work or on the drive to school or the drive home from school or some other pickups where they had some safe time away from the perpetrator out away from the home.

But now we’re seeing logistically it’s very difficult for victims to be able to contact us safely because they’re working from home, living under the same roof and they’re not leaving the home. They don’t have that away time and they can’t pick up the phone or get on email safely without being under surveillance. So working from home is, I think a huge inhibition for people to access justice and access services as well. So this is an access to justice and social justice issue as well. Now working from home has had a flow on effect on the way people access justice.

Jennifer:

You can imagine if someone is a stay at home parent and the other parent is now working from home, home was previously the victim’s safe space for at least a chunk of the day. Now they’re with their perpetrator 24/7 and that fight flight or freeze response must be so heightened in those victims right now.

Could we talk about the services and the options that are available for those people because I wouldn’t want victims to think that by can’t get help right now. So if you could talk to some of the options that are available, at least in Queensland.

Chrissy: 

Absolutely. We do want victims to know that help is still available. Our courts in Queensland are still running albeit they’re doing them virtually.

Domestic violence services are still open and I know the one here in Townsville, they’re still doing face to face contact and I imagine in Brisbane it will be similar in particularly in various urgent situations, they would be face to face available.

Our Women’s Legal Services are still operating virtually, that service is still available.

The courts are still open. You can still apply for a domestic violence order. The police are still taking out domestic violence orders as well.

So justice and the legal process is still there.

It’s just we need to work out different ways of people being able to access it and accessing that safely.

The police have also introduced a text message service for non-urgent matters. So if you’re in you need some police assistance or advice, but again, I impress upon you that it’s non urgent matters. You can discretely text 0437 131 444 to the Queensland police.

Jennifer:

And there’s also 000. If anyone is ever feeling unsafe, you should definitely call 000.

Do not hesitate.

I think sometimes victims have had their self esteem so eroded that they think “maybe my situation is not bad enough”.

Please don’t ever think that. If you are in danger, your children are in danger,  please call 000.

If you can’t speak, there’s actually a service the police have where if there is no answer to the operator’s greeting it goes to an interactive voice response system. The voice response system will ask the caller to press 55 if they needed emergency help. The questions is asked three times and if there’s no reply, the call is disconnected.

If the caller does press 55, the call is diverted to the police. The police will then call and if the victim doesn’t answer the call, then the police will send a patrol car to the address associated with the phone number. So that’s the billing address. So it’s really important that people make sure they’ve updated their billing address with their mobile phone provider so that if they need to use that service, they can.

 

Something else that I think a lot of people aren’t aware of, Chrissy, is police protection notices. I wondered if you could just explain for people what those are and how they work because I know our courts in Brisbane have been encouraging people to use police protection notices rather than putting themselves in a dangerous situation of having to come to them.

Chrissy: 

Police Protection Notices are used where the police are called out for example to the home and the police assessed that a party is in need of protection and therefore a Police Protection Notice can be issued. And there’s also ouster orders that the police can apply for, for  a cooling off period for the perpetrator to be removed from the home as well. Often just for a temporary amount of time.  I guess in COVID now that is becoming more difficult as well because where does the perpetrator go in that instance? But the benefit of the Police Protection Notice is that the police go to the effort of preparing the application,  and throughout the process, the police prosecutor will act for you rather than you having to bring your own application for a protection order and then for example, hiring a lawyer to then prepare all the material.

So the benefit is that the police will act on your behalf.

I think a practical risk at the moment is if that occurs and you’re both living under the same house and the police are called there could be further risk factor for you if the perpetrator’s returned to the house. That’s when you should be accessing other domestic violence services to see if the safe housing available or calling 1-800-RESPECT as well or DV Connect.  They can help you get some alternative housing because we know by you contacting the police if you’re forced to reside under the same premises even if an order is made,  you could still be at increased risk. So housing is a very serious consideration here for safety as well. So there’s many different facets that we need to consider.

Jennifer:

I was reading the Directions from the Magistrates Court and for urgent applications for protection orders, they’re encouraging people to go to the police and ask for a Police Protection Notice. So you don’t necessarily have to get the police to come out to your house. If you can get to a police station, then the Magistrates Court are encouraging police to apply for those notices to protect people. I think there’s a real awareness amongst our Magistrates that this is an increased time of risk for domestic violence and it’s playing around out around the world. There was an increase in domestic violence in China as a result of their lockdown. So it’s not an isolated situation at all.

Chrissy: 

And I think their are risks still with a Police Protection Notice.  It’s an irony between a Police Protection Notice or a private Application for Protection Order is the perpetrator still needs to be served. So one way or another, he or she’s going to find out about that application, whether or not the police bring it or you bring up privately as well. It really is such a difficult time

Jennifer:

When if the police had attended a home though, they had the capacity to remove a perpetrator. So I think that we need to make that really clear that it’s not the police turning up saying, “here’s a notice. Everybody go off on your merry way.” If they believe a victim is at risk,  they can remove the perpetrator.

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Jennifer:

We see a lot of discussion online on social media about people drinking more. And I, you know, it seems to be a coping mechanism that people are using, not necessarily a healthy one, but it’s the reality. We do have a big drinking culture in Australia and you know, I see people talking about day drinking once the school’s home learning ends and, and all of that. And, and so most people that is a topic that I can joke about, but for domestic violence victims, I imagine if the perpetrator is drinking more, that that’s a really potentially scary situation for them.

Chrissy: 

Absolutely. It’s a risk factor. So it’s likely to increase the occurrence and the severity of the domestic and family violence. So we need to be careful that we never blame alcohol because a person’s choice to use domestic and family violence is a choice and it’s a behaviour they choose. However, it’s certainly a risk factor. So alcohol can certainly increase the severity of it and the likelihood of it occurring and being worse.

We’ve seen that research has come out from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education that 70% of Australians are drinking more alcohol than normal during COVID.

Jennifer:

Wow. That’s a huge increase, isn’t it? Not that different from the 75% increase in Google searches about domestic violence. I don’t want to be making the mistake of saying eating carrots improves your eyesight and correlation or causation. But it, I think it is telling that there’s an increase in both of those things. That we’re seeing much more concerning behaviour.

Chrissy: 

Exactly. And then we have another risk factor as well that unemployment can again be a risk factor. So again, never an explanation or an excuse for domestic violence, but it can increase the severity of domestic and family violence. And as we know, we’ve seen a massive spike in unemployment due to COVID. So there’s another risk factor as well that we’re dealing with as a society.

Jennifer:

And I imagine if if there is unemployment, whether it’s the unemployment of the victim or the perpetrator, that’s another excuse to exert financial control.

Chrissy: 

Spot on. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jennifer:

Chrissy, could you talk to us a bit about financial control? Because for me, that seems to be one of the least understood aspects of domestic violence. I have clients who come to me and I ask them questions about how things were managed in their relationship. I hear these stories of terrible financial control and often emotional abuse as well and people just aren’t identifying that as domestic violence. Maybe because we’re using the word violence? Maybe abuse and control are more appropriate words.

Sometimes it’s that light bulb moment for a client to realise that actually that stuff was not okay and not normal.

So when, could you talk to us a bit about the nonviolent forms of domestic violence, that can sometimes be the worst forms and lead to violence escalating so quickly, post-separation?

Chrissy: 

I’m seeing,  for example, a perpetrator to telling their new spouse, or if they are newly engaged or married, “you don’t need to work. I’ll look after you”.  Already we’re setting up a very unequal relationship and a dominance as well. “Don’t worry, I’ll look after you”.  What that does is automatically puts this,  for example, a woman , in a very unequal position where there is dominance and there’s reliance financial reliance on, the other the person to provide. So that in itself is an act of power and control, which can then manifest in financial abuse because that person pulls the strings. They can say “if you don’t do this, I won’t be giving you access to money. if you don’t give me sex, if you don’t clean the house, I control all the money.   I can cut off all accounts”  which I see very, very often. Or the victim’s only provided X amount just for grocery shopping. And that’s it. There’s not enough for them to meet, any otherneeds, it’s just getting by. It also manifests quite often in property settlements as well. We ask “do you know of any other accounts?” And they just don’t know – they weren’t provided with knowledge of any accounts. They didn’t make any financial decisions.

Jennifer:

I think if, if you’re not allowed to have your own bank account or your own credit card, that’s a sign that there may be something wrong.

I think we need to be fair. Someone who is financially well off and says, “you know what, look, I don’t want you to work. You don’t need to. I can provide for you”. If that’s done in a way where the other person has autonomy over their spending and doesn’t have to account for it and, and isn’t scrutinised over every little purchase and the person feels like they have the capacity to spend what they want without consequence, that’s not financial abuse and control.

But if there’s line by line scrutiny of what you’ve spent and criticism,  asking for receipts for absolutely everything – there’s a difference between budgeting and scrutiny. People often don’t understand that there’s a line that’s crossed and it’s about where one person has control and the other person doesn’t have autonomy.

Chrissy: 

Exactly. That’s when we assess the relationship.  Was the relationship equal in all other ways? Was it equal in terms of like you say, accessibility, knowing the PIN codes, having access to all the cards and being up on the spend. That’s very different to not knowing the cards, not having a PIN and being given an allowance, being told this is all you can spend and transferring only X amount or giving only a cash payment.

That’s very different to one person’s working,  looking after the family and, and the relationship is equal. It’s not unhealthy. There’s not a power imbalance in any other ways. That is very different.

Jennifer:

Leading on from that is in terms of being able to have employment is where pregnancy is used as a form of control in a relationship.

Chrissy: 

And we often say that domestic violence actually peaks during pregnancy as well. And at the time of a baby being born. So that pregnancy is actually another risk factor. It’s one of the most dangerous times and I throw evidence for women as well

Jennifer:

And people using pregnancies, keeping people pregnant, multiple pregnancies so that they can’t be independent so that they just become increasingly reliant upon the perpetrator.

Chrissy: 

Exactly. Absolutely. And that’s a difference I think when one person creates a reliance sort of relationship with, they have to rely on you. That’s when we’re looking at that. So red flag, full financial control and financial abuse.

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Jennifer:

I wonder if you could talk to us about the ways that you’ve seen co-parenting during COVID19 being used as a form of domestic violence. You and I were having a chat offline about that. And I think that that’s something that people might not really be turning their minds to at the moment. I wonder if you could talk with us about what you’ve seen happening?

Chrissy: 

All enquiries to our office where one person has been withholding, when we’ve looked at that relationship, there’s been a history of domestic and family violence and controlling and coercive behaviours. For example, I’m not allowing you to pick up little Johnny for example, I’m withholding and we’ve heard in some instances for six months, I’m keeping little Johnny for six months.

When we analyse the previous behaviours and the relationships we see that that can be an act of intimidation control, forcing the other person through the justice system which could be systematic abuse as well.

There’s been some research that came out overnight. The Guardian yesterday in an article identified that Women’s Safety, New South Wales have done some research and they indicate that some fathers are using the lockdown as I said to refuse handover of children and some are demanding the children to come to their home when the father has flu like symptoms. Then other domestic violence service said out of a survey with 56 domestic violence workers, 40 reported that they had already seen an increase in clients who are experiencing issues in relation to child contact.

Jennifer:

That’s a big, big number. And unfortunately we know there’s delays with Family Law Courts because they’re having to do things differently. For someone to have to try to bring an application for the return of the child who should be with them that’s a massive thing right now.

Chrissy: 

Massive.  They need to find a lawyer and they’re already in financial difficulties because they may have lost their job as well. So people are feeling really disempowered, disempowered and feeling very stuck.

 

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Jennifer:

I think it’s important for us to be aware of the different ways that domestic violence manifests. And that’s what I really wanted us to, to highlight because people need to understand that if they have a friend in this situation or they’re in this situation that it’s not okay and people can get help. We’ve talked about some of the ways you can get help. There’s the police non-urgent line that Chrissy mentioned earlier. There’s 1-800-RESPECT, which is a website you can also phone. They’re available 24 hours, I believe. There’s also some handy apps that people can download. There’s one called Penda and Daisy. They have resources in them where people can save evidence. Just make sure that you’re doing it safely and that if your perpetrator can get hold of your phone, they’re not going to see that because that’s a real problem in itself.

Chrissy: 

It’s just another practical consideration and we know that perpetrators are now trying to remove and discard victim’s phones as well. So further entrenching them in isolation and tracking them by removing and breaking their phones. So if that is happening to you, speak, if you can safely, to a domestic violence service and they may be able to provide you with another mobile phone that you can hide somewhere really safe that the perpetrator doesn’t have access to cause we are seeing an increase in that as well. So mobile phones being broken, so to limit access to services.

Jennifer:

I think it’s important that people are aware that if you do leave a dangerous situation that your phone can be used to track you. Perpetrators don’t need to be very sophisticated to be able to do that. So you really need access to a clean phone. I know we have a stock of clean phones that’s been donated by a women’s group that I’m part of and if someone’s leaving, we give them a phone with preloaded apps with a SIM card in there so that they can give the number to people, they can contact us.

Obviously things are a bit different at the moment, but I think it’s important that victims also know that if you do need to leave, that the Queensland government has made it very clear that leaving and going and taking yourself and your children to another place is not going to be considered a breach of our lockdown requirements. You won’t get in trouble for leaving. So if you need to leave and go to Mum’s, a friend’s, a shelter or hotel, wherever you need to go, you will not get in trouble with the police for doing that.

I suspect there may be perpetrators who are holding that over victim’s heads, making them feel like they can’t leave, but you can, you will not get in trouble with the police for leaving a violent or abusive relationship.

Chrissy: 

That’s such good advice. That’s so important that people understand because I feel there is such a sense of disempowerment just in general. So, and if you’re feeling stuck, you do need to know that there are options available and you can leave.

Jennifer:

I’d like to turn now to what people can do if they need to reach out for some help or if they want to help someone that they believe is in a bad situation. Could you offer some practical tips on what people can do to let people know that whether or not they’re safe.

Chrissy: 

So I’m thinking of that just in terms of neighbours. So now more than ever, we’re all home so we can hear what’s happening in the neighbourhood. So if you’re a neighbour and you suspect something’s happening in the home or for one,  you should always call the police. If you feel that somebody is in danger, call 000.

In the past week, we’ve unfortunately seen a woman that was killed and neighbours didn’t do anything because there is that belief in society that domestic violence isn’t my business. It’s a private business. So for one, if you think that something’s happening and somebody’s in danger,  please call the police.

If it is safe to speak to your neighbour who’s the victim., you may want to say something like,
I suspect something’s happening. Can we come up with some sort of code word or something that you can indicate if it’s safe for me to alert me to it so I can call the police, for example, flash my bedroom light on three times.”

Or if they can arrange some sort of text messaging system that wouldn’t indicate that they’re in, in danger. For example, we’ve seen on face on Facebook groups, “i have this makeup line available at the moment. Are you interested?” And that indicates I’m in danger. Can you call the police? So if you’re a neighbour be kind, be compassionate, talk to this person, you can see them and while you’re doing the bins, for example, without judgement be kind and, and empower them  say “how can I help you? Can you give me some tips on how I can help you as well?”

Jennifer:

And family members who might otherwise have caught up with their other family members in person to ask them, there’s still ways that they can help. For instance during a phone call or a text message they could ask an innocuous question (bearing in mind that the perpetrator could be listening in or reading the phone). A legitimate innocuous question. And the answer to that question could tell the family member who’s checking on the victim, whether or not the victim is safe or not.  For instance you could about I need some ideas for dinner tonight. What do you think I should cook? And beef might be “I’s  “safe” and chicken might be, “call the police now”. An everyday conversation that has codewords built into it. And I think that’s really important because asking someone, “are you safe? Are you okay?” is really risky because that tells the perpetrator you’ve been talking about what’s happening and increases the risk for the victim.

Chrissy: 

Yeah, definitely. And I think we can make it domestic violence is everyone’s business or we can all play a part  and doing even an SMS exchange like that could save someone’s life. It is everyone’s business and, and the ramifications could be really positive for that victim in terms of their safety.

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Jennifer:

Well, Chrissy, today was a difficult topic. It’s not a good news topic other than to say that there is help out there, but it’s a really important topic because you really highlighted a few minutes ago that domestic violence has traditionally been treated as something private. And people say, “there wasn’t as much domestic violence in my day and we just sorted it out.”  No there wasn’t. It’s just that people didn’t talk about it. It’s time to bring it out of the shadows and to recognise it for what it is and that it is a choice of a person. We can’t blame mental illness or alcohol or unemployment or any of those other things. Yes, they increase the risks and they might increase the severity of the violence, but they’re not the reason behind it. And I think it’s really important that we do have this conversation and that people, men and women around Australia understand that we’ve got to be talking about this and we have to be asking people if they’re okay, particularly during COVID19.

Chrissy: 

Exactly. And also I think that we don’t forget our own privileges as I, I’m seeing the hashtag #stayhome, just trending everywhere as well and just being sensitive as well in terms of using that on your social media because somebody that’s living under the same roof could almost feel a sense of guilt or that could be a reason for them not leaving.  You are allowed to leave if you’re unsafe, you can leave your house without getting in trouble. So just small things like that as well because I could go into someone’s conscience and they feel like, I need to stay home. That’s the trending hashtag.

Jennifer:

Always, if you’re not sure if what you’re experiencing is domestic violence, 1800-RESPECT are a great service that you can talk to and DVConnect is available. They have both a men’s line and a women’s line so that regardless of your gender, you can get help if you’re a victim or a perpetrator of domestic violence.

 

If you need assistance with domestic violence , family law property settlement,  child support, custody or parenting arrangements, contact us to meet with one of our specialist family lawyers or click the link below to get started online now.

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