How restrictions & stretched services have taken a toll
Women and children have been placed in vulnerable circumstances unable to flee violence, access sexual assault screening and police support…some have been facing homelessness in an effort to keep themselves safe amongst Covid restrictions. How Covid has placed women and children at greater risk of domestic and family violence under a complex landscape of stretched services, border barriers and busy health systems.
More barriers for an already stretched service
In remote regions where there is already significant limitations in regards to domestic & family violence support, Covid -19 restrictions have created greater complexity for women and children accessing support services. This is especially true in the NPY region placed at the intersection of 3 state & territory borders.
In early February, some remote communities were inaccessible to police and air-strips were closed due to flooding. These communities were only accessible by roads with services across borders.
Despite urgent requests for cross-border police responses to domestic & family violence, enforced border restrictions meant approval for police responses were denied, leaving some women and children at risk of serious harm.
Impact of busy health systems for women experiencing domestic violence
Reduced RFDS capacity due to covid-19 related backlogs and airstrip flooding has created precarious circumstances for women and children experiencing violence related injuries.
Women and children have been, at times, unable to access urgent medical review, mental health support, sexual assault screening and emergency evacuation following serious Domestic Violence incidents.
In one instance our service had to a charter private flight to ensure safety for a young woman who had experienced and remained at risk of extreme domestic violence.
Women locked out of safety
Women in urban centres, such as Kalgoorlie, Alice Springs, Adelaide and Port Augusta have been forced to navigate vaccine mandates, lock-outs and lockdowns, within an overwhelmed service system where crisis accommodation options have been limited.
Support services have been under pressure and have been frustrated by blanket Covid-19 responses. They often have not been able to provide financial or practical support for women and children who have either fled from violence in community, or are experiencing violence in town but are unable to return home due to reduced transport, border closures and the cost of quarantine requirements.
Our service, despite having limited funds, and at great expense, continue to fill service gaps across all of these regional hubs. In an effort to ensure women and children are not forced into homelessness or the child protection system we continue to fund alternative accommodation, food and transport outside our service.
This has not only resulted in significant financial strain on the service, but is also contributing to an under-resourced and overwhelmed workforce.
Increase in demand
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak we have seen an increased demand for our service. Our team have been receiving around 600-700 calls a month from women. The calls could be for anything from emergency food relief, homelessness support to urgent support for safety.
What needs to be done
Despite the increased complexity of responses and limited resources, we continue to try our best to explore innovative ways to support women experiencing violence on the Lands.
To keep women and children from remote communities safe from domestic & family violence we urgently seek:
- Stronger cross-border responses and clearer exemptions for border crossings, quarantine and return to community for women and children fleeing domestic & family violence.
- Transportation options to support women and children to return to, or leave, their communities.
- Financial support and options for emergency accommodation for women in urban settings fleeing violence
- Increased financial support to enable greater emergency financial relief for transport, accommodation and material goods for women and children fleeing violence.
Now more than ever, we recognise that responses to preventing and ending violence are most powerful when they draw upon and uphold, the pre-existing knowledge and resources inherent within Anangu culture, families and communities.