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Lockdown Family Violence Prompts Call For Plan

An increase in family violence during lockdowns is raising concerns among specialist family violence agencies.

National Network of Family Violence Services/Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga CEO Merran Lawler says the findings of a recent study confirm what specialists knew - both before the first NZ lockdown and since – that the levels and intensity of family violence would increase.

“The key concern is that, despite knowing what was likely to happen in lockdown situations, there is still no ongoing family violence emergency plan for any future lockdowns, pandemics or national disasters,” Lawler says.

“While the family and sexual violence sectors were able to come together quickly to share resources, insights and strategies, there is a real need for a settled plan.

“It needs to be activated and readily rolled out in order to protect those who at risk of violence and keep eyes on those who are perpetrating it.”

She says even when weekly police statistics were showing no significant increase, agencies knew there were victims under the watchful eyes of the abusers - unable to reach out for assistance or frightened about the consequences of breaking out of their bubble to get to safety.

“That has been confirmed by solid demand for family violence services for both victims and perpetrators since lockdown restrictions have eased.”

Lawler says many specialist family violence services are reporting much higher than usual requests for support and intervention.

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“It correlates with both local and international research which consistently shows spiking levels of family violence following uncontrollable circumstances like natural disasters.

“There was a significant spike, for example, in family violence after the Canterbury earthquakes in both 2010 and 2011.”

Her comments follow publication of research by Otago University about the effects of lockdown earlier in the year.

A cross-section of 2000 New Zealanders took part.

Almost one in ten participants had directly experienced some form of family harm over the lockdown period, including sexual assault, physical assault, or harassment and threatening behaviour.

“The NZ Crime and Victims of Crimes Survey 2018/9 found within a 12-month period, 0.7% of adults experienced physical assault or harassment and threatening behaviour, and 0.4% experienced sexual assault by a family member,” the paper says.

“In our study, the reported levels of these experiences were between three and four times higher.

The paper says reports from China, the US, Brazil, and Australia also indicate increases in family violence coinciding with lockdown orders.

The four-day survey by university head of psychological medicine Susanna Every-Palmer and her team was launched on April 15 2020.

The published results were made available by scientific journal Plos One on November 4 2020.

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