Content warning: This article contains reference to domestic and family violence. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.
COVID-19 poses a major risk to First Nations communities, in health, housing and now, in NSW, for those who have experienced or are experiencing domestic and family violence.
NSW Parliament last week passed the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill, which was aimed to minimise the spread of infection.
Palawa woman, Dr Kyllie Cripps, of the Faculty of Law at University of New South Wales (UNSW) said there were two particular changes to the bill that had the potential to compromise the safety of community. The first, the extension of provisional Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders from 28 days to 6 months.
“What this means is that when police are called to a domestic violence situation … they [can] deem the situation as such that they need to put in place a Domestic Violence Order,” Dr Cripps said.
“Typically, what would happen is that they put in place the provisional Domestic Violence Order, it would then get scheduled in court within 28 days and then a judge would determine what conditions would need to be put in a further order.”
“By extending it to the six months, it means that there is longer time for it to get in front of a judge. It means that the conditions that a police officer puts in place at that time have a significant impact on the family.”
“If the order restricts one party from the home, then in turn comes the question of where will that party go?
“If we are going to providing housing support for the victim, we have to do it for the [perpetrators, too]. If we aren’t attending to both, we put both at risk.”
The Attorney-General, the Hon Christian Porter announced on Tuesday that there would be a commitment of funding for temporary accommodation for those exposed to family violence – both victims and perpetrators.
The second area of concern noted by Dr Cripps is that the new legislation grants the Commissioner of Corrective Services the power to release vulnerable, low-risk offenders on parole.
“The thing we need to be conscious of is, again our communities are close-knit, our households are typically overcrowded, and if we are releasing people back into the community it is important for us to think about the safety of those families and communities,” Dr Cripps said.
“If the household is already under pressure because it is overcrowded, are we putting a newly released prisoner at risk of breaching his parole conditions in an environment as such? I’m not saying don’t release them, I’m saying, let’s think through what support is there for them to succeed on parole.”
Dr Cripps also said there is a significant need to develop safety plans for both the victim and the offender.
“We do need … safety plans for the offender to say in the event that things don’t work out or they become stressed, what can people do and what can they do in that moment? If we aren’t giving them the skills or support, we are setting them up to fail and we put people, and families at risk.”
“Friends and family members who know someone who is at risk need to be thinking, if they contact me saying they are in trouble, what will I do and how do I assist?”
“In the 21st century we haven’t [done] well with connecting with our neighbours, but if we hear something not going well next door if we are hearing loud noises or slaps, what do we do?
“This is a matter of life and death for some of our women in some of these situations and we need to be ready to respond. Normally we would have community accountability, but that is outside of the self-isolation we are being put in because of public health orders. So how do we create community accountability?”
“[We should also think about] those exposed to family violence, particularly children within these homes.
“I have been alarmed about how the police are enforcing public health orders. We have to be careful about going up to people and moving them along. Our young people get together because they find safety in their groups, instead of moving them on, ask them if they have a safe place to go, change the conversations.”
“Police have a particular power … they can be intimidating to our young people and community so we need police at this point in time to change their tone.”
Dr Cripps is calling upon community to come together and support those affected.
“It is really important that that conversation is had. In our community there are particular Elders, it is mostly the women, the Aunties, but sometimes there are some really good Uncles in the community. It is time for them, if they can, to step up and get in contact with kids and tell them they are here, they are safe spaces and the door is open.”
If you are experiencing family or domestic violence, please contact:
- Domestic Violence Line NSW – 1800 656 463
- National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence counselling service – 1800 RESPECT
- Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800
By Rachael Knowles