In light of the alarming increase in usage of domestic violence support services since the onset of COVID-19, Abigail moved a motion recognising this increase and the urgent need for additional, secure funding for the sector.
Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: I move:
(1) That this House notes that since the implementation of social distancing:
(a)as reported by ABC's 7:30 and ANROWS, 1800RESPECT has seen a 20 per cent increase in usage of their online chat service, and a decrease of approximately 5 per cent in phone calls from women in March 2020 compared to the previous year, with a greater proportion of calls being received late at night followed by a 38 per cent increase in calls between March and April, the second busiest period in the services history;
(b)as reported by the Australian Government's Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, MensLine support and information hotline has seen a 34 per cent increase in men calling to report domestic violence concerns between February and March 2020;
(c)as reported by the Department of Communities and Justice, Safer Pathway services have seen a 11 per cent increase in the number of domestic violence client referrals in March 2020 compared with the previous year;
(d)as reported by Community Legal Centres Australia, in March 2020 compared with March 2019, there has been a 4 per cent increase in Community Legal Centre [CLC] clients experiencing domestic violence, and Domestic & Family Violence work in the CLC sector has increased by 13 per cent, and Domestic Violence Protection Orders have increased 15 per cent;
(e)as reported by Women's Safety NSW, an April 2020 survey of frontline domestic violence workers and service providers found that half of respondents to the sector survey reported seeing an increase in instances and severity of domestic violence and abuse during the lockdown period, with:
(i)47 per cent of respondents observing an increase in women reporting violence for the first time;
(ii)45.5 per cent of respondents observing women deprioritising their own safety over material needs; and
(iii)75 per cent of respondents stating that women have reported that they have experienced additional barriers to accessing services;
(f)as reported by ABC's 7:30, Women's Community Shelters have seen a 30 per cent increase in calls to their services in March 2020 compared with February 2020;and
(g)as reported by the ABC, the Men's Referral Service has seen a 37 per cent increase in calls from April 2019 to April 2020;
(h)as reported by the ABC, a survey of frontline workers across New South Wales shows a spike in service demand since restrictions were eased
(2) That this House acknowledges that:
(a)domestic violence and abuse can take many forms, and that no one type of abuse is more serious than another;
(b)our crimes legislation does not currently recognise many forms of abuse which may occur in domestic relationships;
(c)the vast majority of violence and abuse continues to go unreported to police as indicated by the Australian Bureau of Crime Statistics Personal Safety Survey;
(d)data on domestic violence as reported by BOCSAR is inconsistent with reports from a variety of frontline specialist domestic and family violence services;
(e)the reports and evidence provided by frontline specialist domestic and family violence services as to the prevalence, patterns of perpetration and victimisation andimpacts of violence and abuse are valuable sources for informing the Parliament and the public as to the actual realities of domestic and family violence; and
(f)misrepresenting the prevalence of domestic violence and abuse has the potential for extremely negative consequences for victims and survivors of that violence and abuse.
(3) That this House recognises that, in light of current legislative gaps and the complex factors at play behind any increase or decrease of the reporting of domestic violence incidents, particularly to police, police crimes data alone paints an incomplete picture of domestic violence and abuse in New South Wales.
(4) That this House calls on the Government to ensure data collection on domestic violence and abuse, and associated analysis, is accurate and representative of best-practice understandings of domestic violence and abuse, by:
(a)ensuring BOCSAR analysis and presentation of domestic violence crime statistics recognises that not all forms of domestic violence and abuse are currently reported to police or recognised as domestic violence incidents by the police; and
(b)ensuring future analysis and presentation of domestic violence crime statistics undertaken by BOCSAR expressly recognises that data which is based only on reporting to police provides an inconclusive picture as to the actual incidence of domestic violence.
The intention of this motion is to detail some of the statistics not seen in some of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research [BOCSAR] reporting. In May the bureau released a media briefing paper entitled "Has domestic violence increased in NSW in the wake of COVID-19 social distancing and isolation?" The bureau concluded that:
None of the evidence considered here suggests social isolation measures have increased domestic violence in the first six weeks of operation.
Other data from frontline organisations tells a very different story. How did this happen? Basically, the bureau does not collect sufficient data from a broad range of services to make conclusions about the prevalence of domestic violence. It collects and reports on a limited picture of the complex domestic violence landscape what is seen by police and what results in a criminal charge.
BOCSAR simply does not have the capacity to answer the question that it posed. Why did BOCSAR produce a brief with an aim it could not accurately answer? Why did the media release lead with a question that could not be answered by BOCSAR? Who asked for it and why? If the title or aim had stipulated incidents of domestic violence reported to the police, the limitations would be clear and the potential for misrepresentation of this data would be drastically reduced. It behoves us as users of BOCSAR's analysis to be aware of the limitations of the data and to use it responsibly. Unfortunately, this analysis has been misused, including by members of this place.
Crime statistics are a poor measure of what is really happening in people's homes. To think otherwise is to fail to understand the control, fear and manipulation inherent in domestic violence and abuse. Victims, predominantly women, ordinarily struggle to contact services without the additional impacts of being confined with their abuser 24 hours a day. COVID-19 has made making a secret phone call impossible for many. One frontline worker, Susan Crane, put this well:
What we were hearing during the lockdown was abusive partners controlling women 24 hours a day, including their phone calls.
The media release for the bureau's May report begins with the definitive statement:
Domestic violence reports did not increase in April 2020 … despite most of the community being in lockdown in their homes
It is followed by a summary of data with comparisons that did not take into account that circumstances have drastically changed. It is not domestic violence that has decreased; it is victims' capacity to report it, to leave their homes and to seek help. Any comparisons with 2019 are meaningless. Unfortunately it is not until the last paragraph that there is an acknowledgement that the study, "could not detect unreported domestic violence that did not result in serious physical injury". It beggars belief that in 2020 we are still reducing domestic violence to single incidents of serious physical injury reported to police. Hayley Foster, CEO of Women's Safety NSW, said in May that it is "irresponsible to put out a report drawing a conclusion that fears that domestic violence would increase hadn't been realised".
When reporting under-represents the magnitude of the problem, when politicians quote that under‑representation, we fail vulnerable people, including children. If we do not admit to the scale of this problem, we will never adequately fund the services that victims and survivors need and we will never improve the laws that should protect them. Tragically, easing restrictions seems to have escalated domestic violence and abuse in some situations. A survey of frontline workers across 20 domestic violence services in New South Wales found a spike in domestic violence. Around half of those surveyed by Women's Safety NSW said that there had been an increase in demand for help since restrictions eased and renewed threats to women's safety as some attempted to leave violence. Hayley Foster further said:
How we've seen that manifest is in more extreme forms of violence, more threats on people's lives as well as the lives of children and pets … more extreme physical and sexual assaults.
The Government has pledged additional support, but we knew before the pandemic that services were in crisis. Now is the time to face up to the other pandemic in this State. Forget the crime statistics—they represent a drop in the bucket. The real prevalence of this secretive, insidious and pervasive disease is already known on the front line. It is time we acted with a response that matched the magnitude of the problem.