“The fact is that the antidote to spreading this virus is to be kept in confined spaces with family. Now in some cases that’s heaven on earth, but in many cases it’s hellish. It’s a terrifying reality for some,’’ she says in the podcast. Stott Despoja, who has been the longstanding chair of Our Watch, Australia’s peak body tasked with preventing violence against women and children, adds that the early signs are worrying.
“In Australia we’ve seen a massive increase even in Google searches for how to get help if you are at risk of violence,” she said. “And we have frontline workers telling us in Australia now that there are some examples of men using the virus in a coercive way – so threatening to infect someone or making demands on women based on threatening them with health and other repercussions.
“We do know there is an awful reality that some women and children are trapped in homes with their perpetrators and that is very, very scary.
"Think about it: the opportunity to access help in those at-risk situations have clearly diminished – it is very hard to access a phone or use a computer or ring a helpline if you have a perpetrator in the room with you ALL the time.”
This reality is being played out in domestic violence call centres across Australia, with initial reports indicating the regular number of phone calls have reduced – a statistic that worries frontline operators everywhere.
Stott Despoja said it’s too early to get a clear picture of the impact of the virus in Australia when it comes to female victims of violence, but said there is ‘ anecdotal evidence and reports from around the world now that are showing increased levels of violence based on financial stress, tension, lack of distractions, confined spaces’
But she was quick to add that these one-off stressful incidences are rarely the starting point for domestic violence, and that gender inequality is consistently at the heart of the issue. “You don’t get gendered violence because someone has lost their job, you don’t get it because someone has got a mental health problem… you don’t get it unless there is a fundamental disrespect for women,” she says.
In the broad interview Stott Despoja discusses why women are often more negatively affected during crises, what government needs to do to remove barriers to inequality and the sorry lack of opportunities for female leadership in Canberra. (Maybe it's time to start #NatashaforPM?) There's also some important advice on what we can all do to help at-risk women in our community right now. Listen in and be inspired to make a difference .
If you or someone you know is impacted by family violence or sexual assault, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 7328). In the event of an emergency, please call 000.