Coronavirus has led to a nationwide lockdown leading to new torments for victims of domestic violence and new weapons of harm for abusers. Cira Olivier reports.
Abusers are using the lockdown and fear of coronavirus as a weapon in their arsenal as social services see a spike in violence, fearing lives will be lost in volatile bubbles.
Police and domestic violence services in Tauranga have seen a surge with a spike in the number of family harm incidents reported to police since the lockdown began at midnight on March 25.
Data provided by police of callouts between March 8 and April 8 show that on the first day of lockdown, there were 35 calls to police in the Bay of Plenty which was 12 more than Thursday's pre-lockdown.
The highest number of callouts was on Sunday, April 5 with 52 calls, 13 per cent, or six more than the highest number of callouts in the weeks leading up to the lockdown.
Tauranga Women's Refuge manager Hazel Hape said abusers were increasingly using coronavirus as a tactic of power and abuse.
"Stay home, I've got Covid-19", abusers would say, Hape said.
"They're spitting at their family members which also includes their children."
She said isolation was a form of power and control by abusers and the notion of stay home and save lives meant more risk for those in violent households.
"Families and whānau are expressing a lot more stress, anxiety, worry, uncertainty, that Covid-19 is contributing to already abusive, violent households."
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Domestic violence drew a chilling comparison to the deadly coronavirus, Hape said, not discriminating against class, race, gender and age.
"It's decimating populations all around the world ... it tears me up thinking about the potentiality of this.
"If your bubble is not safe, it's better to leave your bubble than ending up dead."
Due to social distancing restrictions, the safe house could not operate at full capacity and the refuge was now using motels.
"We have a massive public health issue that requires us to think of multiple ways of keeping our families and whānau safe."
She urged the community and families to protect family and whakapapa, and reach out to people they knew were suffering.
"Wrap your arms around your loved ones and protect your whakapapa.
"We all need to unite otherwise we're going to start seeing massive losses like the rest of the world," she said.
"The longer the isolation period continues, a pressure cooker environment is going to be created where then the s***'s going to start hitting the fan big time."
Support services needed to be ready for a co-ordinated response as she predicted this week would see a rise in crisis calls.
Tauranga Living Without Violence practice leader Glynette Gainfort said domestic violence "absolutely escalated" but had become more invisible due to the lockdown and expected a significant fallout of victims once the lockdown lifted.
Children were being used as a weapon of control over victims, physically or emotionally hurting them if the victim "steps out of line".
Abusers had more access to the victims' phone and whereabouts minute by minute, feeling trapped by the fear of leaving their bubble.
A caseworker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the violence had become more severe and victims were going against their own beliefs to keep the peace.
"Like saying it is okay for him to use drugs in the home in an effort to keep him in a calm state."
Another caseworker said some clients had not engaged with the service since the lockdown, which "may be due to the abuser's presence in the bubble and ongoing intimidation, or the need to placate him".
Others are being forced to live with the abuser when that would not be their first choice because they have nowhere else to go and the abuser is then more controlling as a result.
A spokesman from Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga, National Network of Family Violence Services, said everyone was under stress in the current circumstances but very few would resort to violence.
"One would expect that those who do would have a history of using power and control over the partners and whānau in the past."
Tauranga Area Prevention manager Inspector Zane Smith said they had noticed an increase in family harm calls over the past seven days including over the Easter period.
"However, we are not prepared to speculate on whether this as a result of the alert level 4 restrictions currently in place."
A police spokeswoman said family harm calls were taken very seriously, and they recognised it may be more difficult for victims to contact them.
She said they could not speculate on the potential impact post-level 4 restriction period.
"We know this is a hard time for some families and we want them to know police are there for them."
DO YOU NEED HELP?
If you're in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay
Where to go for help or more information:
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence
• National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz
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