As the cost of living increases, support services expect rates of domestic violence to increase as well

Frontline services fear the rising cost of living will lead to an increase in domestic violence while struggling to meet current demand.

Jaime Chubb, executive director of the Center Against Violence, said the organization is starting to see an increase, particularly in high-risk and complex cases.

The center operates throughout North East Victoria providing family violence crisis and case management and sexual assault services.

Ms Chubb said while it was difficult to quantify, the “sudden and quite dramatic increase in costs” correlated with an increase in demand of around 5 to 10 per cent for the centre’s services.

“It also increases the risk. It’s harder for people to leave when they have fewer resources,” Ms Chubb said.

It comes as the services are already stretched and the staffing shortage is “massive”.

“As a whole industry, we struggle to recruit people to fill positions,” Ms Chubb said.

“It’s particularly challenging in regional and rural areas.”

Amanda Kelly says the link between family violence and economic stress and insecurity is well known in the industry.(Delivered: Amanda Kelly)

Compounding factors “everywhere”

Women’s Health Goulburn North East executive director Amanda Kelly said frontline family violence services should expect an increase in demand.

She said the link between family violence and economic stress and insecurity is well known in the industry and the main reason is “outdated gender stereotypes”.

“We have this underlying assumption that men offer, [and that] In times of crisis, men will fix things,” she said.

“[Men] don’t always feel like they can ask for help, we don’t always have help available for them.”

However, Ms Kelly said it is not always helpful to view the relationship between financial stress and hardship and domestic violence as causal, as it is an individual’s choice to use violence.

She said there were “aggravating factors across our region,” including the pandemic, recovery from the Black Summer bushfires and mounting financial pressures.

A “complex” association

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) examined economic insecurity and intimate partner violence in Australia during the first year of the pandemic.

The report — funded by Australia’s National Research Organization for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) — found that economic insecurity was associated with an increased likelihood of intimate partner violence between women.

A profile picture of a woman with dark hair wearing a black suit and red necklace.
Padma Raman says that recent research on economic insecurity and family violence has revealed a “complexity regarding whether economic insecurity is causal or consequential.” (Included in delivery: ANROWS)

Padma Raman, executive director of ANROWS, said research shows a clear relationship between economic security and women’s security, but the relationship is complex.

“It’s difficult to compare the impact of rising cost of living with the impact of natural disasters and pandemics,” Ms. Raman said.

AIC research director Hayley Boxall said the research shows how economic uncertainty works in different ways in different types of relationships.

She said there is often an impression that domestic violence is a “poor problem,” but the reality is more nuanced.

For women who had previously experienced partner violence, the violence became more frequent and severe as they experienced an increase in financial burden, regardless of their actual economic status.

The effects of financial stress are “everyone’s problem,” even in families and relationships that appear to be wealthy, Dr. boxall.

She said the rising cost of living and its impact on intimate partner violence “should be taken as seriously as any other major financial event.”

And unlike natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, such changes happened incrementally, but they would “gradually begin to affect everyone in severe ways.”

Financial burdens make saying goodbye difficult

according to dr Boxall needs to take this risk seriously not only in terms of domestic violence occurring, but also how people exit and recover from such situations.

Ms. Raman also pointed to the dual impact of financial stress and hardship.

“The financial dependency of women on perpetrators is a significant obstacle to leaving the country.”

A blurred figure in dark clothing covers her face.
There are complex issues faced by women leaving a violent family situation, support services say.(Flickr: European Parliament)

Ms Chubb said the standard advice for women who live in volatile households or are thinking of leaving is to always have a full tank in the car in case they have to leave, but rising petrol costs have made simple advice like this less practical .

Survivors of domestic violence who leave the home are also often forced to contend with a lack of available housing.

“Across Australia, but particularly in rural and regional areas, we have a severe housing shortage and skyrocketing rents,” Ms Kelly said.

Ms Chubb said domestic violence is a complex area and “we live in really complex times”.

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