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Social responsibility means care for all of the vulnerable



For the past week, I, like many other workers in this country, have been working from home in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. I have to admit that I have had many apprehensions about being stuck at home. For one, despite me having a great home life, I am not the type of person who goes home to unwind.

Mother with her baby in a car (globalmoments/Getty Images)

As I have seen all of my favourite restaurants, pubs and music venues shut their doors with social media announcements geared to make me weep, I have felt an incredible sense of foreboding. What if these places, and the people who make them, don’t survive the financial impacts of this pandemic and we never get them back?

As a freelance writer but one with another stable form of employment, I have seen so many other freelancers who don’t have this safety net — whether they be writers, musicians, actors — concerned about their future and how they are going to get through these trying months. I believe everything will come back eventually but I am worried about the artists in our communities and how creativity will fall by the wayside when it precisely what so many of us need to keep us engaged at this drab and scaled down time.

I have another massive concern though. While there have been endless social media posts, political campaigns and the like about staying safe by staying at home, I have been concerned about the many people who are not safe at home and what this may mean to them. What will this mean for the woman who’s been living with a domestic violence perpetrator for years? Or for children whose parents abuse and neglect them? Will the increased policing of social distancing succeed mainly in harming these people?

Though the rights of domestic and family violence victims are never far from my mind, I’m perhaps pondering this issue because I feel it’s a particularly raw time. It was, after all, only a couple of weeks ago that the nation was horrified by the murders of Hannah Clarke and her children. People all of a sudden were discussing domestic and family violence in a way I have rarely heard, possibly because the extreme circumstances of crime meant there were no feasible way Hannah could be blamed for the attack upon herself. There was an absence of victim-blaming for a change and instead many overdue calls to action to get rid of this scourge on our society.

The message changed swiftly as the new threat from this major pandemic loomed. In my four decades of life, I have lived through many pandemics but never have I seen this type of response to one occur. Given my own health situation (despite being a middle-aged Aboriginal woman, I am in good health with no known comorbidities and I live in an area with excellent access to health services), I’m still in the somewhat privileged position of finding this different response difficult to comprehend. I do, however, unfortunately know what it’s like to feel unsafe at home and I began to worry what some outcomes may be for others who know this fear only too well.


'We are in a time were we need to actively look out for each other and take care of the most vulnerable in our society.'


I was not surprised, for example, for reports to start circulating from family violence organisations stating that abusers had been using fake coronavirus diagnoses as a way of forcing their victims to stay within the confines of the home. I was equally not surprised to hear that there had been an increase in reports of domestic violence during this time. Similar reports have come out of France where incidences rose 32 per cent in one week, the UK, Malaysia and other countries. We can only assume domestic violence will continue to escalate in this environment and we need to ensure support exists for those who need to run.

I was encouraged firstly, to see the Prime Minister commit funds to assisting those struggling under these types of circumstances, and secondly, to see a commitment made from the WA government that emergency hotel accommodation they had made available to homeless people in a bid to halt the spread of COVID-19 via their 'Hotels with Heart' initiative may also be available to people escaping family violence situations.

Yet by the same token, the federal government had already stripped funding from multiple domestic and family violence support services so will these crisis time commitments even remotely make up this shortfall? It’s also hard to see the move in WA as being entirely positive when this is a state which still locks up poor, mainly Indigenous, domestic violence victims who call for assistance and are found to have outstanding fines.

One woman per week dies in this country at the hand of a current or former partner. I am concerned that these statistics are going to escalate in an environment where leaving the house is questioning if it is perceived to be 'unnecessary'. Will we leave our homes at the end of the COVID-19 threat to find that the casualties include a number of women and children who died due to the confinement rather than the disease they were locked up for? I sincerely hope not.

We are in a time were we need to actively look out for each other and take care of the most vulnerable in our society. Immunocompromised people need the rest of us to ensure we are doing everything we can to prevent the virus spreading. But while we’re doing that, we also need to ensure that other vulnerable populations have the care and support they need to also survive this crisis. Let’s use this time of heightened community responsibility to ensure we do take care of each other in every way possible.



Celeste LiddleCeleste Liddle is a trade unionist, a freelance opinion writer and social commentator. She blogs at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist.

Main image: Mother with her baby in a car (globalmoments/Getty Images) 

Topic tags: Celeste Liddle, COVID-19, domestic violence, family violence



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Existing comments

Celeste Your concern the lack of safety at home was a concern for many teachers, who have students come to school to be safe. That is why many schools are still open with very few students because some students know they are safe there.

Gabrielle | 02 April 2020  

Let's not at the same time forget the male victims of domestic. They will also be at risk. http://www.oneinthree.com.au/malevictims

Jim | 02 April 2020  

I'd like to raise another area where people may well not be safe in their homes - aged care residential facilities. We're having a Royal Commission precisely because of the many deficiencies in these homes. In some cases it is shonky, profit-driven private places who don't employ qualified staff. But even in the better places, there is chronic under-staffing, so that, apart from the sensationalist cases of abuse, there is an ongoing problem of inadequate nutrition and hydration - and simple caring like talking to people. In many cases, family members and friends have been monitors, supplementary carers, and even guards, for years. Now, we are totally excluded, with very little confidence that our family member will be adequately cared for. I fear that their might be more deaths due to the restrictions than would have been from the virus. The simple solution is to require family members to comply with the same infection control protocols as staff.

Anne McMenamin | 02 April 2020  

Like you, Celeste, I fear for those women and children confined without escape in a household dominated by an abuser. What I fail to understand is why our current approach to the problem of domestic abuse is to provide refuge for the abused victim rather than remove and confine the abuser. The abusers are breaking the law by assaulting and harming others physically. But not it seems, in one of the great oxymorons of our times, if their victims are members of their own domestic arrangement/family. There was a time when I was chairman of a Societal Violence Committee attached to the Trauma Committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. That committee was a contributor to the Howard Government's gun control laws which carried political capital for the PM at the time and is hailed as one of his great achievements. At the time, the College Committee also made major submissions to the same government on domestic violence and Aboriginal healthcare, both of which were ignored - presumably no political capital to be had!!! It's long overdue that the pollies got this right and turned their attention to the abusers not the abused. Maybe with Covid19 they will find some political capital to be had in a new approach to domestic violence and Aboriginal healthcare amidst the other changes in society that this pandemic promises to deliver. The current PM , judging from his pandemic performance might just be the one prepared to listen.

john frawley | 02 April 2020  

Like the regulation of those bad things, bushfires and SARS-CoV2, the regulation of bad people who mistreat their domestic partners and the children who live in their household is a state issue. Ask not what Scott Morrison is doing for the victims of domestic violence, ask what your premier is doing. And if your premier is timid about premier-driven reform, ask if s/he has heard of Don Dunstan.

roy chen yee | 02 April 2020  

"Yet by the same token, the federal government had already stripped funding from multiple domestic and family violence support services." Such a well worn response. The PM is not the bad guy. If money is stripped from a particular department, program, or service, it is done so because the PM needs to consider what is best for the whole country and take into account many factors. If DV was the only problem facing Australians then the PM could be challenged and criticised for cutting back funds, but this is not the case.

Anthony | 04 April 2020  

The title of your important article, Celeste, sums up the message perfectly. As we face the health and economic uncertainties of the COVID-19 virus, we have to ensure that all are cared for and kept safe - especially the most vulnerable people in our community. For far too long, the violence occurring in our homes, schools, residential care and other institutions has been swept under thew the proverbial carpet. From my experience of working against workplace bullying and violence is that all too often m,any employers and senior police officers do not want to take the appropriate action. This is partly due to the slowness of politicians to take these problems seriously. and their refusal to spend more tax payer dollars on increasing the police and other support services needed to provide a greater degree of safety for all across society . The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has caused many changes in the way we do things to ensure there is greater care for all. After it is over, those if us who want a safer and more caring society, have to ensure that more tax money goes into funding essential human services.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 07 April 2020  

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