Content Warning: The following article covers topics related to domestic abuse and violence. 

Violence against women and girls continues to be one of the most widespread human rights violations globally and largely remains unreported. Due to shifting regulations and restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to stay home, women and children are at increased risk of domestic and family violence.

November 25th is the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. We speak to Bernadette Ahern, who is a team leader at The Benevolent Society’s Centre for Women’s Children’s & Family Health in Campbelltown, NSW, to learn about how she and her team are supporting women in need.

Domestic Violence is More Than Just Physical

Domestic violence is an act of aggression against an individual in an intimate partner relationship or family member and takes on many forms, including emotional, social, spiritual, economic or sexual.

Some examples can include:

  • Isolating the individual from friends and family
  • Controlling access to money or finances
  • Diminishing the individual’s self-worth or self-esteem
  • Barring them from practicing their religious beliefs

Many women are unable to leave their current circumstances as perpetrators can threaten harm to them and their loved ones or manipulate them to stay in violent relationships. Geographical isolation from support or a lack of finances due to control can also be contributing factors.

“All of these are barriers to a woman leaving,” explains Bernadette. “These barriers are often complex, multifaceted and individual to the woman, so no two cases are quite the same. And these barriers have become amplified during COVID-19 as the lockdown forces proximity and leads to increases in the frequency and severity of domestic violence and abuse.”

The Benevolent Society’s Staying Home Leaving Violence Program

Our Staying Home Leaving Violence program provides case management and support services to women who have escaped violent relationships and separated from their partner. This program focuses on allowing women to stay in their own home whilst having their violent partner leave the home environment.

“This program promotes housing stability and prevents homelessness through support and advocacy,” says Bernadette.

“Women can remain safely in their own homes and exclude the perpetrator rather than disrupt their or their children’s lives further. If the risk of staying is too high or unsafe, the program assists in the relocation process.”

Regardless of the outcome, Bernadette believes that the most important aspect of the program is a safe space.

“For many women, speaking to one of our case works can be the first time that they not only have been seen and heard, but also believed. Validating their lived experiences is so powerful and the first step to helping them rebuild their life.”

To find out more about the Staying Home Leaving Violence Program, head to our page or call our support centre at 1800 236 762.