30 Mar 2020

Domestic harm experts say be kind during lockdown

2:04 pm on 30 March 2020

With families kept in close quarters for four weeks through the lockdown, experts say they're expecting an increase in family harm, and are asking everyone to keep safe and be kind.

(File photo).

(File photo). Photo: 123rf

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"We know from New Zealand's previous disasters, and internationally as well there's often a spike in family violence and sexual violence during these periods," says the Chief Victims Adviser to the Government, Dr Kim McGregor.

During the lockdown the police are prioritising family violence, and are able to use protective equipment like face masks while responding to jobs, she says.

"They've deployed more police to family violence, and there's also [extra] funding that's come through from the Ministry of Social Development, for accomodation so they can move people out.

"They'll do risk assessments for each case, and decide who it's safest to move out, and they have the means to do that."

She says it's really important people know that even though we're in lockdown, services to help keep everyone safe are still operating.

"We want to hear from you; you're not alone, it's not okay for anyone to hurt you. Violence is still a crime. It's ok to leave your home if you are unsafe, and get to a place of safety."

She said some vulnerable people may feel cut off, or trapped with their abusers, and without access to other safe people.

"So we're asking neighbours to keep an eye on those around you. If you see signs of violence, like yelling, crying, family members looking afraid or in distress - keep your own bubble, but please call the police or one of the social services, even if you're not sure, and talk about your concerns."

Earlier, Women's Refuge boss Ang Jury told RNZ the service is still operating, and has adapted to continue to help people, while keep social distancing bubbles as far as possible.

She said people at risk in lockdown should set up a safe word with a friend that can be texted or mentioned in a conversation, to discretely indicate they need help if they are worried they might be in overheard calling for help.

"We're hearing really disturbing numbers [about domestic violence] coming out of places like the US, and we were hearing it from China. We're seeing reports of greatly increased demand in the US and UK, and some noise is coming out of Australia, so it appears it's going to happen."

"Risk will increase as people are kept to their homes and removed from all of the usual safety mechanisms, things like work and connection with family and things like that - it's the inability to access the things people normally do."

Psychologist Karen Nimmo said there is a huge emotional burden on everyone right now, and people need to manage it proactively to look after themselves and those around them.

"We're all stuck at home, we're crammed up together, everybody's struggling with fear of the unknown, so relationship conflict and family harm is a very real problem at the moment.

"There's a danger that we run ourselves emotionally right now, because we have got that high anxiety going on, and if you let your feelings do everything they'll run away from you and that'll make us do silly things.

"So it's important that we use common sense, and use our intellect to guide ourselves. We can't expect to be happy at the moment."

Nimmo recommends supporting your mental health by exercising and not drinking so much, and making an effort to de-escalate tensions or arguments.

"We have to walk away from things. We have to be realistic and lower expectations of everyone, including ourselves - you can't run a perfect home school and do eight hours of uninterrupted work at the moment."

"Not every day will be easy, some will be low, but that doesn't mean the next day will be bad, we have to think small and stay present."

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