30th March, 2020
Queensland specialist sexual support workers are seeing an increase in people reaching out for support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
QSAN, the peak body for sexual assault in Queensland, has advised that specialist sexual assault services are moving rapidly to adapt service models to ensure that they can continue to support people impacted by sexual violence during this time.
Queensland Sexual Assault Network (QSAN) Secretariat, Miranda Clarke, advised that, “with people being forced into isolation within their homes, reduced levels of social support and mounting family stress, we will see an escalation in intimate partner sexual violence, interfamilial sexual abuse and other forms of sexual violence within Queensland homes”.
Kayla Wahlheim, Manager of Murrigunyah Family & Cultural Healing Centre advised “we have received a rise in the number of referrals from Queensland Police”.
Jason Rushton, Director of Services, Phoenix House in Bundaberg, added “we are seeing an increased demand for psychological services due to the additional stress and anxiety and reduced support available through mainstream services such as GPs and hospitals”.
Katrina Weeks from the Centre Against Sexual Violence Logan and Redlands stated, “We have already received an increase in women contacting us for counselling and referrals from other community agencies”.
QSAN echoes the sentiments of the Queensland Domestic Violence Service Network (QDVSN) that domestic violence is set to escalate with the COVID-19. QSAN stresses that this escalation will also extend to intimate partner sexual violence and interfamilial abuse – particularly towards women, children and other vulnerable family members. QSAN also extends concerns to those living in share house arrangements with an abusive person. Technology facilitated sexual violence is also expected to rise.
Di Macleod, Director of the Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence stated, “When there is no work to go to, sports and social activities are cancelled, when there is no contact with other family members, when friends can’t leave their home to help and faith centres closed – everything that might mitigate a violent situation is no longer available, what happens then?”
QSAN encourages people effected by current or past sexual violence to reach out for support.
QSAN specialist sexual assault services provide trauma-informed, client-centred support to people who have been impacted by sexual violence at any time in their lives.
Ms Clarke advised, “sexual violence has prolonged and devastating impacts for survivors and specialist sexual assault services provide the long term specialist support that is required to help people to heal. QSAN services will play a key role in supporting people during this time.”
The QSAN (https://qsan.org.au/) comprises of 23 services throughout Queensland. QSAN is committed to working collaboratively towards ensuring all Queenslanders who experience sexual violence recently or historically, regardless of ability, age, gender, sexual orientation, or cultural background receive a high quality response in line with best practice, client centred principles.
Mr Rushton emphasised that, “this is difficult times for us all. We are social mammals and placing us in isolation goes against everything we are. We need to watch out for our family and neighbours. If you hear anything outside the norm, report it to the police and seek support from specialist services”.
QSAN services are calling on the Government to increase safety for vulnerable people of all ages within their homes at this time by taking the following measures;
• To ensure that specialist sexual assault, domestic violence services and refuge services are identified as essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
• To increase funding for advertisements and service capacity for key helplines including the Sexual Assault Helpline, 1800 RESPECT, DV Connect, the Elder Abuse Helpline, QLife and Kids Helpline.
• Increase funding for refuge services to appropriately and safely house women and children escaping violence, including sexual violence.
• To remove perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence from homes so that woman and children can remain, when it is safe to so.
• Remove barriers to safety for women and their children on temporary visas and New Zealand citizens residing in Australia by allowing them to access services and resources available under recently announced government packages.
• Extend the government coronavirus supplement to those on the Disability Support Pension, who are facing increased risk, have more complex health needs and a shortage of essential items and access to support workers.
• The government to release imprisoned women, children and young people that can be released on parole, medical leave, compassionate grounds or being held on bail, where it is safe to do so.
• Government to support the health and wellbeing of the Sexual Assault Sector workforce.
At a time when large parts of the community are being forced into isolation it is important to remember that for some, the most dangerous place for a woman or a child to be is in their very own homes.
• 1 in 4 Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner since age 15.
• Australian domestic and family violence workers believe that 90-100% of their female clients have experienced intimate partner sexual violence.
• 1 in 6 girls and 1 in 9 boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 15 years, in most cases by a male person known to them.
The survivors QSAN services work with are some of the most resilient people in our communities. They are familiar with facing challenges and navigating their way through. Service users have responded well to the change in services and embraced having different ways of connecting to support in these changing times. We are confident their resilience and strength, along with QSAN services continuing to offer much needed support, will get them through these unprecedented times.
About the Queensland Sexual Assault Network
The Queensland Sexual Assault Network (QSAN) is the peak body for sexual assault in Queensland. QSAN is a state-wide network comprised of 23 non-government services. These services provide 25 specialist sexual assault support and prevention programs throughout Queensland. QSAN is committed to working collaboratively towards ensuring all Queenslanders who experience sexual violence recently or historically, regardless of ability, age, gender, sexual orientation, or cultural background receive a high quality response in line with best practice, client centred principles. QSAN also provides specialised knowledge and state-wide consultation on issues of sexual violence and sexual assault service provision.
Contact: Miranda Clarke & Debbie Aldridge (QSAN Secretariats) Ph. 07 3808 3299, www.qsan.org.au