Victims of domestic violence who fear reporting because their abusive partner may be bailed to return home under coronavirus restrictions should trust police and the judicial system to protect them.
Legal Aid ACT has sought to reassure victims that while they are correct in their concern about this issue given the current stay-home directions issued to the general population, magistrates are "very much aware" of these new circumstances in assessing bail applications.
Legal Aid's deputy chief executive Jane Campbell said while the interests of the accused were part of the criteria which magistrates consider when assessing bail conditions in domestic violence cases, protection of a vulnerable witness would always carry more importance.
"If you are an accused in these cases, the advice offered is that you must be prepared to find somewhere else to go, even in these difficult times of the pandemic, because that's usually what the magistrate will order," Ms Campbell said.
"It's advised to find a mate who will put you up, or your parents' place, or somewhere where you can couch surf for a while.
"Unless you can give the magistrate an alternative place that you'll be, you'll be in custody."
The advice comes as Canberra's Domestic Violence Crisis Service reports seeing an increase in the complexity of the support sought by clients.
Reports from China and South Korea indicate that domestic violence cases have increased as people have been quarantined during the COVID-19 outbreak.
"We are providing a lot of support to people who are anxious about what is happening now, or what might happen in the future," the service's chief executive officer Sonia Di Mezza said.
"Many of our clients are acknowledging that things might be okay right now, but it is likely to deteriorate in the coming days and weeks."
Ms Di Mezza said the service is anticipating demand on its services to increase further as "many of the touch points people impacted by violence previously engaged with aren't there, such as community support services or physical appointments with medical professionals".
"This will mean people impacted by violence are less likely to engage with specialist domestic and family violence services," she said.
She said the effects of social distancing, isolation and quarantine will have a compounding effect on victims and urged them to reach out.
"We encourage all members of our community to stay in touch with their family, friends and colleagues, especially any they were previously concerned about," she said.
"There are a range of ways to do that, including; text messaging, emails, video conversations and telephone. It's incredibly important we continue to reach out to each other.
"If someone discloses they are in a violent or controlling relationship, it is important you believe them; that you acknowledge their feelings and understand that they might not want to leave the relationship, or might not be sure what they want to do."
ACT chief police officer Ray Johnson says police are yet to see a notable spike in family violence reporting under the current coronavirus health restrictions "but we're aware that support services are seeing more demand, so I suspect this [issue] could be building".
"It's so important that people don't stop reporting. If someone needs protection from an abusive relationship, please call us," he said.
Susan Clarke-Lindfield, chief executive of the Weston Creek-based support service Toora Women, said 88 per cent of all women in its alcohol and other drugs (AOD) health treatment service had also experienced domestic violence.
"Now that the AOD rehabs are not taking in new admissions, women are having to remain in violent situations," Ms Clarke-Lindfield said.
- If you are in a domestic violence crisis situation, you can contact the Domestic Violence Crisis Service in Canberra or call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) for help.
- For information on COVID-19, please go to the ACT Health website or the federal Health Department's website.
- You can also call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080
- If you have serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, call Triple Zero (000)
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