Children were told their mothers would die of Covid-19, deprived of food, education and medical care and exposed to further violence by abusive parent figures during lockdowns, according to a new report.
An organization that supports victims of domestic abuse says the government’s ‘ambiguous’ advice on shared custody arrangements for children during lockdowns and how systems have responded to Covid-19 has helped create an environment that ‘has yet allowed violence and abuse”.
A report by The Backbone Collective, a national coalition of survivors of violence against women in Aotearoa, compiled information from a survey of 35 women who shared childcare arrangements with their former abusive partners. , many of whom are said to have “weaponized” pandemic restrictions against them.
“These abusers used isolation, fear, risk of illness and lack of clarity and inconsistency of information to control, isolate and abuse their ex/partners and children,” he said.
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The report came after the organization wrote to government and court officials in March 2020, asking for clarification on the rules applicable to parents and children who were subject to parental joint custody orders, warning of the opportunity for abusers to use the pandemic to exacerbate their abuse.
Two days earlier, Senior Family Court Judge Jacquelyn Moran clarified rules regarding custody arrangements for children subject to family court orders, saying the primary consideration was that parents make decisions in the best interests of their children.
However, Backbone Collective co-founder Deborah Mackenzie said it would have been “impossible” for women experiencing domestic violence to put the conflict aside.
Kathryn George / Stuff
Domestic violence isn’t always a scene in Once Were Warriors. Most often, it involves men controlling women, sometimes without any physical violence. (Video first published in September 2020)
“Pretending that people can just get along because there’s a pandemic is dangerously unrealistic when there’s violence and abuse,” she said.
Survey results found that mothers’ concerns were “deeply linked” to their children’s experiences, reporting that some abusers refused to let their children talk to or see their mothers for long periods of time.
The 68 children in the study who spent time with their abuser during lockdown – two-thirds of whom were under the age of 14 – experienced a range of abusive behaviors, most of which were prevented from contacting their mothers, more than half were verbally abused and a quarter physically abused.
“Some children were neglected and deprived of food and attention, some were prevented from participating in online learning and deprived of medical care,” the report said.
The pandemic has been used to ‘psychologically abuse’ children, survey respondents said, with almost half reporting that the abuser told their children their mother was going to die of Covid-19 and that they would never see her again.
Additionally, there have been reports of abusers flouting restrictions, exposing children to others during lockdowns, refusing to share close contact information, and in some cases refusing to vaccinate children or vaccinating them without their mother’s consent.
Shine’s senior domestic violence adviser, Rachel Kain, said the findings reflected what her organization had witnessed.
“Covid hasn’t caused domestic violence, but what we’ve seen a lot of increased severity of violence, I think is partly related to isolation,” she said. “We had a lot of really extreme controlling behavior, a lot of bad physical aggression, a lot of psychological control and Covid weaponry.”
National Network of Family Violence Services chief executive Merran Lawler said there was “nothing surprising” in the report.
“It’s deeply disturbing… The violence tended to take different forms, it tended to escalate, it tended to encounter system responses that were unprepared for this phantom pandemic. [of violence against women and children] occurring.
Inspector Janelle Timmins, head of integrated community response, said there had been an increase in reports of family harm during the alert level restrictions.
“We recognize that the past two years with periods of Covid restrictions have put considerable pressure on a number of families, and the alert level restrictions may have made it more difficult to report incidents,” he said. she stated.
Timmins said police recognize the restrictions create additional pressure where co-parenting orders are in place.
Families and Sexual Violence Minister Marama Davidson said she would take the time to work closely on the report.
“We were aware from the outset that lockdowns could exacerbate pressures that can be risk factors for violence, including victim-survivors’ feelings of isolation.”
Davidson said as a priority, domestic violence and sexual violence services had been categorized as essential services, so they could operate during the lockdown and additional funding had been provided.
“While people are not expected to remain in dangerous situations during the pandemic and information has been released to raise awareness about this, we welcome any ideas on how we can improve the transmission of these messages to families and individuals at risk.”
Justice Department operations director Carl Crafar said that as of mid-March 2020, Te Puna Aonui coordinated the pandemic task force, which involved a wide range of community and government representatives. government.
“It has become an effective forum for representatives of the sector to identify issues facing families experiencing violence, and for them to share innovations and good practices related to the delivery of domestic violence response services and sexual violence in the context of Covid-19.”