CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses domestic and sexual violence.

A concerning new report based on a survey of 10,000 Aussie women has revealed a link between COVID-19 related financial pressures and increased domestic violence.

The Economic Insecurity And Intimate Partner Violence In Australia During The COVID-19 Pandemic report comes from Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. It asked women who had been in a relationship about their experiences during the first 12 months of this pandemic.

31.6 per cent of the survey respondents said they’d experienced emotionally abusive, harassing and controlling behaviour from a partner or ex.

9.6 per cent experienced physical violence and 7.6 per cent experienced sexual violence.

According to the report, Australian research found that the pandemic coincided with two different types of intimate partner violence. People experienced intimate partner violence for the first time in their relationships, and there was an escalation in ongoing violence.

One of the core findings of the study was the impact of pandemic-related financial pressures on intimate partner violence (IPV).

“There was strong evidence of a relationship between economic insecurity and recent IPV,” said the report.

“Women with higher levels of financial stress were much more likely to have experienced physical and sexual violence or emotionally abusive, harassing and controlling behaviours relative to women who reported low levels of financial stress in the last 12 months.”

The report clarified that this relationship between financial stress and IPV only seemed to be true for first-time victims of domestic violence.

Women who’d reported economic hardship were also more likely to experience domestic violence than those who hadn’t.

“Economic hardship was associated with both first-time and repeat violence, suggesting that it may be a cause of IPV in some relationships and in others be characteristic or a consequence of the type of financial abuse experienced by victims and survivors of IPV.”

As well as these findings, the report’s authors said there was evidence of economic disparity in relationships “being associated with a higher likelihood of IPV”.

Women who were the main breadwinners were more likely to experience physical and sexual violence as well as emotional abuse, harassment and controlling behaviour.

“Notably, as with financial stress, this relationship only existed for victims and survivors of first-time violence, suggesting that it too was a contributing factor to the violence experienced by respondents,” said the report.

While women who were the primary-income earners were more likely to experience domestic violence than those who weren’t, women whose employment was impacted by the pandemic also reported higher rates of domestic violence.

“Women who had lost their job, taken a pay cut or reduced their hours (hereafter referred to as job loss or lost work) were significantly more likely than women whose employment was unaffected during the pandemic to have experienced physical violence and sexual violence by their current or most recent partner for the first time,” said the report.

The report also found that when people’s partners lost employment, there was an increased likelihood of first-time physical violence or first-time emotional abuse and harassment.

Women who’d previously experienced domestic violence were found to be four times more likely to experience physical violence if their partner had taken a pay cut, reduced hours or lost their job.

According to one of the study’s authors Anthony Morgan, while it’s impossible to say definitely that first-time violence is caused by economic or financial stress, there was a strong relationship between the two.

“I think it’s fairly strong evidence, and complementary to the work that’s been undertaken around the world,” he said, as per the ABC.

“It was kind of this confluence of financial stress, losing work time at home, increased pressure in terms of childcare. There were a whole range of factors coming together.”

Mariam Mourad, the CEO of Bankstown women’s health service and Fairfield women’s health service in Sydney also told the ABC that she had seen an increase in intimate partner violence cases.

“We had a new cohort of women who have never experienced or reported domestic violence in the past,” Mourad said.

“We had to work with this cohort to talk to them about how to support them and how to access the justice system and to access police after hours. It was very difficult, very challenging.”

“We end up with all the domestic violence work because we are connected to the women and women know us and we provide safe and secure services for women.”

According the the report’s authors, the findings of the study fit with a growing spread of international evidence which links the economic pressures of COVID-19 with both first-time and escalated domestic violence.

“Findings draw attention to the need to address women’s economic security and not only within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its short- and long-term economic consequences.”

Image: Getty Images / Lisa Maree Williams