In this episode, Alex speaks with Liz Mackinlay – the Chair of Mary’s House – about the domestic violence crisis in Australia and the growing concerns that the COVID-19 Pandemic will in fact further worsen the situation for victims.

Mary’s House is a community funded hostel for women and children who are escaping domestic violence. Based in the northern suburbs of Sydney, Mary’s House provides accommodation and professional services that enables residents to be safe, hopeful and empowered to rebuild their lives.

How Big A Problem Is Domestic Violence in Australia?

Liz Mackinlay
Chair of Mary’s House

Many believe that even pre COVID-19, domestic violence should be regarded as a matter of national emergency in Australia. Here are the statistics, according to the ABS:

  • 2.2 million adults have been victims of physical and/or sexual violence from a partner
  • On average, one woman is killed every week by a current or former intimate partner in Australia
  • 74 Australian women and 27 children died in 2019, most at the hands of someone they loved

According to Liz, these statistics only represent the extreme end of the domestic violence continuum. Reported physical violence is the extreme end of a continuum of violence that could have started as coercive control or financial and psychological abuse.

Where Do Where Start In Trying To Solve Such A Complex Problem?

Liz believes we need to have a conversation as a society that includes all levels of government that asks why is this happening. What is the sense of entitlement from the men who are perpetrating this violence?

She believes that until good Australian men stand up and speak to the men they know about this issue that this will remain a women’s conversation. A conversation that focuses on how we can keep our sisters, friends, and daughters safe.

It’s well known that if men have been raised in a situation of violence and their only known model of conflict resolution is abuse and coercive control – then they don’t have the skills to be able to navigate many of life’s challenges in a non-violent way.

There are also men who believe it is their right and that they are justified in what they do.

Why Are Reported Cases Still Increasing Despite Recent Government Attention and Increased Funding?

The reality is that while men can get away with perpetrating domestic and family violence and while it’s not being reported or successfully dealt with in the courts or the woman can’t escape from the situation, nothing will change. She believes that the problem of domestic violence in Australia is a ‘wicked’ problem ie it has multiple facets to it.

Liz believes we need to address our policing response, our court response and support options for women which requires more funding. The recent Federal Government funding of $150 million was for phone services but we need more front line services such as community centres so women can explore their options.

In 2015, Victoria held the first Royal Commission into Domestic and Family Violence, prompted by the murder of Luke Batty. As a result of this, they invested $3 billion into services for women. Victoria spends more on domestic violence per capita than any other Australian state.

How Is the Corona Pandemic Affecting Women Who Are Experiencing Domestic Violence?

In order to access domestic violence services, women need to be referred by their GP, counsellor or even the police. But as the nation is locked down while we social distance and wait out the Corona pandemic, many women are no longer able to access these referral points. And while in theory they may be able to call, if they are trapped in a house with a controlling partner, then there is little privacy available to make such a call.

Mary’s House are currently experiencing a drop in referrals as a result of COVID-19 however they are aware that the incidences of domestic nd family violence may be on the increase as many families experience heightened levels of stress as a result of being quarantined together as well as deteriorating financial health.

What Happens To A Woman If She Can’t Find a Place to Go?

NSW police have a policy that if a women presents herself at a police station or hospital, and a bed can’t be found in a refuge then they will find her a safe place in a hotel.

Mary’s House To Open The Daisy Centre – a Community Outreach Service

Mary’s House will soon be opening the Daisy Centre – a community based case management service which will offer group education and financial counselling and support for those experiencing domestic and fmaily violence.

The Daisy Centre will operate as a virtual service while social distancing laws remain in place. The centre can be contacted via 1800

How Does An Average Day Look Like At The Refuge?

When a woman first arrives at Mary’s House, a case worker is assigned to each resident to develop an individual plan. The aim is to help each woman reframe the architecture in their lives and regain their independence.

The first job of the case work is to formalise a safety plan for the woman. She will then help the woman develop a financial plan, independence plan and assist with work and court proceedings, if required. Some women may still continue to work and take their kids to school. Many may need to retrain and develop a new skill.

Most women stay on average 3 months. Liz says that if they stay any longer, it becomes too hard for them to leave. It’s very easy to get a little stuck in the security of the refuge which makes it harder to re-enter the real world. The aim of the service is to help the women live independently. Once they have left the hostel, the case worker will contine to support them and connect them to services as required.

Do Mary’s House Need Donations?

While Mary’s House is very grateful for the many generous offers from the community, they request that any goods be donated directly to St Vincents de Paul at Crows Nest. Mary’s House has an arrangement with Vinnies and are able to access donated goods when they are required.

What To Do If You, Or Anyone You Know, Is In Danger As A Result of Domestic Violence

If you or someone you know is in a violent relationship or family situation, then it is essential to work out what your plan is to leave. The window will open and an opportunity will present itself for you to leave so you need you can activate.

Be reassured that there is an army of people who want to help you. You may feel alone but you aren’t alone. There is help available to you.’

How To Get Help

If you are in immediate danger, please call 000 and request assistance from the police.

Lifeline in 13 11 14

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636

National Domestic Violence Service 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78

Referrals for Mary’s House can be emailed to referrals@maryshouse.org.au

You can listen to the episode here: