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Victims escaping family violence have been exempted from Melbourne’s curfew and lockdown restrictions amid fears abuse will escalate and isolated victims will be less able to get help.
Domestic violence workers said the lockdown is a dangerous time for victims and that they should devise a safety plan such as hiding a second phone in an accessible place if they need to escape.
Abused mums have been advised to teach their children signals and code words to alert them to danger so they can run to a safe location and call police on triple-0.
Victoria Police Family Violence Command Acting Assistant Commissioner Andrea McAlpine told the Sunday Herald Sun reports of family violence have decreased since lockdown restrictions were reimposed in July.
But this may not reflect what is actually happening in homes across the state.
In June – when restrictions from the first lockdown were eased – reports of family violence jumped and police believe this was because victims were more free to leave home and confide in friends or family.
“While we saw a slight decrease in family violence report rates state-wide in July 2020, we remain concerned about the risks that the coronavirus restrictions may pose for some victims,” Ms McAlpine said.
“We are aware that there may be an increased presence and heightened dependence on the perpetrator, and limited contact with friends and family who might detect that family violence crime is occurring during this time.
“No matter how minor someone thinks a matter is, we encourage this to be reported to police rather than having to wait until the restrictions have been lifted.
“Police can and will still respond to family violence incidents as a priority during the coronavirus pandemic.”
Minister for Prevention of Family Violence Gabrielle Williams said staying home “is anything but safe” for some victims and that they won’t be fined if they leave to escape harm.
“If you are experiencing family violence, leaving for your safety is perfectly legitimate. If you are stopped by police, tell them you are feeling unsafe at home and they will help you. You will not be fined,” she said.
A recent Australian Institute of Criminology study found sexual, physical and emotional abuse of women became more severe and frequent at the start of the pandemic.
Domestic Violence Victoria has issued safety advice to victims who find themselves in danger.
The advice includes hiding a second phone, cash, a spare set of keys and important documents where they can be quickly retrieved in an emergency.
Victims are also encouraged to develop an escape plan and back-up plan and rehearse it with children, including in the dark, and organise a safe location where children should run to if in danger.
Victoria Police launched Operation Ribbon in late April to combat and protect family violence victims during the pandemic.
The operation has detected 4033 family violence offences – including serious assaults and intervention order breaches.
Police have charged and remanded 531 perpetrators and arrested a further 433 people who were bailed or summonsed to face court.
A total of 4373 compliance checks have been performed on high-risk perpetrators and police have spoken to 10, 351 affected family members statewide.
SAFETY ADVICE FROM DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTORIA
– If you sense trouble or find yourself in an argument, move to a ‘lower risk space’ such as a room with two exits and fewer things that can be used as weapons, where you can be seen or heard from the outside.
– Kitchens, bathrooms and garages are more dangerous than living rooms, dining rooms or bedrooms. Learn – and teach your children – to get positioned ‘between trouble and the door’.
-Teach the children how to call police 000 and to know their home address.
– Where possible have a charged phone and a back-up plan in case you are separated from your phone, for example have a hidden second phone.
– Create signals and/or code words that will let your children know to get out and go to a prearranged place of safety.
– Have an escape plan and back-up. Rehearse getting out in the dark and with the children. Keep spare keys and important documents where you can get to them readily. Have some money stashed away for emergencies.
– Do whatever it is you need to do to buy time and/or space, to defuse the situation, or to protect yourself and your children.
WORK CONTINUES ON KEY PROJECTS
Critical government building projects worth tens of billions of dollars will be able to continue through stage four restrictions under tough new coronavirus guidelines.
The Andrews government on Saturday announced a list of more than 30 projects that will not stop over the next six weeks.
However, they will operate with reduced staff and be required to enforce strict COVID-19 safety procedures.
The Metro Tunnel, the Monash Freeway upgrade and many level-crossing projects are among the transport builds to make it on to the list.
Staffing levels on sites have nearly halved, with many projects stopped completely unless they met key requirements.
Others were allowed to continue because of the risks to safety or of project damage.
The boring machines on the Metro Tunnel digging under Melbourne need to continue operating or they will sink into the ground.
Other projects listed as critical include efforts to upgrade intensive-care capacity in hospitals, the Sunshine Hospital emergency department and the Northern Hospital Tower.
– Kieran Rooney
HEART ATTACKS COULD KILL MORE THAN COVID
Heart attack deaths are set to soar during Victoria’s COVID crisis because people are too scared to go to hospital.
Director of Melbourne’s Baker Institute and consultant cardiologist Tom Marwick, told the Sunday Herald Sun he was worried people were ignoring signs of a heart attack or stroke because they did not want to risk exposure to coronavirus in a doctor’s clinic or hospital.
But that decision could kill them.
“The reality is the risk of dying from an untreated heart attack is much higher than the risk of dying from COVID-19 … and the chance of catching COVID as a patient in a hospital is very, very low,” he said.
A straw poll of his cardiac colleagues across four Australian states showed the number of people seeking medical help for concerning heart symptoms dropped by more than half during the country’s first coronavirus wave, Prof Marwick said.
“That included people coming to hospital with chest pain, with heart attacks,” he said.
“What we think happened is that people had chest pain but figured they’d stay at home rather than go to hospital and the consequence of that, of course, is that they don’t get the benefits of modern medicine.
“The odds are much more in your favour if you develop chest pain or symptoms of a stroke, when you call triple-0.”
There were robust processes in place to keep people with COVID symptoms and other patients separate in hospitals and doctors’ clinics, so there was nothing to fear by seeking medical help for heart symptoms, Prof Marwick said.
“If have something that could be serious going on with your heart you must respond to it quickly, you must not ignore it,” he said.
During the height of New York’s coronavirus crisis, more people had died at home than before the pandemic, and while COVID was responsible for some of those deaths it was likely others were caused by untreated heart attacks and strokes, he said.
– Mandy Squires
FARMERS SAY DON’T WORRY, WE’LL FILL YOUR PLATE
The peak body for Victorian farmers says it is confident any meat shortages will be short-lived and is urging shoppers to “calm their farm” and not panic buy.
The Victorian Farmers Federation has moved to reassure people there would be a continuous supply of produce and that any disruptions would be minimal.
“I actually think that we might see a few days worth of disruption of, you know, you can’t get the cut of meat you’re looking for, but over the next couple of weeks, it’ll be back to normal,” the federation’s vice president Emma Germano said.
“There’s going to be plenty of food if we stop panic buying it off the shelf, if people just calm their farm.”
The federation held crisis talks on Saturday with representatives from commodity groups, including livestock, dairy, grain and horticulture.
It focused on issues that needed to be raised with the state government in working out how to best protect the state’s food supply chain amid the tighter lockdown restrictions.
Ms Germano said the dramatically different set of rules had posed a major challenge and required a lot of finetuning from industries working with the government,
“It’s just the panic and confusion of, you know, the miscommunication around what a rule actually means. But ultimately, we’re we’ve seen things that seem silly to us or are going to create major disruptions we’ve gotten on the phone with them (the government) and they’ve sorted them out.
“Things are changing so rapidly at the moment and things fluctuate so much on farms anyway, we need to be onto it daily.”
Ms Germano said the focus was on ensuring the agricultural supply chain was open and that disruptions were managed as best as possible.
Werribee South farmer Catherine Velisha said stage four restrictions should have little impact on the masses of vegetables grown in Victoria finding their way on to plates.
“There are so many things to worry about but you shouldn’t worry about having something to eat in Australia,” she said. “There is more than enough food.”
While some shoppers could find their favourite fruit or vegetable missing from shelves one day, Ms Velisha said it was likely to be there the next day and would only be missing due to supply change issues.
The Velisha National Farms director, whose cauliflower, broccoli, kale, spring onion and celery go to major supermarkets, said three times as much food was grown in Australia as was needed.
“There has always been an overproduction of fresh produce, it’s generally for export markets. So there is never any doubt about how much is … growing at any one time.”
– Josh Fagan and Peter Rolfe
COUNCILS SEEK GAP YEAR ON ELECTIONS
Victorian councils have called for elections to be suspended for a year due to the coronavirus.
Councils are scheduled to go to the polls on October 24, with about 2000 candidates and an army of about 20,000 volunteers striving for representation.
But with stage four restrictions in Melbourne until at least mid September, councils and the Municipal Association of Victoria say elections should be delayed on safety, legal and democracy grounds.
MAV president Coral Ross said up to 95 per cent of councils wanted elections deferred, the majority until October next year. And they wanted clear guidelines from the state government about how elections would operate under stage four restrictions, should they go ahead.
“It’s about health and safety but it’s also about having a free and fair election,” Ms Ross said. “Obviously you don’t want to have people out campaigning … we still don’t know what it is you are allowed to do and what you can’t do.”
Concerns have been raised about political candidates campaigning during the state of emergency, or how they will get their messages out if letter box drops and public appearances are illegal.
With NSW already suspending council elections for a year due to COVID-19, Stonnington councillor Jami Klisaris said Victorians should follow suit.
“We’ve been expressing a lot of concern even when we were under the stage three restrictions about exactly how an election and a campaign would operate,’’ Ms Klisaris said.
“Now that we are under stage four with a state of disaster, how do we do this safely and how do we ensure the entire community is involved?”
Elections are expected to be held by postal ballot due to the pandemic.
Government spokesman Tom Whitty said the government would continue to take advice from the chief health officer on stage four restrictions and coming council elections
– Peter Rolfe