Backbone Collective report identifies experiences of abuse during pandemic in Aotearoa

Wed 17 Aug 2022

The Backbone Collective has released a new report about the experiences of women victim-survivors who had already separated from the abuser.

Child and Woman Standing Near Water at sunset

The report, Shining Light on the Shadow: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on abuser behaviour (2022), shares the findings from an online survey of 35 women victim-survivors about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The women described how former partners used the pandemic as a new tool/weapon of abuse, highlighting that:

"These abusers used the isolation, fear, risk of illness and lack of clarity and inconsistency of information, to control, isolate and abuse their ex/partners and children. The types of abuse described by participants included psychological, physical, litigation and financial. Abusers frequently forced contact with the adult victim-survivor and children using in most cases online platforms and/or court ordered contact with children to do so."

While all but one respondent was separated from the abuser at the time of the survey, and more than half had been separated for over five years, the women reported experiencing ongoing abuse and also reported their children's experience of violence and abuse while the children were in court ordered unsupervised care with the abuser during lockdowns.

Of the 65% of respondents (22 women) who said their abusive partner's behaviour changed (50%) or might have changed (15%) during the pandemic, the majority said the abuser's behaviour was worse during the pandemic (82%).

Respondents reported the abuser used the pandemic to further abuse. This included using public health measures to control, threaten and stalk them or their children, financial and economic abuse and forcing contact, often through court ordered contact with children.

The Backbone Collective also found that the ongoing abuse the women experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic "...was deeply interconnected with their mothering and their own children’s experiences of abuse." Women reported that the abuser prevented them from having contact with their children, put the children at risk of getting COVID or prevented the children from getting care when they were ill with COVID, and told the children "...frightening things about COVID-19 including that they would not see their mother again or that she would die of COVID-19."

Women sought help from the Family Court, Police, support services, counsellors and specialist family violence providers. While helpful responses were most likely to be provided by specialist family violence services and counsellors, the Backbone Collective reported that:

"Overall these victim-survivors describe a system response that overlooked their safety and welfare needs, failed to identify the risk that separated women and children faced during the pandemic, forced their children into lockdown care with abusers and failed to respond when they raised the alarm."

Throughout the survey, respondents shared feedback for family court, police and support services including:

  • "Just because a relationship ends, that does not mean the violence and abuse ends too.
  • It is not safe to recommend that an abusive ex partner drop children to the victim-survivor’s house in lockdown.
  • Children who spent time without their protective parent in the abuser’s care in lockdown were stressed and traumatised by that experience. The impact of that experience is ongoing for these children.
  • Mothers of children who were separated from their children during the lockdowns were traumatised by that experience. The impact on these mothers continues.
  • Abusers increased their control of victim-survivors and children during the pandemic. That control impacted on victim-survivors’ relationships with other family members, working life, financial situation and mental health and is ongoing.
  • Court proceedings brought about by abuser behaviour in response to the pandemic have been drawn out and continue for victim-survivors in this study."

The report includes services that survey participants identified are needed to support victim-survivors and children during the pandemic and similar situations. The report concludes with a number of recommendations for government and non-government agencies to respond safely to the needs of victim-survivors both for the COVID-19 pandemic and future situations.

There is a growing amount of research focused on violence against women and children in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to add new research to our library - search our library under the quick topic search COVID-19. Also see the June 2022 special issue of the Journal of Gender-Based Violence focused on The COVID-19 pandemic and gender-based violence.

Related news

The Justice Committee is calling for submissions on the Family Court (Family Court Associates) Legislation Bill. The bill proposes to create a new Family Court Associate role. The Family Court Associate would be a judicial officer, enabling them to take on some work currently undertaken by judges, such as making decisions in the early stages of proceedings. The purpose of this new role is to improve outcomes and reduce court delays for people who participate in Family Court proceedings, particularly children. The closing date for submissions is 14 September 2022.

The Justice Committee is also calling for submissions on the Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) (Overseas Travel Reporting) Amendment Bill and Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) No 175. The bill would require registered child sex offenders to provide additional information to Police before travelling overseas. The SOP would allow for the exchange of information between Customs and Police. The closing date to make a submission is 14 September 2022.

In July 2022 Justice Minister Kiri Allan announced further details about the changes to the legal aid scheme.

Related media

'Your mother is going to die of Covid-19': How domestic abusers used the pandemic to further harm their victims, Stuff, 13.08.2022

Justice delayed is justice denied, RNZ, 03.08.2022

Justice system backlog at “acute pinch point”, The Spinoff, 29.07.2022

Victims at risk as justice stalled due to 'exorbitant' court delays, Stuff, 28.07.2022

Divorce 'warfare': The legal tactics when marriage break-ups turn ugly, NZ Herald, 25.07.2022

Family Court 'unsafe' and 'brutal': UN human rights committee calls for inquiry, NZ Herald, 23.07.2022

New family court roles to ease judge workloads and speed up cases, Stuff, 05.07.2022

Government action to tackle delays in Family Court, Beehive media release, 05.07.2022

The Truth About Single Mothers And Domestic Violence: How we’re punishing women for leaving violent relationships, Primer [Australian], July 2022

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