The women’s support sector swiftly adapted to the throes of remote support, though for organisations like the Women’s Information and Referral Exchange (WIRE), it has still been fraught with challenges.
In a recent survey conducted by Monash University, the amount of first-time family violence reports increased by 42 per cent in Victoria and support practioners struggled working remotely, due to COVID-19.
Chief Executive Officer of WIRE, Julie Kun said that COVID has only demonstrated how “resilient and strong” women are.
“As society was pivoting, women were as well. We hear stories after stories of women who kept themselves and their children safe whilst in lockdown experiencing family violence and really abusive behaviour,” Kun said.
Teleconferencing has enabled women to get the support they need remotely, but people have struggled without the in-person connection that they specifically seek from support organisations like WIRE.
“For a long time, people haven’t had that face to face response and that can be really important, to really get the sense of that support worker, you really get to see whether they’re understanding or believing you by way of body language,” Kun said.
Without the resources to get help remotely, some have not been able to receive the free services that Wire provides.
“You have challenges that you don’t have face to face such as internet dropout or people who don’t have access to the internet. You have homeless people that are experiencing trauma and need to get services but don’t have the devices or the Wi-Fi to do it,” Kun said.
WIRE is committed to offering the safest possible services, though during these times it has been out of their control to an extent, as they have not been able to provide their normal safe physical space.
“We’ve needed to think about how can we safely contact people and get very personal information through the internet. Do you have a password that is secure or could people who know you easily access your emails? They’re constant conversations that we need to have,”
“Many services have said that family violence being committed through cyber stalking and hacking have increased during COVID…. We do have people that do harm through accessing peoples technology without their knowledge and stalking,” Kun said.
Remote support has also meant that people who don’t have English as a first language have had an additional barrier with online services as “face to face can be really helpful if you don’t speak English properly,” Kun said.
COVID has also caused great delay for some access to the support needed in order for WIRE to help enact important changes for them.
“We have people constantly telling us that they can’t access services as easily as they could before… we have longer waiting lists to return phone calls, a constant frustration of people who are wanting information and support and to get it in a timely manner,” Kun said.
Despite its drawbacks, Kun can see an ongoing benefit with more options available for people. People with mobility issues have described COVID as “the great leveler”, bridging the gap between those physically able and those less so or not at all.
WIRE is the only state-wide free information & referral service for Victorian women, non-binary and gender-diverse people. If you would like support from WIRE, please find their information below:
Contact via phone on 1300 134 130 (9am to 5pm Monday – Friday)