COVID-19 has created new challenges for us all, however, for many young people the pandemic has compounded highly complex vulnerabilities, including experiences of family violence.
The Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS) supports young people experiencing complex issues including alcohol and other drugs (AOD) use and is conducting an important new project that outlines the unique experience of family violence for young people, particularly during a global crisis such as COVID-19. YSAS understands the need for a public health response to COVID-19, and to support the experiences and needs of young people in accordance with directives and advice from public health authorities.
Last year, YSAS was engaged by Family Safety Victoria (FSV), in a project to align existing youth AOD support sector practices with the Family Violence Capability Framework that emerged from the 2015 Royal Commission into Family Violence. Findings in the early stages of this project shed light onto the intersections between AOD use and family violence for young people and showed opportunities for professionals in the youth AOD sector to better support young people experiencing family violence. The findings quickly demonstrated how complex these intersections were, and how important it was to create service provision models that adequately supported young victim-survivors of family violence.
Particularly for Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), research and public discourse is often centred on adults, despite concepts like gender inequality, power and control being unique for young people, many of whom are entering their first romantic relationships and developing their understanding of what is ‘normal’ during this developmental period.
A lack of specialised understanding of how these factors compound trauma and complexity may create barriers to support-seeking for young people and limit the sector’s ability to respond adequately.
For example, young people may use substances themselves as a way of coping with trauma caused by family violence. Perpetrators may also weaponise substances as a form of power, manipulation and coercion by withholding substances that a victim is dependent on if they do not succumb to the perpetrators control. To create a holistic approach to the prevention of violence and supporting victim-survivors, these factors need to be better understood.
The consequences of the COVID-19 crisis became clear during this year’s project phases, and soon trends emerged in the research indicating higher rates and increased severity of family violence during the pandemic. Demand for housing support and material aid also increased, and some young people who may have previously been living independently moved in with romantic partners to self-isolate together.
This period of increased isolation for young people presented new opportunities for perpetrators to use violence, whilst significant disruptions to service provision posed an additional barrier to help-seeking. In some cases, the pandemic restrictions have been weaponised against victim-survivors, for example by perpetrators giving misleading information about the extent of the restrictions or claiming to be infected with COVID-19 as a form of controlling or manipulating the victim-survivor into remaining isolated.
The implications for these findings are now being used to inform the later phases of the project which explores what knowledge, skills and resources are required by the sector to effectively respond to family violence facing young people, including during the COVID-19 and other crises. Safety plans, which outline strategies for young people to remove themselves from dangerous situations, need to consider additional challenges such as transport availability, impacts on young people’s employment and income, and service availability or disruptions.
YSAS will soon release a report with key findings from its research, and recommendations to support and upskill the sector to better protect young people from violence, and to understand their unique experiences and understanding of family violence, power, control and gender inequality.
This understanding is crucial to creating a sector with the skills and knowledge required to provide young people the opportunity they deserve to develop the skills required to successfully transition into adulthood, access services and support when needed and to ensure that when they do, there is a strong and ready workforce to turn to.
For more information about this project, please see: YSAS Family Violence Project.
If you or someone you know needs support, please contact:
1800 Respect National Helpline 1800 737 732
Women’s Crisis Line 1800 811 811
Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491
Lifeline 24 hour support 131 114
Victoria Safe Steps crisis response line 1800 015 188