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How a simple hand signal could help victims of domestic violence in lockdown.

This article contains references to domestic abuse and may be triggering for some readers. If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). 

Among the terrifying statistics coming out surrounding COVID-19, there has been another major spike that isn’t getting nearly as much attention: Domestic violence.

As we all returned home, most were thankful to be retreating to their own personal havens to be with loved ones and to spend some quality time with our partners. However, the reality of being locked up at home was much more haunting for victims of domestic abuse. 

Watch: Domestic violence: the hidden numbers. (Post continues below.) 


Video via Mamamia.

Abuse rates are up dramatically during this time, with it now being reported that one in 10 Australian women are dealing with domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic. 

A survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology revealed that women who had experienced physical or sexual violence pre-COVID are now experiencing violence much more frequently or severely since the first lockdown.

Speaking to Mamamia in May, Renata Field, media spokesperson for Domestic Violence New South Wales (DVNSW), said domestic violence tends to go up whenever people are spending more time at home together - Christmas, Easter, school holidays. 

Add to that the pressures of people losing jobs and financial concerns, she said, and you have a “melting pot, where people are at significant risk of domestic violence”. 

In Melbourne, with a state-mandated stage 4 lockdown, there's an even more pronounced risk. 

“The lockdown is a particularly dangerous time for people experiencing domestic and family violence because social isolation is a tool that people who use violence use to harm their victim,” Field told Mamamia. “So if there is an enforced social isolation by the state, then those people are going to be more isolated, and it will be even more challenging for them to reach out for support."

According to Field, the two most important things we can do if we suspect someone in our lives is experiencing abuse, is to listen and believe. And now, a new official hand signal spreading around the globe - serving as a silent and safe cry for help - might make that easier. 

Watch: The domestic violence hand signal allowing victims to ask for help. Post continues after video.




This signal can be subtly performed while a victim is on a FaceTime call with a friend, using their body to shield any glances from their abuser. 

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It involves a simple two-step movement of placing their palm forward with their thumb tucked in before ‘trapping’ their thumb under their four fingers. 

Domestic violence hand signal. Image via the Canadian Women's Foundation.

What to do after you see the domestic violence hand signal

The key thing to note if a friend or family member shows this signal to you is to not react. As frightened as you may be, you may compromise the victim’s safety if you reveal that you’ve seen the signal.

So, these are the steps you should follow post-signal to get your friend or family member to safety. 

  • Say nothing out loud once you’ve spotted the signal
  • Nod or signal back with an ‘okay’ sign or thumbs up to let the victim know you’ve received the message and continue verbally with the conversation you were having
  • Once the call has ended, ring the safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 to ask for advice on how you can get your friend or family member help

Another way to help is to spread the intel about this hand signal, as far and wide as you can. Because if someone bravely gives out the hand signal on a call and the receiver has no idea what’s going on, that victim is left unassisted in their frightening environment.

Field says, "if somebody is in immediate risk, then always call the police."

"We know that people do die - one woman a week dies, and one child a fortnight - so domestic and family violence is a risk, and it’s important if you think someone is imminently at harm, then to call the police."

But listening and believing - and being a safe person to come to - is one of the most valuable roles we can play in helping victims.

"Never pressure someone to do what you think they need to do," Field said. "Because in the end a person who’s experiencing violence always knows their risk."

So spread the good work of the Canadian Women’s Network and keep an eye out for the signal, so you can support a victim in need. 

If you or someone you care about is living with family violence please call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.


Featured image: Canadian Women's Foundation. 


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