Evidence is emerging that the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 is increasing incidents of domestic and family violence (D&FV).

Police are reporting higher numbers of callouts to D&FV incidents. Search engines are flagging that there are significant increases in searches for D&FV support. Research tells us that during disasters, the incidents of D&FV increase. We also know that the number of D&FV incidents increase when families spend more time together during holidays like Christmas and Easter.

To better understand the impact of COVID-19 on frontline D&FV services, WESNET, the peak body for specialist women’s domestic and family violence services, surveyed their member organisations throughout April. Findings show that a phone is now the primary way for frontline services to support their clients.

Telstra and WESNET, in partnership since 2014, work together to help women impacted by D&FV to stay safely connected. Telstra donates smartphones with $30 of pre-paid credit to WESNET to give to women impacted by D&FV. WESNET provides the phones through its network of specially trained frontline agencies across the country.

This April we are providing WESNET with 6,000 smartphones. This will bring the number of devices provided so far in 2020 to 8,000. We want to help where we can, and this is something we know makes a difference. For survivors, having access to a smartphone that is safe and knowing how to keep it secure, is a lifeline. During COVID-19 this has become even more essential.

Domestic violence is a pattern of power and control. Many of the women that Safe Connections helps have never had access to a phone in their own name before. For others, the technology that makes our lives more connected and convenient – social media, online accounts and the wide range of apps and services now available through them – is misused by abusers, enabling them to harass, threaten, monitor, stalk and even locate their victims. This type of abuse can escalate after a victim leaves a relationship, making it impossible for them to truly escape and rebuild their lives.

The Telstra Safe Connections program does not just provide a smartphone. Teaching women how to set up their new smartphone safely and stop this abuse is another critical element of this program.

We will continue to provide phones to Safe Connections. However, phones are only part of what is needed to continue the program. Government funding which supports the WESNET team behind the program ends in March 2021, and donations are needed to keep this vital program running.

For more information on how we can all help, go to domestic and family violence assistance on telstra.com.au.