COVID-19 lockdown blamed for spike in Illawarra sexual assaults

COVID-19 lockdown blamed for spike in sexual assaults

There's been a 33 per cent increase in the number of reported sexual assaults in the Illawarra in the 12 months to June 2020, and the COVID-19 lockdowns have been partially to blame.

According to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research's quarterly results, a total of 262 sexual assaults were reported to police in the year to June 2020 - which was 66 more than reported in the same period the previous year.

The 2020 reports included 86 adult victims; 55 child victims who reported the assault as adults, and 121 child victims who reported when a child.

The Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District's Domestic Family Violence and Sexual Assault Service manager Robert Bosevski said the 24-hour integrated medical forensic and counselling service had also recorded a 30 per cent increase in presentations.

"We have seen a fairly significant spike in recent months," he said. "As people are going out more since lockdown restrictions eased, we are seeing people come into the hospital after being sexually assaulted.

As people are going out more since lockdown restrictions eased, we are seeing people come into the hospital after being sexually assaulted.

ISLHD Domestic Family Violence and Sexual Assault Service manager Robert Bosevski

"While people were in lockdown, people also reported their assault. During lockdown, when someone was living with someone who was assaulting them, it was hard for that person to get out and tell someone.

"It is a concerning trend."

Mr Bosevski said in two or three months, health professionals would likely see the full impact of the effect COVID had had on sexual assault incidents when new crime statistics are released.

Illawarra Women's Health Centre general manager Sally Stevenson said the service had seen an increase in women seeking support after they experienced sexual assault in lockdown or since restrictions eased.

"Our centre has mainly seen an accelerated trend in domestic and family violence. But there is no doubt the number of sexual assault incidents have gone up.

"We are seeing women reach out for holistic support. If the reported cases have gone up by 30 per cent then the actual figures are horrific as we know most women don't report their assaults.

"The experience of sexual assault has immediate and long lasting effects on women's physical and mental health.

"We try to work with women as soon as possible to help treat their trauma so it can be managed and hopefully they can recover from it."

Ms Stevenson wasn't surprised to hear women didn't want to report assaults as they could be mocked, retraumatised and simply not believed during the reporting process. "It is good for assaults to be reported but if a woman doesn't want to do that then we will support that decision," she said.

National sexual assault support: 1800 RESPECT, Illawarra Women's Health Centre: 4255 6800 or Illawarra Violence, Abuse and Neglect Service: 1300 792 755.

This story COVID-19 lockdown blamed for spike in sexual assaults first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.