Extreme spike in domestic violence and mental health calls to PNG helpline: new report

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A new report released by ChildFund Australia has analysed over 50,000 calls made to its 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpin Lain in PNG over 2019-2021, and paints a concerning picture of the impact of the pandemic on increasing domestic violence and exacerbating mental health issues.

ChildFund Australia CEO Margaret Sheehan says the new report shows calls relating to mental health have increased by 263% since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The pandemic has placed an enormous amount of pressure on communities in PNG,” she said. “While we acknowledge the importance of lockdown measures, they have often meant that women were trapped with abusers, had limited access to support and family homes and have been at greater risk of domestic violence than ever before. “This new report shows that the pandemic has had a significant toll on mental health and has exacerbated existing domestic violence in PNG families.”

In the initial weeks of PNG calling a State of Emergency, the Helpin Lain phone lines slowed down.

“We had serious concerns that calls were reducing whilst women remained trapped with their perpetrators,” said ChildFund PNG Country Director, Anand Das says, “Sadly, as expected, we then experienced a sudden spike in calls in May as situations for many families reached a crisis point during lockdowns.

“Domestic violence remains a major issue here in PNG and we must do everything we can to protect women and children and help perpetrators to break the cycle,” Mr Das said. “It’s going to take a whole-of-community approach to reduce domestic violence, but we know that there is hope. Since starting the helpline in 2015, we have been engaging the community more and more to be aware of this issue and providing them with the tools and counselling they need.”

During 2019-2021, the Helpline also began providing general COVID-19 information and support.

“After the pandemic began, we were able to rapidly expand the Helpline in May 2020 to ensure we could provide all the support that communities in PNG might need during these turbulent times – this included referring callers onto the PNG National COVID Hotline when relevant,” Ms Sheehan said. “Helpline counsellors provided information about COVID-19, support for tuberculosis patients (whose treatment had been interrupted due to lockdown measures), and increased psychosocial support for those experiencing distress due to the virus and associated restrictions.”

ChildFund’s helpline service, is PNG’s first, and only, national telephone service, offering callers information, crisis counselling, safety planning, suicide intervention and referral to support services.

A service provider working on the helpline says, “Without the support from the 1-Tok, we would not have been able to support the children like we did. We would not have been able to accommodate them, give them food and ensure their safety.”

The report includes information from the most recent Demographic Health Survey 2016-2018, which found that 56% of Papua New Guinean women experienced physical violence in the 12 months prior to the survey and 28% of them have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

Photos of the helpline centre here

Media contact: Dishi Gahlowt, +61 434 159 833, dishigahlowt@essentialmedia.com.au

The full report can be found here:

Online launch event features high profile speakers including Senator the Hon Marise Payne, ABC Board Director Dr Jane Connors, and James Gilling, First Assistant Secretary, Humanitarian, NGOs and Partnerships Division

Sixteen Australian charities joined forces for the first time today Friday 6 August, to launch the newly-formed Emergency Action Alliance at an online event that featured prominent government leaders, media executives and charity leaders. In an historic move, the humanitarian agencies will be uniting in their campaign and fundraising efforts to improve how Australians can support and donate when large scale overseas humanitarian disasters take place.

The CEOs of the charities believe that through this new single fundraising entity more money can be raised from the Australian public more quickly so that there can be a rapid distribution of funds allocated to where the money is most needed.  This will save more lives and can enable the quicker and more efficient rebuilding of communities.

Executive Director of the Emergency Action Alliance, Kerren Morris says, “Around the globe, the number of large-scale disasters are increasing. The complexity of these emergencies are also accelerating, and new factors such as the COVID pandemic mean that communities are even more vulnerable.  It’s no surprise that the needs for disaster response and recovery are escalating. Our member organisations already work in close collaboration during a disaster response – but there has been a common agreement that a more formal alliance was needed to make it easier for donors to give. Today is an historic moment in Australia’s response to disaster relief.”

The online launch on Friday featured high profile speakers including Senator the Hon Marise Payne, ABC Board Director Dr Jane Connors, James Gilling, First Assistant Secretary (Humanitarian, NGOs and Partnerships Division), CEO of ACFID Marc Purcell, CEO of Fundraising Institute of Australia Katherine Raskob, and each of the EAA member CEOs.

Matthew Maury, the Chair of EAA Board and CEO of Tearfund Australia says, “Australians are incredibly generous when a disaster strikes and the EAA is designed to maximise the impact of this generosity.  When a crisis occurs, the Emergency Action Alliance works with its 16 members to quickly direct resources to the member agencies best positioned to respond to the disaster. It is a privilege to have this opportunity to join with my fellow Australian NGO leaders as we collaborate in this innovative way to raise more support for the most vulnerable communities around the world in their time of greatest need.”

Morris concludes, “When there’s a huge disaster or crisis overseas that gains media attention here in Australia, it can be hard for generous, compassionate supporters to know how to help, where to donate and who to trust with their donation. We know from research that any hesitancy can inhibit an individual’s likelihood to help. Through the Emergency Action Alliance donors will have confidence that their donation will be helpful to the people and communities impacted by the disaster.”

The full list of member organisations of the EAA are: Action Aid, ADRA, Act for Peace, Australian Lutheran World Service, Anglican Overseas Aid, Baptist World Aid, Caritas Australia, Care, CBM, ChildFund Australia, Oxfam, Plan International, Save the Children, Tearfund Australia, Australia for UNHCR, and World Vision.

For more information on the Emergency Action Alliance please visit emergencyaction.org.au