The flow on effects of COVID-19 have been harmful. As a result of lockdown restrictions, family relationships have been more strained than ever before, unemployment, depression and anxiety have increased and, consequently, rates of domestic abuse and violence have skyrocketed. In July this year, the Australian Institute of Criminology revealed that almost 10 per cent of Australian women in a relationship had experienced domestic violence during the COVID-19 crisis (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2021, in Power, 2021). ‘COVID doesn’t make an abuser … But COVID exacerbates it. It gives them more tools, more chances to control you. The abuser says, “You can’t go out; you’re not going anywhere”, and the government also is saying, “You have to stay in” (Kluger, 2021). Calls to the New South Wales Lifeline helpline have risen by 27 per cent since the Sydney lockdown began last year (Power, 2021).
For students and staff of Excelsia College, the Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment (SASH) task force is on site to deal with issues of assault, with support officers trained in recognising cases where students may report being assaulted. One of the support officers is Dr Dion Khlentzos, Senior Lecturer in Counselling at Excelsia College. Dr Khlentzos is writing two papers concurrently on domestic violence, one with his former PhD research supervisor from Western Sydney University, on fathers in recovery from addictions. As part of his research, Dr Khlentzos ran an emotion-focused parenting program with the Salvation Army. There, he heard men’s stories and realised violence during childhood was a common theme. The men’s violent behaviour was repeated in their own families and a number of the men admitted to having been violent at some level in their intimate partner relationships. ‘These men had been mandated to do a rehab program with the Salvation Army or Odyssey House. Sometimes they had the choice of going to jail or doing the rehab program and one of the things that really motivated them to do rehab was their relationships with their children,’ Dr Khlentzos explains. ‘That’s why we thought a parenting program for them as they recover from addictions could be really helpful for them to engage better with their children when they come back out. Part of the recovery process is becoming more emotionally stable, less addicted to alcohol and more aware of other people, so they are less likely to offend again.’ As the Salvation Army is set within a Christian world view, a number of the offenders also spoke about a renewed relationship with God as they recovered.
The research revealed a lot of surprising truths to Dr Khlentzos, including that the men were more emotionally engaged and aware than he had expected. ‘I thought they would switch off a bit when talking about emotions and feel like it’s too sensitive or un-manly – a lot of them coming out of addictions and from impoverished backgrounds– but they were actually pretty engaged and realised they did have to get better at emotionally connecting with their children as well as engaging in shared activities with them,’ says Dr Khlentzos. He sees his work as aligning with his Christian faith which supports truth, love, and compassion. ‘What that does is grounds me in terms of not going off chasing after theories that have very little evidence because it might be a personal interest but being as honest as possible about the research and looking at both sides of the argument…and conveying that to my students.’
‘Excelsia’s counselling courses are incredibly relevant to our current times and explore themes of domestic violence within various units. For example, in the unit Relational Dynamics, couple relationships are discussed and there’s a lecture on domestic violence. In the unit Development and Diversity, women’s issues and gender in domestic violence is explored, and lastly in the unit Ethics, individuals’ ethical responsibilities as counsellors in responding to domestic violence is explored,’ says Dr Khlentzos. As part of their course, Master of Counselling students must complete 100 hours of working with clients face to face outside of COVID-19 times. This is across clinics, organisations and placement organisations. Students also must undergo their own therapy with the College’s counsellors. Using this knowledge attained throughout their studies, Excelsia counselling students can run support groups for people with various addictions and mental health issues, provide women’s crisis counselling support, and work in a local church or private institution.
If you have a heart for social justice or for supporting marginalised groups, why not consider a Graduate Certificate in Counselling or Master of Counselling? The Certificate and Master are available to students who have completed an undergraduate degree in a related field like social work and psychology. Both courses are accredited by Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) and the Australian Counselling Association (ACA).
If you feel you need support, Excelsia College’s Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment (SASH) policy and procedure are available to Excelsia’s staff and students. If you need to report an incident at the College, please go to https://excelsia.wufoo.com/forms/sexual-assaultsexual-harassment/
The following support services are available if you need to speak to a qualified professional:
- Lifeline (13 11 14)
- Beyond Blue (1300 224 636)
- Domestic Violence Line (1800 65 64 63)
Australian Institute of Criminology. (2021). The prevalence of domestic violence among women during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Australian Institute of Criminology. https://www.aic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-07/sb28_prevalence_of_domestic_violence_among_women_during_covid-19_pandemic.pdf✎ EditSign
Kennedy, E. (2020, December 1). The worst year: domestic violence soars in Australia during Covid-19. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/dec/01/the-worst-year-domestic-violence-soars-in-australia-during-covid-19
Kluger, J. (2021, February 3). Domestic violence is a pandemic within the COVID-19 pandemic. Time Magazine. https://time.com/5928539/domestic-violence-covid-19/
Power, J. (2021, July 14). ‘It’s like someone’s cancer has come back’: Lifeline calls spike during lockdown. Sydney Morning Herald. https://www.smh.com.au/national/it-s-like-someone-s-cancer-has-come-back-lifeline-calls-spike-during-lockdown-20210714-p589n7.html