Policing victims of partner violence during COVID-19

Policing victims of partner violence during COVID-19

Policing victims of partner violence during COVID-19: a qualitative content study on Australian grey literature

Alex Workman, Erin Kruger & Tinashe Dune | Policing and Society


Partner violence is a well-documented issue within research, policing practices, newspapers, and awareness campaigns both domestically and internationally. These stories appear in newspapers, breaking news stories, and across different social media platforms. However, little is known about how the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced societal understandings of victim and offender dynamics during this challenging time globally, particularly those who have multiple marginalised identities. Within Australia, partner violence is typically framed in a singular way where heterosexual women are the victims of heterosexual males. Policy documents, newspapers, television campaigns and statistical data reporting underpin this perception. A recent study undertaken by the primary author found that partner violence awareness within grey literature (literature produced by different organisations and not specifically research-based) is substantively heteronormative. Therefore, to investigate if these perceptions have changed and become more inclusive, this current study was further undertaken to inquire into police responses and media reporting of partner violence during COVID-19. This study analysed grey literature (newspapers) using qualitative content analysis to determine how police and the media portray victims and offenders’ experiences of violence during the global pandemic of COVID-19, all within the framework of intersectionality.


Partner violence is pervasive and damaging for all who experience it. The victim can experience different forms of violence that range from physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, geographical, and financial (Stylianou 2018, Workman and Dune 2019). These forms of violence can occur in isolation or even in a combination of one or more types of violence. Examples include withholding medication if they have HIV/AIDS, threatening harm to family members and pets, outing a person’s sexuality, and including hetero-cis-gendered privileges which is the priority given to heterosexual and cisgender identities (Workman 2019, Gaman et al. 2017, Worthen 2020). The global COVID-19 pandemic highlighted some of the best and worst parts of human society while simultaneously maintaining that human beings are complex social beings with diverse needs, wants and desires (White and Fradella 2020). The COVID-19 pandemic simultaneously emphasised that with lockdowns in Australia and around the world, victims of partner violence are forced to spend more time with their perpetrators (McMahon 2020, White and Fradella 2020). These stories appear on the nightly news, newspapers, and social media feeds, to name a few. Illuminating how many victims live in terror or are in destructive relationships (Bates and Taylor 2019, McMahon 2020). In a previous study, Workman (2019) found that the media as an institution reinforces a narrative of victim/perpetrator dynamics that is heterosexual. Here, white (assumed) women are the primary victims at the hands of white (assumed) heterosexual men. While many will argue that women make up most known victims, not all female victims are heterosexual for example lesbians and trans women (male to female) who experience the most dehumanising forms of violence (Bell and Naugle 2008, Diemer 2014, Dragiewicz 2014), nor do they experience validation, recognition or even a frame that represents their victimisation (Workman and Dune 2019, Worthen 2020). Notably, for victim representation, to be known, a more diverse representation of who constitutes victims of violence is firstly required (Crenshaw 1992). Drawing from an intersectional framework, the relationship between the media and the police force is questioned in this article due to the media’s typical nature to follow the police in prioritising one victimised group over another (Workman 2019). Arguably, this is often the case when the inclusivity of visible minorities and those from marginalised communities receive less attention around partner violence issues.

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Policing victims of partner violence during COVID-19: a qualitative content study on Australian grey literature, Alex Workman, Erin Kruger & Tinashe Dune, Policing and Society, 2021