By Baz Ruddick
When removalist John Siaki witnessed a man hitting his wife he says it shocked him so much, he decided he needed to do something about it.
“I felt powerless … as if he had hit me,” he said.
“I walked out of that house feeling like I wasn’t Superman or Batman or any other superhero.”
That was several years ago, when Mr Siaki was a contractor performing furniture deliveries.
“Growing up in a Pacific Island community we are to respect all our ladies, regardless of how young or how old they are — there is a thing called respect in our culture,” he said.
He said he went home that day and asked his wife what he should do about it.
“She said to me, ‘You have a truck, so use it’.”
Now, his truck and his team is put to use helping victims of domestic violence flee the abuse.
He said his Ipswich-based removal company, Siaki and Sons, previously averaged about four domestic violence moving jobs a week.
But over the past two months, he said a strong rise in demand had pushed that figure to 10 moves a week.
“It has probably risen up by 60 per cent — that is bad, that is beyond bad,” he said.
Mr Siaki said he believed the financial stress and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic complicated the issue.
Life under a microscope
Central Queensland University senior academic and domestic violence expert Brian Sullivan said he was concerned COVID-19 had given perpetrators another “tactic” to control their partners.
“We know in the sector that women who are living with controlling abusive men are already in lockdown and their lives are already micro-regulated,” Dr Sullivan said.
“They are controlled, surveyed and under surveillance by these men already.
“When there are major disasters and catastrophes that can intensify home life — which is already very dangerous for some women — it might be because of financial issues that arise, or it might be because of unemployment.”
Dr Sullivan said work preventing domestic violence needed to be doubled.
“There is going to be a six-month period here where we are on a learning curve here, and there will be risks, but hopefully with what we do and how we respond we can keep damage down and keep harm down.”
Call for help can make it worse
A recent survey by the Centre for Women indicated an increase in incidents of violence across Queensland.
Centre CEO Stacey Ross said the survey, sent to frontline domestic violence workers, found a 20 per cent increase in family violence incidents related to COVID-19 financial stress.
“The data also shows a near 40 per cent increase in the levels of violence and severity,” Ms Ross said.
“We are currently planning on strategies internally around how we will be able to meet the demand once the restrictions are further relaxed and our doors reopen.”
Last month, the Federal Government injected $150 million into domestic violence services, after announcing internet search engines had shown the highest rise in searches for domestic violence help in five years.
Ms Ross said it could be dangerous for women to reach out for help on the phone.
“Women can’t access services because there are eyes on them,” she said.
“The perpetrator might be tracking where they are going, what they are doing, so if somebody is stuck in a home and they are not able to get to a phone safely they are not able to reach out.”
In Ipswich, the not-for-profit group City Hope Care has seen increasing demand for food hampers distributed to families impacted by domestic violence.
Manager Glenda Coxeter said care packs containing information, sanitary items and essentials were given to frontline workers who came into contact with people fleeing domestic violence and these had seen a fivefold increase in demand.
Time to leave in a hurry
Mr Siaki said every move his team carried out was different.
Sometimes the moves were done in secret and with urgency while a partner was away or at work.
Other times, it was while the perpetrator was in custody.
“They always tell you the full story — you don’t ask for it, but they cry their hearts out,” he said.
“You can hear from the tone in their voice that they are really serious and they need help — we have to take steps toward getting that person out.
“We take whatever she wants but also more — whatever we think is going to be useful.
“Some of the objects we take the client doesn’t want because there are probably some bad memories attached to them.”
Mr Siaki said any unwanted items were often donated to charities.