Katherine's women's legal service is "very concerned" about a spike in domestic violence during a lockdown in the region which has forced them and the local court to close their doors.
The lockdown in Katherine and the even stricter lockdown in the surrounding Aboriginal communities of Binjari and Rockhole has resulted in the closure of both the Katherine Women's Information and Legal Service (KWILS) and the Katherine Local Court.
KWILS chief executive Siobhan Mackay said the extreme heat and housing issues faced by families in the region combined with a lockdown, which is set to be in place for around three weeks, is a recipe for increased violence.
"Across the world we've seen that violence has increased during lockdowns in particular, during COVID generally, because obviously it's put a lot of people under pressure in a lot of different ways. Unfortunately, that has led to an increase in the use of violence particularly against women and girls," she said.
"And then the added complexities of it's been 40 degrees all week...And then particularly when you're looking at some of the overcrowding issues that we have in Katherine, the homelessness issues that we have in Katherine, people are at significant risk of increased violence.
"Yeah, we're very concerned for people's safety."
The KWILS team has been working hard to get the message out that despite being closed, they are still available to help those experiencing or fearful of domestic violence.
"We're really doing that messaging every day on social media and making sure that the other service providers in Katherine know that we're also still here," Ms Mackay said.
"And the other part of the messaging that we've been doing is that even though Katherine court is closed, they're still hearing urgent DVO (domestic violence order) applications by phone.
"So people don't need to wait until the court reopens. They don't need to wait until lockdown finishes. We can support people to make an urgent DVO application and it will be heard even during lockdown."
Ms Mackay said it was important for people experiencing domestic violence to know that they are allowed to leave to seek help, even during the strict lockdowns in place in Binjari and Rockhole.
"The Chief Health Officer's directions, generally with regards to lockdown, say that you can leave to escape a risk of harm," she said.
"So it's not only if you have been a victim of family violence. If you feel like things are getting to a point where you are at risk and there may be violence then you can leave.
"The other thing that's really important is that the direction in relation to Binjari and Rockhole... it removes certain allowances, so like the exercise allowance is gone [but] the domestic violence exception remains."
She said some perpetrators could be telling their victims that they are not allowed to leave home during lockdown.
"What we are really concerned about is that users of violence could be spreading the message that you're not allowed to leave," Ms Mackay said.
"Survivors of violence can feel safe that they are allowed to leave in those circumstances. You do not need permission."
Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said the Northern Territory already had a serious problem with domestic violence.
"Unfortunately, domestic violence rates have been too high for far too long," he said.
He said he hadn't heard reports of an increase in domestic violence but that police were "continuing to monitor" it.
"We want to make sure that anyone who is potentially a victim or being subjected to family domestic violence knows that they can leave, they don't have to stay in lockdown for those environments.
"They can leave and get our attention and we will swing in and support them."
If you or someone you know may be experiencing or at risk of domestic violence, you can contact:
KWILS: 8972 1717
1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732
Police: 131 444 or 000
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