Domestic Abuse and COVID 19

3rd April 2020

Watch our free safeguarding webinar 'Keeping Children Safe from Domestic Abuse'

In this unprecedented health crisis, the Government must introduce emergency measures to protect those who are vulnerable to the coronavirus and to ensure that services can continue to function and not become overwhelmed. Perpetrators of domestic abuse will use these infection control measures as a tool of coercive and controlling behaviour and may impose stricter and more unrealistic regimes on their families’ activities and behaviours. ‘Social distancing’ and ‘isolation’ are both core tactics of a coercively controlling partner.

scared child

COVID 19 Social Isolation And The Increase In Domestic Abuse

National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that a growing number of callers say that their abusers are using COVID 19 as a means of further isolating them from their friends and family.

Evidence from China suggests that the lockdown conditions created by the pandemic, particularly the isolation of families, has led to a significant increase in victims of domestic abuse. It is a pattern that is being repeated globally as other countries are now also seeing an alarming rise in abuse. Brazil have reported a 40-50% surge in cases and the Catalan region had a 20% increase in calls to their helpline in just the first few days of the confinement period. The first domestic violence fatality was reported in Spain just five days after lockdown. The woman from Valencia was murdered by her husband in front of their children.

These alarming figures log only cases where women are able to make the calls but many more will be unable do so for fear of being overheard by their abusive partner. Italy has seen a drop in calls to helplines but instead are receiving desperate text messages and emails asking for help. Other countries such as Greece and India are stepping up their response to help women deal with problems clearly emerging from the issue of confinement.

Woman crying

UK Response To COVID 19 Domestic Abuse

In the UK, Home Secretary, Pritti Patel acknowledged the danger stating “I am acutely aware that the necessary guidelines about social distancing and self-isolation may leave the victims of hidden crime, such as domestic abuse and child sexual abuse, feeling especially isolated, vulnerable and exposed …… But my message to every potential victim is simple: we have not forgotten you and we will not let you down”. £1.6 bn has been given to local charities to help those in need and the National Domestic Abuse Helpline confirmed that “whilst the advice is to stay at home, anyone who is at risk of, or experiencing, domestic abuse, is still able to leave and seek refuge. Refuges remain open, and the police will provide support to all individuals who are being abused - whether physically, emotionally or otherwise”.

Many of us are in contact with domestic violence victims, survivors and perpetrators, even if we do not recognise it. We are their teachers, their carers, their managers and so on. If we are working in any kind of direct or support role, then during the COVID 19 crisis it is important to remember that “working from home” will bring very different challenges to different people. We need to be aware of how this may impact victims, children and perpetrators of domestic violence. There will be a continuing need for a consistent and robust response to tackle perpetrators and keep survivors safe in the context of COVID 19.

Considerations and Suggestions for Supporting Victims During This Lockdown

Frightened and sad woman

Here are some considerations and suggestions to consider during the COVID 19 pandemic:

  • Stress and anxiety may increase in families where it is already being perpetrated. Acknowledge that this is an unsafe time.
  • Check in with someone who you are personally worried about. If making a phone call to a suspected domestic violence victim or survivor, always assume that the perpetrator could be listening in. The same goes for instant messaging services.
  • If you suspect that the victim or survivor isn’t able to talk because of being overheard, give them a readily thought out line to end the call, e.g. if it is not safe to speak right now then please repeat after me “I’m sorry there is no one called Tina here, you must have the wrong number.”
  • If it is safe to talk when you call, arrange a codeword or phrase that the victim can use if interrupted, e.g. If you need to end the call at any point please say “no, I’m not interested in taking part in your survey.”
  • Advise to save useful phone numbers under a pseudonym e.g. IDVA, health visitor, friend.
  • Discuss whether they have planned contact with professionals, friends or family who can raise the alarm if they need emergency help.
  • Discuss where they can flee to if needed e.g. is there a neighbour they can rely on? If that neighbour is isolating, do they have an alternative?
  • Local community beat officers or health visitors could be a source of contact during this time. Is there a regular contact, or can this be introduced?
  • During lockdown, people are permitted to leave the house for a number of specific and restricted reasons, such as buying food and for medical appointments. How can these limited freedoms provide opportunity for safe contact between the victim and others?
  • Consider useful apps e.g. Hollie Guard which can also offer reassurance and the Bright Sky app is currently available in English, Urdu, Punjabi or Polish and is free to download.
  • Share information and plans with multi agency partners of the families that you are concerned about and ask the police to flag in case of a 999 call.

For those people who are experiencing domestic abuse, it is important to know that you are not alone. At this time of writing, you are unable to leave your home, but you can still access support through one of the helplines.

Remember, if you or someone else is in immediate danger, please call 999 and ask for the police!

Man upset

Silent Solutions: This is a system for victims of domestic abuse who may be afraid of escalating harm if they are overheard when calling 999. When somebody calls 999, an operator will ask which emergency service is required. If the caller is unable to signal to the operator, the call will be forwarded to an operating system. If 55 is pressed by the caller, the system will detect this and the call will be transferred to the relevant police force as an emergency.

National helplines, email, text and live chat support services and local specialist VAWG services are listed below. These services have adapted to this ongoing crisis and continue to offer support.

Help and Support For Domestic Abuse Victims During The Lockdown

Woman texting for help

England

Northern Ireland

The 24 hr Domestic and Sexual Abuse helpline is open to women and men affected by domestic abuse or violence. This free telephone service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year:

Scotland

Wales

The Live Fear Free helpline provides advice, support and referrals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to anyone affected by violence against women, domestic abuse or sexual violence in Wales. You can contact the Live Fear Free Helpline on:

Further reading:

Watch our free safeguarding webinar 'Keeping Children Safe from Domestic Abuse'

Time – As cities go into lockdown, victims look for a way out (18th March 2020) https://time.com/5803887/coronavirus-domestic-violence-victims/

Sixth Tone – Domestic violence cases surge during the COVID 19 (2nd March 2020) https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1005253/domestic-violence-cases-surge-during-covid-19-epidemic#

BBC – Five ways virus upheaval is hitting women in Asia (8th March 2020) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-51705199

Refinery 29 (USA) – How coronavirus quarantining could lead to an increase in domestic violence (20th March 2020) https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2020/03/9578318/coronavirus-domestic-violence-partner-quarantine-help

Screen Shot (Italy) – How hard quarantine can get (22nd March 2020) https://screenshot-magazine.com/politics/domestic-violence-coronavirus/

The National Scot (Scotland) – We need ways to protect women from violence during the pandemic (22nd March 202) https://www.thenational.scot/news/18324725.need-new-ways-protect-women-violence-pandemic/

 

Written by Debbie Gardner