Domestic abuse is an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.
Mounting data suggests that domestic abuse is acting like an opportunistic infection; flourishing in the conditions created by the pandemic. Domestic violence flourishes when the victim is cut off from family and friends, isolated, and scared, and these are the exact conditions created by the coronavirus. The isolation has also shattered support networks, making it far more difficult for victims to get help or escape.
Of course, we are all isolating in our homes for our own safety and for the safety of others, but for many adults and children, home is not a safe place. Many people are having to weigh up the risk of contracting Covid-19 against the risk of remaining in quarantine with their abuser.
Lockdown and Domestic Violence
When you look at the patterns from around the world, governments have imposed lockdown measures and then about 10 days later, calls to domestic abuse helplines spike. According to the New York Times writer Amanda Taub, governments across the globe did not consider or put provisions in place for, victims of domestic violence, and it is only after the distress calls spike and a public outcry starts to spread have governments tried to improvise solutions.
Marianne Hester, a Bristol University sociologist who studies abusive relationships, stated that there was every reason to believe that domestic violence would increase under lockdown measures as domestic violence increases whenever families spend more time together such as Christmas or summer holidays.
Safety Advice For Survivors
It is important to plan ahead and think through what steps you can take to keep yourself safe. Every situation is slightly different, so not all of these will be relevant for every person’s situation. Women’s Aid suggests the following tips for keeping safe;
- Women fleeing domestic abuse can now access free train travel to refuge accommodation, through Women’s Aid’s new ‘rail to refuge’ scheme, supported by Southeastern and Great Western Railway – Just contact the Women’s Aid Live Chat service for advice on how to access thisKnow that the Government has confirmed that if someone is experiencing abuse, they can leave their home to seek help.
- Keep your phone charged and on you at all times.
- If possible, keep in touch with a trusted friend or family member. Perhaps you can have a code word with this trusted person that lets them know if it is safe to talk or not.
- Do not be afraid to call 999 in an emergency.
- Silent Solution: When you call 999, the operator will ask which emergency service is required. Listen to the questions from the 999 operators. If you cannot say ‘police’ or ‘ambulance’, respond by coughing or tapping the handset if you can. If prompted, press 55 on your phone. This lets the 999 call operator know it’s an emergency and that you aren’t safe to speak.
- Emergency text service: If you can’t call because you are deaf or can’t verbally communicate, you can register with the police text service. Text REGISTER to 999. You will get a text which tells you what to do next. Do this when it is safe so you can text when you are in danger.
- Think through the layout of your house. Which rooms are safest? For example, where you can more easily leave the house. Which rooms should you try and avoid during an incident? For example, in the kitchen.
- If your children are old enough – can you teach them how to call for help?
- If you had to leave in an emergency do you know where you would go?
- If possible pack an emergency bag for you and your children and keep it somewhere safe. Try to include essential things such as medication, identification, money or cards, and essential clothing for you and your children.
Women’s Aid has plenty of services still running, such as online forums, live text chat’s, and an email service. They also provide help in creating your own safety plan.
It is important to know that refuge services are still available despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Advice for Family, Friends & Neighbours
If you know someone who is, might be or might become a victim of domestic violence, it is important to let them know that they are not alone. As mentioned above, one of the ways that domestic violence thrives is through isolation.
It is important to gain more knowledge and understanding of what domestic abuse looks like, and how you might recognise it. You can read more about domestic abuse here.
It is important to know that, although the majority of domestic abuse is perpetrated against women and children, males can also be victims of domestic abuse. Furthermore, parents or grandparents can be victims of domestic abuse perpetrated by their own children. The perpetrator could be someone’s partner, ex-partner, carer, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, and so on.
It is entirely possible for someone to be in an abusive relationship and not realise it. Abuse does not always involve physical or sexual violence. It can include emotional manipulation, psychological abuse, financial abuse, restricting contact with loved ones, or strict rules for behaviour.
What can you do:
- Ensure that you stay connected with loved ones. Survivors may be able to reach out for help when doing activities that we are still able to do outside of the home, such as food shopping.
- Encourage the survivor to call 999 in an emergency and let them know about the silent solution and emergency text service.
- Remember that you can also call 999. If you are worried about someone, calling the police could provide a vital lifeline to a survivor.
- Don’t confront the perpetrator yourself. As well as putting yourself in danger, this could also put the survivor at increased risk.
- If you are worried about a child, you can also call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.
How to respond if someone reaches out:
- Listen without judgement. It takes a lot of courage to reach out and ask for help. Do not blame the survivor for the abuse, and do not ask why they haven’t reached out before, as this can be experienced as shaming.
- Validate them; for example, “I am really glad you told me”, “this isn’t your fault”, “you are not alone.”
- Be guided by them. Ask them what they need, be patient, and allow them to set the pace. You may be shocked, but they may not want to leave the home yet.
- Share information about how to get support.
- Ask them what the safest way to keep in touch with them is. There might be certain times of the day or certain methods of communication that are safer than others. You can also discuss a code word with them so that you (a) know when it is safe to talk openly and (b) know when they are in danger.
If you feel that you would like some professional emotional support during these unsettling times, please contact us on 020 8673 4545 to talk to one of our lovely reception team or email [email protected]. We have telephone and online video appointments seven days a week, with low-cost options as well.