Social distancing, self isolating, remote working? It all means one thing - spending more time at home. For many, this will mean more family time, however for some, there is an increased risk of being trapped indoors with an abuser.
Whilst remaining indoors follows protocol and advice provided by the World Health Organisation, people in vulnerable situations need to be considered.
Reports in China suggest that since entering lockdown, there was a spike in reported incidents of domestic abuse. It is feared that as the UK’s prevention measures tighten and self isolation increases, incidents of domestic abuse will significantly rise here too.
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is defined as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence. In the majority of cases, this is by a partner or ex-partner but a family member or a carer can also be the perpetrator. Domestic abuse can encompass but is not limited to:
- Psychological abuse
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse
- Emotional abuse
How will COVID-19 have an impact?
Over the coming weeks, many households around the UK could begin to feel like a pressure cooker as tensions rise due to government enforcement and restrictions on staying at home.
We have already seen the closure of all pubs, bars, restaurants and shops as well as the cancellation of all sporting events, which will no doubt result in many abusers having no choice but to spend more time in the household.
In addition, although the government has introduced schemes and aid with the aim of preventing job losses, these closures and cancellations will certainly leave many people without work for the time being. Whilst no one is certain on how long this will last, unemployment for the unforeseeable future and the strain this will have on finances will most definitely be another factor adding to mounting tensions in households across the country.
These tensions can cause frustrations which result in people lashing out and, therefore, domestic abuse may occur.
As people enter into self-isolation, victims of domestic abuse will be separated from any support network they had. This may include friends, family and work colleagues that do not live in the same household.
Again, although limiting this social contact follows the outlined advice we have been told to follow, it could be that abusers will use this time to exercise their power and control over their victim.
Similarly, as schools have now been ordered to close for the majority of children, there is the added pressure of childcare. For example, in situations where parents are providing what is being deemed an essential service and are unable to work from home, looking after children at home is a challenge. And, with older people at a higher risk of falling ill, it is no longer an option to call on grandparents for assistance.
This has posed difficulties for many but particularly for low income families whereby picking up shifts at work is vital in order to keep the family afloat at such an uncertain time. The government has introduced plans to ensure qualifying children still receive free school meals, which will take some of the pressure away. However, many will still be tasked with attempting to make the weekly food budget stretch that little bit further.
Again, it is feared that this will add to the tension building in households too, which is likely to impact the number of domestic abuse incidents. It is also being warned that domestic abuse may become a feature for some even if it never was before.
How can domestic abuse victims find refuge amid the pandemic?
On 23rd March 2020, the UK government published guidance for providers of safe accommodation for victims of domestic abusers and affected children. The guidance stipulates that refuges and other forms of domestic abuse safe accommodation do not need to close unless directed to do so by Public Health England or the government. This is because refuges, shared houses and other forms of emergency safe accommodation are usually considered households for the purposes of the household self-isolation policy.
What can I do?
If you are a victim of domestic abuse, you can:
- Call the police (999) immediately- domestic abuse is a crime and the police have the power to arrest the abuser and subject them to bail conditions which will keep them away from the household.
- Contact Refuge (for women and children against domestic violence) - Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247. Derby City domestic violence service: 0800 085 3481 (Monday - Sunday, 8am - 8pm).
- Call Victim Support on 08 08 16 89 293 - they offer free, confidential support to anyone affected by a crime in England and Wales.