Covid-19 has had a direct impact on the rise of domestic abuse. Ciara Taylor summarises the issues, how Government has responded and what we need next to support survivors.
Since the UK-wide lockdown began in March 2020, there has been an increase in cases of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse charities such as Refuge and Solace Women’s Aid have reported an increase in demand for services; calls made to the Refuge national domestic abuse helpline increased by 66% over the last three weeks of May and visits to the Refuge website increased by 957% in the last two weeks of May. The rate of domestic abuse killings per week doubled in the first three weeks of lockdown; there were at least 16 suspected domestic abuse killings, four of which were children. Instructing people to stay at home has exacerbated existing problems of domestic abuse and in some cases has led to new perpetrators. As survivors cannot leave the home for extended periods of time it is more difficult for them to escape abuse.
To address this, the Government has:
1. Waived the stay at home rule for people experiencing domestic abuse.
2. Committed £76 million to support survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, vulnerable children and their families, and victims of modern slavery during the pandemic.
3. Raised awareness about domestic abuse through the daily coronavirus briefings including encouraging use of the silent ’55’ calls where individuals can call emergency services and press ‘55’ without speaking to alert that they are in danger.
Charities are providing the majority of frontline support for those experiencing domestic abuse. Face-to-face support has been shifted online through the use of emails, live chats and forums, whilst resources such as ‘survivor tips’ from Refuge and ‘how to cover your tracks online’ from Women’s Aid have been made available. Campaigns from organisations including Southall Black Sisters and Compassion in Politics have asked hotels to open up their rooms to those fleeing domestic abuse.
Changes to service delivery during COVID-19, alongside an increase in demand for these services brings several challenges. While organisations are unable to run in-person advice sessions, the provision of effective support relies on staff being equipped to work from home and service users having access to electronic devices and internet connectivity. Survivors face additional barriers to accessing help online as perpetrators of domestic abuse may closely monitor their use of the internet and they are unlikely to be able to speak freely over the phone for fear of being heard.
Building on the innovative and important work of the sector there are three key areas of intervention needed to support organisations supporting survivors of domestic abuse:
1. Invest in organisations to ensure they have the resources to respond to demand: Funders and commissioners must ensure that organisations and services have the resources that are required to respond to need and manage increased demand. The true scale of domestic abuse during this time and the impact it has had may not yet be realised; staying at home during lockdown has meant some survivors of domestic abuse have been unable to access support networks and as a result there may well be an increased caseload of people who look to access services post-lockdown. Resources might fund psychological support for staff as they experience an increased caseload and lack of face to face support themselves, and new homes/refuges for service users as survivors might have been cut off from other housing options due to COVID-19.
2. Recognise that domestic abuse is a complex issue which appears in many forms including economic abuse: Economic abuse is a form of domestic abuse that may consist of the control and restriction of the acquisition and use of money and economic resources. Typical financial advice services may not be suitable for those experiencing economic abuse and may put them at further risk. As such, advice services must implement a person-centred approach providing tailored financial advice to ensure that service users are kept safe.
3. Invest in longer term stability and support: As lockdown ends it is important to move from interim, crisis-response type support to a sustainable approach that guarantees maintained support of survivors through secure housing, secure income, psychological support. This will require greater coordination of resources and funding. The parliamentary Domestic Abuse Bill Committee met this week (04/05/20) to hear evidence from specialist domestic abuse organisations and survivors and to discuss the enhanced domestic abuse bill.
It is important to utilise this bill to deliver the reform needed by this sector.