Stay at home safely – COVID-19 and domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is surging at an alarming rate in many countries globally, including the UK and much of it is being attributed to the Covid-19 epidemic. Telephone lines have been lighting up at domestic abuse charities and support services at a rate of nearly 50% more than usual and an increase in website contacts has also been observed. In the UK, for an equivalent period, domestic violence killings appear to have more than doubled during the coronavirus lockdown.

The charity Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse as: an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence. The majority of cases are experienced by women, but men can, and are victims as well.

Domestic abuse can include (but is not limited to):

  • Coercive control (intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of violence)
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Psychological and/or emotional abuse
  • Financial or economic abuse

So, should these figures really be a shock to us at present? Well not really, past research repeatedly shows that domestic abuse increases when people spend more time with each other (such as at Xmas or during vacations). With over a third of the world currently in lockdown with restrictions on movement, coupled with the uncertainty of the situation, high-levels of stress and anxiety, overcrowding and pressures on finance, it is unsurprising that these factors all contribute to higher-levels of physical and psychological abuse in the home.

But why does the COVID-19 pandemic make domestic abuse conditions so much worse? Well firstly, the general pressures of the crisis may cause more frustration and anger in perpetrators, which they may take out on their partners. Secondly, a person who fears they may become a victim is unable to get away from those threatening them and may experience closer coercion and control than in more normal circumstances. Finally, for those who find themselves as victims of abuse, it is more difficult to get help and support from friends and family, or to access local services.

Governments were generally ill-prepared for the effect that the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have had on domestic abuse, and even though the United Nations called for early action by governments to protect those vulnerable to abuse, they have all responded at various speeds around the world. One of the greatest difficulties has been accessing specialist support services, as many of these are not all operating as usual during lockdown and those that are, appear fragile and overwhelmed with demand. This has meant that victims have had few choices where to go. Hostels are either full or locked down or concerned about admitting new people due to potential health risks of COVID-19.

The UK Government have, in the last couple of weeks provided £2 million of funding to immediately bolster domestic abuse helplines and online support and £600,000 of funding to go to six charities that specialise in supporting victims of domestic and sexual abuse. They have also launched a new public awareness raising campaign #YouAreNotAlone, highlighting that if anyone is at risk of, or experiencing domestic abuse there is still help available.

What to do if you are a victim of domestic abuse in the UK

  • The UK government have said that those in fear for their own safety can disregard orders to stay at home. Therefore, if possible, those who feel threatened should leave their house and go to a place of safety.
  • Ring 999 and if you are unable to talk to the operator, use the Silent Solution system and press 55 which lets the operator know that the caller needs police help.
  • Contact other support services (such as Refuge, Women’s Aid, National Domestic Abuse helpline, Respect, Men’s Advice Line).

Written by Researcher Janice Goldstraw-White

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