The National Domestic Abuse helpline has reported a 700% increase in calls in a single day, and a 25% increase in requests for help since the UK went into lockdown, according to Refuge.
Campaigners and charities have warned that the current restrictions are likely to exacerbate situations of domestic abuse. Visits to the National Domestic Abuse helpline website in March were 150% higher compared to the last week of February, and campaigner Rachel Williams has expressed concerns that homicides will also escalate as social distancing measures continue.
Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge explained that many perpetrators already use isolation as “a tool of control” and this will undoubtedly have been made worse by the tension of lockdown, and the removal of potential escape routes for victims:
“While in lockdown or self-isolation, women and children are likely to be spending concentrated periods of time with perpetrators, potentially escalating the threat of domestic abuse and further restricting their freedom.
“Domestic abuse isn’t always physical – it’s a pattern of controlling, threatening and coercive behaviour, which can also be emotional, economic, psychological or sexual.”
Police have encouraged women and men who are experiencing domestic abuse at home during the lockdown to report incidents to police and seek support from domestic abuse services, stating that they would always seek to remove the perpetrator rather than the victim: “Often victims in their own home, where family, friends and neighbours can look out for them, are much safer than if we remove them.”
However, those stuck in a domestic abuse situation during may be less likely to be able to make an emergency call or contact help. Many perpetrators try to stop their victims from using social media or contacting friends and family as part of their attempts to isolate, but there are several measures which aim to make seeking help as easy as possible:
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline offers the option of contacting them via its website, including a ‘quick-exit’ button which ensures no record of the visit. Online webchats and text services are also available and the helpline is still running 24 hours a day, seven days a week with staff working from home. Additionally, if you dial 999 and press 55 when prompted you can alert police to your situation without having to speak.
The Home Office has also launched a new support campaign including an extra £2m in funding to domestic abuse services to ‘bolster’ helplines and online support. The Government said that the money will go towards helping the most vulnerable to access support during lockdown, when it might be even more difficult to communicate on the phone. The general public are also being encouraged to take part in the #YouAreNotAlone campaign by sharing a photo of a heart on their palm in their windows and on social media to show solidarity with victims.
Sandra Horley responded: “We welcome the government’s support at this critical time. We have worked around the clock to ensure our frontline specialist services remain open and accessible to women experiencing domestic abuse. We hope the government’s campaign will reach the tens of thousands of women experiencing domestic abuse.”
For more support and advice on domestic abuse, please seek help from one of the following organisations:
- Police: dial 999 and press 55 when prompted if you are unable to speak
- Refuge UK, 24-hour helpline: 0808 2000 247 and website: www.refuge.org.uk
- National Domestic Abuse Helpline website: www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk
- Women’s Aid: www.womensaid.org.uk
- Welsh Women’s Aid Live Fear Free 24-hour helpline: 0808 80 10 800
- Scotland National Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage 24-hour helpline: 0800 027 1234
- Northern Ireland Domestic Abuse 24-hour helpline: 0808 802 1414
- In addition, any woman who needs to travel to find refuge from domestic violence can do so for free on any UK train and the cost of the ticket will be covered by the relevant rail operator. Speak to advisors at chat.womensaid.org.uk for more information on the scheme.