Domestic Abuse: the forgotten victims of the pandemic

During the first national lockdown of the pandemic, 1 in every 5 offences were related to domestic abuse.

Photo credit: Max Pixel

The pandemic has not only accentuated domestic abuse as a societal issue, but it has compounded it and made it increasingly difficult for people to leave the perpetrators of such violence. In 2018 61% of women killed in the UK were killed by their current or ex-partner. Many of these murders were described as ‘overkilling’ demonstrating the gratuitous violence that is often a trait of domestic abuse. These figures are staggering enough but, Karan Ingala Smith, the founder of Counting Dead Women, identified 16 killings between the 23rd March and 12th April 2020 included the deaths of two children; this average represents the highest it has been for at least 11 years. Whilst coronavirus does not ‘create violent men’ Smith recognises that it “may exacerbate triggers, though I might prefer to call the excuses.” She acknowledged the impact of the lockdown on both victims curtailing their access to support and escape, and perpetrators whose methods of keeping their violence under control may have been restricted due to the lockdown. It is important to acknowledge that whilst women are predominantly the victims of domestic abuse and our the focus of these statistics, men and transgender people may suffer domestic abuse and violence requiring as much support and assistance as female victims. 

 

The domestic abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs has found that there have been reports of perpetrators lying about Covid symptoms as a means of staying home with their victims rendering it more difficult for them to escape. Furthermore, lockdown restrictions have curtailed people interactions with their not only their family and friends but teachers and professional bodies who can be crucial in recognising and assisting victims of abuse. Whilst the pandemic has not created, nor even revealed the horror of domestic abuse, it has certainly compounded its impact.

 

The Commissioner has called for the Domestic Abuse Bill to include a statutory duty to fund community services which provide a majority of the support to people experiencing domestic abuse. The Bill, long overdue, is a step in the right direction to protect and support victims by providing a wider definition of what domestic abuse is which encompasses emotional, financial and physical abuse. Previously, there was not a singular crime of ‘domestic abuse’ rather perpetrators may be prosecuted for murder or bodily harm amongst other offences. This not only made it difficult to collect accurate data regarding the extent of domestic abuse but failed to provide them sufficient protection, justice and acknowledgement to the victims of such crimes. The Bill is a cause of great celebration to many campaigners but it’s has many shortcomings and gaps which must not be overlooked, including insufficient protection for refugee women. The Bill necessity of the Bill is painfully evident, however, the campaign for absolute protection and support for all domestic abuse victims is not nearly over. 

 

Worryingly, the Bill may not be enough to protect and prevent the harm to victims which have increased on a staggering scale over the series of lockdowns. Whilst escaping domestic abuse is specifically listed as a ‘reasonable excuse’ for leaving home during the lockdown this does not alleviate the pressure upon victims who must physically leave their homes, which is not as easy as simply walking out of the door, particularly if there are children involved. Between Christmas Eve and 29th December, the West Midlands Police were called to 1,250 incidents of domestic abuse and made arrests accounting for almost 30% of the force’s total arrests. As always it is those most vulnerable in society, refugee women, who the shortages in both the law and resources will affect the most. It is worth investing time and money into considering how both may be utilised to their greatest extent to protect those who are frequently let down by our society.

 

Whilst those in government have finally turned their minds to domestic abuse victims, their words need to be translated into the increased funding necessary as services struggle to provide the support so desperately needed. Many shelters have been forced to close down in recent years leaving those still open tackling a shortage of beds. Helplines such as Rise have reportedly been utilised triple the amount as before the lockdown.

 

Whilst the new legislation is a welcome relief as a means to gain justice for survivors, those still stuck in the cycle of abuse still require assistance. This assistance is not sufficiently provided by those in the government declaring that victims may still leave their homes during a lockdown, rather substantial funding, meaningful organisation and an empathetic understanding is required. Whilst awareness over the past decade has been increasing, the pandemic has once again rendered this violence invisible to society and inescapable to many. 

 

Helplines:

Ask for Ani at Pharmacies

Refuge, women’s domestic abuse helpline- 08082000247

Men’s Advice Line-08088010327

Karma Nirvana, for forced marriage and honour crimes -08005999247

Galop, for LGBT+ community for emotional and practical support- 08009995428

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