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Domestic Abuse whilst Self-Isolating
It’s true that for many of us home is a place of safety in a time of chaos and uncertainty. But for thousands of victims of domestic abuse across the UK, home is a place of violence and fear. Amie Calder, Family Solicitor at WSP discusses what this could mean in the current climate of self-isolation due to COVID-19. This article was updated on 8/4/2020.
How the Coronavirus restrictions are affecting Domestic Abuse
As the government is now only allowing us to go out for exercise once a day, to go shopping for essential items, such as food or medication, or to go to work if we cannot work from home amid the Coronavirus pandemic, it seems that the increase in domestic abuse predicted is now becoming a reality.
The National Domestic Abuse helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since the lockdown, the charity Refuge says.
It received hundreds more calls last week compared to two weeks earlier, the charity which runs the helpline said.
Campaigners have warned the restrictions could heighten domestic tensions and cut off escape routes.
There is little doubt that self-isolation will be a ticking timebomb for many people trapped inside with their abuser, whose behaviour may be aggravated by the chaos and uncertainty unleashed by COVID-19.
And it is not only adult victims that are at risk. With schools now closed for the foreseeable future, those children who live with abusive parents (either towards themselves or someone else in the house), will be enduring much greater hardship and fear.
For some children, going to school was respite from the abuse – and now they have no escape.
What is Domestic Abuse?
Women’s Aid define domestic abuse as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer. In the vast majority of cases it is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men.
Domestic abuse can include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Coercive control (a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence)
- Psychological and/or emotional abuse
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Financial or economic abuse
- Harassment and stalking
- Online or digital abuse
Domestic Abuse whilst Self-Isolating
Self-isolation can be a dangerous time for women trapped inside with their abuser whose behaviour may be aggravated by the chaos and uncertainty unleashed by coronavirus.
If any member of a household is experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, such as a cough or a high temperature, the advice is for the whole household to self-isolate. This can mean that if a perpetrator of domestic abuse is forced to stay at home that victims are likely to be at risk of further abuse, whether that be physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
It may be that a member of a household is at high risk of becoming seriously ill, such as the elderly or those with pre-existing medical conditions and it is these people who are being told to self-isolate.
Schools have now closed for all children apart from those whose parents are key workers. This will mean that parents are unable to work as they will have to look after their children. If one of the parent’s is a perpetrator of abuse towards their child and they are staying home to look after them, then it will mean that children are also going to be exposed to further abuse.
It’s estimated that 1.6 million women in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse last year, and it’s overwhelmingly women who endure repeated attacks (83 per cent of victims of more than 10 incidents are women). The risk is that under self-isolation, controlling perpetrators will further restrict their partner’s freedoms and threaten their safety—at a time when support services have been decimated from ten years of austerity. Cuts have led to fewer refuge places and fewer options for victims and weakened women’s economic empowerment. It’s created a housing crisis where victims of domestic abuse aren’t always entitled to priority housing, and led to changes to the welfare state which facilitate abusers to control their partner’s finances.
At the same time, cuts to the police services mean we are already in a crisis, with police accused of failing to protect domestic abuse victims.
Campaigners also warned the safe provision of life-saving domestic abuse shelters are at risk due to employees catching coronavirus and being forced to self-isolate.
What should I do if I am at risk of Domestic Abuse?
If you are at risk of domestic abuse, we would encourage you to telephone the Police on 999 if it is an emergency and on 101 if you wish to report an incident.
If you need help or support, then you can also contact Women’s Aid. Their website is womensaid.org.uk and their telephone number is 0808 200 0247 (24 hours).
There are legal options available for victims of domestic abuse, such as non-molestation orders which stops a perpetrator from using or threatening violence towards the victim, stops them contacting the victim in any way and excludes them from a certain distance of their home. If a perpetrator has rights to a property, then an occupation order can force them out of a property and not allow them to come back within a certain amount of time which is usually 6 months or a year.
There are also measures that can be put in place to protect children such as prohibited steps orders to stop a perpetrator from taking a child from a victim and specific issue orders to ask for the return of a child where a perpetrator has taken a child from a victim and the child is at risk. Victims can also apply for child arrangements orders for the child to live with them.
Emergency help for Domestic Abuse
If you are at risk of domestic abuse or are suffering abuse at the hands of an abuser, call the Police on 999. If you wish to report an incident afterwards, call 101.
It is also worth familiarising yourself with The Silent Solution system. This is a system for victims of domestic abuse who might be afraid of further danger and escalation of harm if they are overheard when calling 999 in an emergency.
When somebody calls 999, an operator will ask which emergency service is required. If the caller is unable to audibly signal to the operator, the call will be forwarded to an operating system.
If 55 is pressed by the caller, the system will detect it and the operator will then transfer the call to the relevant police force as an emergency.
For those in need of help or support, contact:
- Women’s Aid at womensaid.org.uk or on 0808 200 0247 (24 hours).
- Bristol Against Violence and Abuse at https://www.bava.org.uk/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Bath and North East Somerset Independent Domestic Violence Service on 01225 331243.
- Gloucestershire Domestic Abuse Support Service (GDASS) on 01452 726 570 or at https://www.gdass.org.uk/
If you are experiencing domestic abuse, we would encourage you to get in touch to see what legal options are available for you. You can contact Amie directly here, or send an enquiry to the team through the contact page on our website found here or in the side bar.