Domestic abuse: collateral damage of covid-19?
Liza Gatrell examines the rise in domestic abuse – and how to seek help
March 2020 seems like a lifetime ago, yet I am sure many of us can picture precisely where we were when we heard the announcement that schools would be closing, and we must stay at home.
For some, home working and furlough was welcomed – but sadly not everyone views their home as a safe place. Domestic abuse charities, such as Women’s Aid, immediately raised concerns about the devastating impact of lockdown on those affected by abuse.
At the start of the pandemic, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that in mid-May 2020, there was a 12 per cent increase in the number of domestic abuse cases being referred to victim support.
There was also a 65 per cent increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline between April to June 2020 compared to the first three months of 2020.
Unfortunately, the situation does not appear to have improved, with charities reporting calls to their helplines remaining significantly higher than pre-pandemic.
Over the last two years, we have been in and out of various lockdowns or restrictions. The pandemic has meant worry over work and family, concerns about our health and the need to home school. For some, this has created a pressure pot at home, from which they have not been able to escape.
In May 2020, the Government pledged £25m to domestic abuse services and launched a public awareness campaign #YouAreNotAlone, aiming to reassure victims that police and specialist services remain open.
However, the way authorities deal with domestic abuse and sexual offences can often be a postcode lottery, and there has been startling evidence of how poorly such offences have been dealt with in some areas.
There is a clear lack of trust amongst victims for figures of authority, such as the police, who are the very people who are meant to be there to protect them.
I often hear from clients who are too scared to report domestic abuse for fear of not being believed or for fear of making their situation worse. Amongst the women I speak to, there is a clear lack of confidence among those who have experienced domestic abuse to report it – and when they do report it the conviction rates are low.
It’s 2021, and as a society, we should have a zero-tolerance approach to domestic abuse.
We often hear that more needs to be done to help victims of domestic abuse – but what?
The way forward
Priti Patel has agreed to change the wording of the Policing Bill to class domestic abuse and sexual offences as “serious violence”, putting them akin to murder and knife crime.
This is a clear and welcome message that domestic abuse and violence against women are not acceptable, and it is serious. But will it spark confidence in my clients who fear approaching the police? The reality is, perhaps not straight away.
To tackle domestic abuse, we need more than just a change of wording – we need a systematic change in our society, the police, and how we approach victims. However, it is a start, and significant shifts in attitude do not happen overnight.
For information and support, contact:
- Police: 999 (and press 55 when prompted if you can't speak)
- Refuge UK-wide 24-hour helpline: 0808 2000 247
- Welsh Women's Aid Live Fear Free 24-hour helpline: 0808 80 10 800
- Scotland National Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriages 24-hour helpline: 0800 027 1234
- Northern Ireland Domestic Abuse 24-hour helpline: 0808 802 1414
- Men's Advice Line 0808 801 0327
Liza Gatrell is a senior solicitor at Stowe Family Law: stowefamilylaw.co.uk