Domestic Abuse in the Covid-19 Lockdown
30th March 2020
Yesterday, Priti Patel announced that survivors of domestic abuse can still leave home to seek refuge despite covid-19 lock down regulations. This will be welcome news for millions of young people and women. As speakers at our covid-19 roundtable highlighted on Friday, staying home will likely increase and intensify domestic abuse. We now need to ensure young people and their family members know their options for staying safe and that the system has capacity to support survivors. Below I set out why this is so important and ideas for steps forward.We need to ensure young people and their family members know their options for staying safe and that the system has capacity to support survivors Click To Tweet
What’s the problem?
“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.”
Although men do experience domestic abuse, it is a gendered crime which largely affects women and is perpetrated by men. It also has devastating consequences for young people and children. Before the response to covid-19, it was estimated that:
- two women a week die because of domestic violence
- one in seven children will have lived with domestic violence at some point in their childhood
- between 2005 and 2015, 19 children in 12 families were killed by violent fathers who had been allowed to see them through formal and informal child contact arrangements
Our “A Place to Call Home” report also highlighted that domestic abuse can contribute to young people becoming homeless.
Reports from other countries suggest that there is a link between covid-19 lockdowns and domestic violence. As the Guardian highlight, police in China reported a three-fold increase in domestic violence in February compared to the previous year.
Isolation to tackle covid-19 means that many survivors and their children will be indoors with perpetrators meaning that the danger of abuse, and murder, increases. In turn, this furthers the risk that young people and other family members will become homeless in order to escape. This is extremely worrying during a pandemic because people’s health is at risk if they leave home and public services are not operating at full capacity. Many young people and their family members may therefore feel stuck between a rock and a hard place: stay at home with abuse or leave and risk their health.Many survivors and their children will be indoors with perpetrators meaning that the danger of abuse, and murder, increases Click To Tweet
Practitioners and policy-makers must act swiftly to ensure that domestic abuse survivors know their options and that the system has the capacity to support them. Whilst schools are still open to young people classified as vulnerable, there has been very little guidance on what support is available for young people who do not fall into this category but face abuse at home.
Below I set out possible steps forward.
Helplines and safety planning
- Abuse helplines should be adequately funded and staffed to support young people in crisis.
- Those working in the education and youth sector should share details of helplines with young people and their mothers.
Helplines can be a life line for people who face abuse, even if they cannot immediately leave their home because of covid-19 restrictions. Discussing precautions, such as staying away from rooms like the kitchen and bathroom which have easy access to weapons, can help survivors make plans to stay safe.
The national domestic abuse helpline is still open 24 hours a day and has been widely publicised. Schools and youth workers can share the free telephone number (0808 2000 247) with young people and parents. However, young person specific helplines need adequate funding to operate and publicise their service during this time. Although Childline has seen an increase in calls during the covid-19 lockdown, they have had to cut back their opening hours.
Somewhere safe to flee to
- Young people and their abused family members must have somewhere safe to flee to.
As the government has highlighted, refuges are still open. However, given that many refuges recently closed due to austerity, the sector may struggle to meet demand.
Compassion in Politics, Southall Black Sisters, the Jo Cox Foundation and Jess Philips are campaigning for hotels to be used as spaces for survivors to seek refuge. This plan is feasible. There are roughly 730,000 hotel rooms in the UK that could be used to provide sanctuary to many young people facing abuse. Furthermore, many hotels and hostel providers, like the Youth Hostel Association, are keen to offer community support during the pandemic.
Guidance for schools
- The government should provide schools with specific guidance on keeping young people and their family members safe from domestic abuse during lockdown.
As the government have clarified, schools should still follow standard safeguarding guidelines. But further (non-statutory) guidance on tackling domestic abuse at this time would be useful for schools. For instance, what domestic abuse services should schools be flagging to young people who are having to stay at home? If young people disclose that they need to leave their home immediately, should schools be signposting new places (e.g. hotels) where survivors can seek refuge, as well as informing the police? Such information could help to ensure that fewer young people and families fall through the cracks.
Covid-19 will cause loss of life beyond those who contract the virus and the government needs to step up fast to ensure none of these deaths are due to preventable domestic violence. Now is the time to take action and save lives.The government needs to step up fast to ensure none of these deaths are due to preventable domestic violence Click To Tweet