Are we Facing an Epidemic of “Domestic Terrorism” in the Covid-19 Emergency: Lockdown and the Rise in Domestic Abuse
“Fear, panic, claustrophobia and treading on egg-shells” were the words echoed by a domestic abuse victim of her isolation experience on the West Midlands News yesterday.
The Coronavirus emergency is expected to fuel a rise in the level and severity of domestic violence in the family home as families are forced to cope with long periods of isolation, creating a “pressure cooker effect” and tension in the family home. Victims and their children will be at constant risk as their freedom will be restricted as they spend “concentrated periods” of time with a perpetrator escalating the threat of domestic abuse. The National Domestic Abuse helpline has seen a 120% increase in calls and 150% increase in traffic to its website for help since the lockdown. In the first 4 weeks of Lockdown in the UK, 13 women and 4 children are believed to have been killed by men.
For many couples, being able to leave the home and go to work, do the school run, visit families and socialise outside the family home could been an escapism from an abusive partner. Victims are now isolated, exposed and trapped with their abusers for up to 24 hours, seven days a week. Isolation is a key tool for perpetrators, it is a tactic that’s widely used to exercise control over their victim. Their contact with friends and family has been severely limited because of the lockdown restrictions and the Stay at Home Rules.
Under the current circumstances, daily interactions are no longer occurring so this lowers the chances of another person or agency to identify or for someone to trigger a safeguarding concern. Shop assistants, postal workers and delivery drivers might be a victim’s only point of contact (now that GP surgeries are hard to access and schools are closed), so if someone looks like they are pleading for help but cannot say anything and they pass a note, act on it. Do not intervene and call the police.
The government is under pressure from domestic abuse experts and Women’s anti-violence groups to provide more resources and emergency funding to charities and to local authorities as domestic abuse cases surge. One organisation has written to hotel chains urging them to give unoccupied hotel rooms to abuse victims. The UK government perhaps could follow in the footsteps of the Australians who identified a possible solution is for people who own a second home that is standing empty to make them available via police for emergency safe houses, with a subsidised rental.
Tips to protect yourself during isolation
Many victims who are in an abusive relationship will be living in fear of their life and feel like a “hostage” in their own homes. Domestic abuse is not always physical. It is a pattern of controlling, threatening and coercive behaviour, which can be emotional, economic, psychological or sexual. The Coronavirus isolation restrictions will significantly exacerbate this fear and victims need to understand their options. Refuges remain open and the Police will provide support. Here are some tips:
- Dial 999 if you are in immediate danger.
- Dial 999 silent call service – if you cannot talk, press 5 twice and the police will act upon it.
- Contact your local neighbourhood policing team if it is not an emergency.
- Dial the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge on 0808 200 0247 (www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk). Refuge now has a webform, which allows a woman to set up a safe time to receive a call.
- Galop (for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people) on 0800 999 5428 (www.galop.org.uk).
- Dial Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 9999.
- Visit Women’s Aid website https://www.womensaid.org.uk – they have a page dedicated to covering your tracks when searching online for information.
- Support Line at https://www.supportline.org.uk
- Introduce a code word or phrase (do if your frightened say “I need a pint of milk”) to let someone know it is not safe to talk or to ask someone to call the Police on your behalf.
- If your partner becomes violent, try to avoid rooms in the property where there may be weapons like the kitchen and garage.
- Ensure that your mobile phone is charged and is with you at all times.
- Maintain contact with family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues through technology daily.
- Make sure you have easy access to your car keys, handbag or purse.
- Consider asking a trusted person to contact you at varying times, throughout the day or week so they can check on you and to ensure you and/or your children remain safe.
Protection under the Law
As well as contacting the police, it is possible to apply to the courts for an injunction:
A non-molestation order is to prevent a partner or ex-partner from using or threatening violence against the applicant or their child, or intimidating, harassing, or pestering them, in order to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of the applicant and their children.
If the order is breached by the abuser protecting a person, and the other party is fearful for their safety or that of others, that person should call the Police. It is also a criminal offence to breach a non-molestation order.If the order is breached by the abuser protecting a person, and the other party is fearful for their safety or that of others, that person should call the Police. It is also a criminal offence to breach a non-molestation order.
An occupation order regulates who can live in the family home and can also restrict an abuser from entering the surrounding area. If a person does not feel safe in continuing to live with their partner, or if they have left home because of violence and want to return and exclude their abuser, they might want to apply for an occupation order.
The courts are still available to hear urgent applications in relation to children, non-molestation and occupation orders.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse or feel at risk of harm, seek advice and support. Please contact us on 0121 726 911 and speak to a solicitor in the Family Law team. Confidential telephone and video conferencing are available.