Increased Risk During the Pandemic
The Coronavirus crisis lockdown poses a myriad of problems for victims including escalating violence and routes to safety closed down. Of particular concern are those perpetrators that have a history of coercive controlling behaviour and who have used high risk, potentially lethal, behaviours in the past.
In March 2020 the United Nations issued a statement warning that rates of widespread domestic abuse will increase owing to COVID-19 restrictions, including an increase in femicides. Early research findings seem to be bearing this out with research in China, Italy and Spain all reporting a substantial increase. The UK saw a 20% rise in police reports regarding domestic abuse incidents and calls to the national domestic violence helpline rose by 66% and visits to the website (where women can request a safe time to be contacted) have seen a massive 950%increase (Refuge statistics).
Restrictions used to minimise the spread of the virus have reinforced environments that aid the behaviours used by perpetrators to exert power and inflict psychological and physical harm against a partner. We are seeing that abusers are using the lockdown to increase their control over victims, escalate abuse and violence and use the pandemic as a tool for continuing abuse. Victims also have fewer opportunities to report abuse and routes to safety, along with much-needed breathing space, have been shut down. School closures also mean that opportunities for children to report abuse and access support are severely restricted.
The Women's Aid's survivor surveys completed in 2020 gave us information directly from victims about the abuse they were suffering throughout the pandemic.
67% of survivors who were experiencing abuse said that it had got worse since the pandemic
91% of women who were experiencing abuse said the pandemic had impacted their experiences of abuse with 52% saying they were feeling more afraid and 58% saying they felt that they had no-one to turn to for help during lockdown
72% responding to the survey said their abuser had more control over their life since the pandemic
67% said that their abuser was using the pandemic as part of their abuse by refusing to take precautions to stop the spread of the virus (38%) or forcing the household to live under unnecessarily strict measures (10%). 10% said they had tried to leave and their abuser had used restrictions to stop them. (e.g. threatening that they’d be arrested)
78% said that restrictions had made it harder for them to leave their abuser
Victims were also sometimes reluctant to go to friends/family for fear of spreading the infection. 32% said that friends/family could not help them to leave due to lockdown restrictions
In the first two weeks of the first lockdown (between 23rd March and 6th April) 10 women and two children were killed by men, three times higher than the average of three women killed every two weeks.
The effects of the lockdown on domestic abuse could well be felt for sometime after with research in spain indicating that the impact of the economic consequences could be twice as bad as the impact of lockdown.
For the full Womens Aid surveys visit The impact of Covid-19 on survivors: findings from Women’s Aid’s initial Survivor Survey and A Perfect Storm – The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on domestic abuse survivors and the services supporting them.
Safety planning for the pandemic
Detailed guidance for social workers on how to complete safety planning with families can be found in our post How to complete safety planning with families. The Coronavirus guidance section of this website gives further assistance on how to help families living with domestic abuse, including; what can be done to help families living in isolation with an abuser and completing emergency safety planning with perpetrators. This section also gives up to date information on how DV-ACT assessments are used to safeguard children in care proceedings.
A lack of childcare support can also cause vulnerable mothers to turn to ex-partners for help and support with the stress of lockdown restrictions overriding the assessed risk from the abuser. Separation under any form of duress carries a much greater risk of reconciliation, therefore victims, who have separated due to written agreements with children's service, will require extra support during this time. Visit our post How Can Vulnerable Mothers be Supported to Detach from Their Abusers? for further guidance.
It is not always the case that leaving an abusive partner will increase a woman’s safety and research has established that, in many cases, domestic abuse from an intimate partner does not end upon separation. Post-separation can actually see an escalation of abuse with women reporting continued threats and intimidation when leaving their abusive partner. Separated mothers are often under greater pressure from an abusive ex which may have become more complex during the pandemic with confusion over what government restrictions mean for child contact arrangements.
When looking to vary contact, the safety of the children should always be the primary concern. From what we currently know about the Coronavirus, the risks posed to children, without underlying health issues, from the virus is lower than the risk from an abusive parent.
Keep in mind that when looking at the risk that a perpetrator poses to their victim, past behaviour is the most reliable indicator of future behaviour.
Allowing perpetrators to 'enter the house' to complete child contact via video call should be approached with caution. This type of contact can give the perpetrator an opportunity to harass and control their ex-partner, with the possibility of children witnessing further conflict. They can also look for ‘clues’ as to the mother and child’s location if they are in a safe address which is unknown to him. The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory have carried out a number of rapid surveys on the effects of digital contact on children's well-being and how children and their birth families are keeping in touch during the lockdown.
Support from DV-ACT
DV-ACT experts are continuing to work throughout the Coronavirus pandemic as usual and are available to discuss cases, complete assessments and deliver treatment programmes on both victims and perpetrators. Visit our post how are DV-ACT completing assessments during coronavirus crisis to find out how we are currently working.
COVID 19 Research
Womens Aid COVID-19 survey - The impact of Covid-19 on survivors: findings from Women’s Aid’s initial Survivor Survey and A Perfect Storm – The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on domestic abuse survivors and the services supporting them.
Research in Spain on the effect of forced cohabitation and economic stress on domestic abuse - Intimate partner violence under forced cohabitation and economic stress: Evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic
Women’s’ Budget Group along with Fawcett Society, London School of Economics and Queen Mary University London conducted research to explore the impact coronavirus is having on Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women - BAME women and Covid-19 – Research evidence
WBG report looking at the key gendered impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on women in the UK, with a focus on the city of Coventry - COVID-19 report – the impact on women in Coventry
References and resources
Refuge reports further increase in demand for its National Domestic Abuse Helpline services during lockdown (May 2020) - https://www.refuge.org.uk/refuge-reports-further-increase-in-demand-for-its-national-domestic-abuse-helpline-services-during-lockdown/
Refuge Covid 19 Response - https://www.refuge.org.uk/refuge-responds-to-covid-19/
UK government - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/domestic-abuse-how-to-get-help
Womens Aid Coronavirus safety advice for survivors - https://www.womensaid.org.uk/covid-19-coronavirus-safety-advice-for-survivors/
Bystander awareness - http://communitiesinc.org.uk/ourwork/nbad/
Make it our business - http://makeitourbusiness.ca/warning-signs/warning-signs-for-neighbours-friends-and-families
Online community support - With Abuse Talk you can join the discussion on domestic abuse through a weekly Twitter Chat every Wednesday 8-9pm GMT www.twitter.com/abusetalkonline there is also a forum https://jennifergilmour.com/community/ which is available 24/7 and even houses a solicitor who will answer questions and queries for no charge, and a podcast which delivers a series of interviews with those that work in the domestic abuse sector. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and more.
Helplines are available in the UK as follows:
National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327
Respect phoneline for perpetrators of domestic abuse - 0808 8024040
Childline - 0800 1111 you can also go to https://www.childline.org.uk/get-support/
NSPCC (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends) - 0808 800 5000 or Contact counsellors 24 hours a day by email or online reporting form email@example.com
Family Lives, a confidential helpline service for families in England and Wales (previously known as Parentline) call on 0808 800 2222 (9am – 9pm, Monday to Friday and 10am – 3pm Saturday and Sunday) for emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. You can also email for support, advice and information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Young Minds Parents Helpline (Monday to Friday 9.30am – 4pm) - 0808 802 5544
Action on Elder Abuse helpline: 0808 808 8141
The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428
999 silent solution - In an emergency 999 should always be called, if the caller is unable to speak they need to press 55, but there is a procedure that needs to be followed and the limitations of this (ie that the police cannot track the caller when a mobile is used) need to be made clear - https://www.policeconduct.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Documents/research-learning/Silent_solution_guide.pdf
DV-ACT are a team of domestic abuse experts, available throughout the UK, who provide assessments, programmes, consultancy and training to local authorities and the family courts. Our experts have decades of experience working directly with domestic abuse perpetrators and victims, as specialist assessors and as expert witnesses in the family courts.
DV-ACT was formed with the aim of using our expertise to help safeguard children from abuse, this is at the heart of everything that we do. To read more about us please visit our post - Who are DV-ACT?