Heald partner Abbie Howson reflects on domestic abuse during the national lockdowns, the impact it has on a family and how individuals can seek help
National lockdowns have increased the danger for those who are being subjected to domestic abuse. Being forced to stay at home with abusers, being cut off from the respite of a separate working environment, and not having the freedom or privacy to call for help, may pose a huge threat to some. Children who are home from school, are now even more exposed to trauma as a result of witnessing verbal, psychological, physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse at home.
In abusive households, there may potentially be a devastating combination of emotions brewing. There will be fear of the aggressor inside the home and anxiety about the virus outside of the home. Stress makes abusers even more volatile, while heightened privacy gives them a feeling of impunity. Being forced to spend more time with abusive partners during the lockdown period has caused domestic abuse to reach a pinnacle.
The stress of loss of income and being confined to the house has even caused some people to launch into aggressive and violent outbursts where there has been no previous violence. This has been compounded by increased alcohol consumption to alleviate boredom, stress and anxiety. Many are drinking more than usual simply to escape from the constant media forecast of doom and gloom. Violence and abuse caused by alcoholism may increase as the perpetrator will be drinking at home rather than at pubs, bars and restaurants. The victim will be unable to seek refuge from aggressive outbursts. The feeling of isolation from friends and family in a household where one person is experiencing controlling, coercive, threatening, violent or abusive behaviour, is terrifying.
Although there is currently no specific system to help victims of abuse during the Corona crisis, there are other ways to seek help if you feel you are unsafe in your own home:-
- Think of a code word or signal to use in an emergency, which you can tell trusted friends/family about;
- Some services may be able to provide you with a separate mobile to call for help;
- Have a bag packed and hidden, and have an exit plan;
- Arrange for a friend/relative to call you at certain times and days to make sure you are okay;
- If you have a vulnerable relative you could move in with them to provide them with support;
- You can call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or Victim Support National 24 hour Support Line on 0808 1689 111 or the police on 999 for more immediate assistance;
- Call a Family Solicitor.
At this point in time, there are additional barriers such as, anxiety about coronavirus and uncertainty about which local services are operating. Some abusers who would ordinarily be removed from the home may not being taken into custody by police. However, there is still the option of making an emergency application for a non-molestation/occupation order. If in doubt, speak to a specialist.