Ministers must quickly start to put out public health advice to tackle the rising number of incidents.
“The incidences of call outs for domestic abuse are going up.” These were the words said to me by West Midlands Police on this morning’s weekly multi-agency conference call.
I knew it would happen. Isolation at home, the closing of schools, the inability to escape to work, the tension of people thrown together. How could domestic abuse not increase? It was inevitable.
Evidence from China shows a threefold increase in call outs during the period of isolation to domestic abuse services. Bear in mind already before Covid-19, 60% of women and children in England and Wales who presented needing a space in refuge were turned away. How on earth will they cope with a possible three-fold increase? Many of us in the sector are working on freeing up hotels for this purpose, but we have no idea if it will be enough.
It is not just the need for safe refuge beds that throws up concerns for those of us trying to support victims of domestic abuse. Already I have seen cases of perpetrators weaponizing the rules on quarantine timeframes to breach their contact orders.
Non abusive parents, usually the mother, told by the family courts that their children must see both parents, unsure of how the courts will react if they don’t allow their children to attend contact because they are self-isolating. The Government departments have had a lot on, but the guidance has been woeful to anyone outside of just a regularised 2.4 children happy household.
Charities dealing with this crisis have had to really shout to be heard, and myself and other colleagues had to push for domestic and sexual abuse support workers to be included in the list of key workers. While we won that war, the Government still have not updated the guidance and so many domestic abuse staff – vital in keeping people safe – have been left begging to have their children be able to go to school.
For some, they will lose their lives not at the hands of a silent virus but instead at the hands of their family.
For all in the charity sector this crisis could not have come at a worse time. Not just because of depleting resources over years, but because it is going to cross over the financial year. For so many charities, especially small domestic abuse providers, this crisis is happening while they don’t know if they have the money from local councils, government departments and other funders after early April. This happens every year as charities live hand to mouth but now it means that a vital lifeline is in danger.
In Scotland they appear to have taken much quicker and decisive action in giving out funds to voluntary sector groups vital in the fightback, but in England many refuge and community support providers have no idea how they are going to fund the regular services, let alone an increase. The Government could easily solve this today, but instead I am left putting out pleas for crowdfunding, such as for a brilliant local refuge in Coventry which has saved the lives of many women. I have heard of some councils still expecting charities to be bidding for contracts for their service throughout this time of crisis – this is simply unacceptable.
The Government must quickly start to put out public health advice to prevent domestic abuse. We cannot stop those already perpetrating this brutal crime; but I have absolutely no doubt that for some this period of isolation – the economic stress, the children permanently under your feet – will lead some to perpetrate their first instance of domestic abuse. As much as we need to talk about how we ensure people keep good mental health in a time of isolation we need the government, broadcasters, and media outlets giving people strategies of de-escalation.