Domestic violence: the hidden crime in lockdown
Domestic violence is more prevalent in the UK than many people would suspect. On average:
- Two women are murdered by a current or former partner every week.
- One in four women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives.
- One third of UK victims of domestic violence are men.
- Less than 24% of domestic abuse is reported to the police. (1 & 2)
There were real fears that the coronavirus lockdown would place more women and men at risk. Figures released in May showed that police in some areas saw a 23% rise in domestic violence calls to 999 in March 2020 compared to March 2019.(8) Across the board, professional concern about domestic abuse was reflected in the 10-fold increase in website visits for Refuge, the charity that runs the national domestic abuse helpline. (5)
Abuse is never acceptable
If you are experiencing domestic violence, the time to act is NOW.
- Call 999 and if possible, get yourself and your children to a place of safety.
- Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 200 0247 (women) or the ManKind confidential helpline 01823 334244 (men).
- Once you’re safe, contact us for professional legal advice on how to proceed.
Help really is at hand
As experienced domestic abuse lawyers, we will deal with your situation as an emergency, and act swiftly to keep you and your children protected. The courts are prioritising domestic abuse cases, despite accumulating delays, and the police are acting quickly too.
Domestic abuse victims have probably received help more quickly from the police during lockdown than before. In an article for The Telegraph, John Sutherland, former Metropolitan Police Superintendent, explained how the drop in crime rates due to the lockdown has enabled police to prioritise their response to domestic abuse calls. However, that will not be sustainable once lockdown is eased and other crime rates inevitably climb again:
“Every crime matters to every victim – understandably so – but not all crimes are equal. Some will always have to matter more. And domestic abuse will always have to matter most of all. That was the case before coronavirus and it will remain the case after coronavirus. …. It remains the single greatest cause of harm in society.” (1)
Children and domestic abuse
The Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield expressed concern about the two million children who were vulnerable at home during lockdown. (3) In every local authority, a handful of schools remained open to welcome and protect vulnerable children throughout the lockdown. One of the major concerns was the exposure of children to multiple ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences):
“Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are stressful events occurring in childhood including:
- Domestic violence
- Parental abandonment through separation or divorce
- A parent with a mental health condition
- Being the victim of abuse (physical, sexual and/or emotional)
- Being the victim of neglect (physical and emotional)” (10)
Only time will tell how children are affected by experiencing or witnessing abuse, and schools will need to look out for the signs when children finally return to the classroom.
New freedom, new laws
Over the last couple of weeks, lockdown has been eased, which will relieve some of the mental pressure. A new law was also brought in with explicit provision for those escaping abuse to not have to stay overnight in their home:
“It (is) illegal to stay overnight outside your home “without reasonable excuse”, which can include moving home, work, attending funerals, providing care and escaping harm.” (11)
The ongoing relaxation of lockdown will hopefully open up more refuges where capacity was cut due to the virus, according to the charity Women’s Aid. (4) In response to the growing concern, the government has boosted funding to domestic abuse services by £76million. (5) According to Home Secretary Priti Patel:
"The funding is focused on supporting existing helplines and web-based facilities, and their associated support services, to respond to increased demand, thereby ensuring that victims of domestic abuse can continue to access vital help and support during this challenging period.” (6)
Free travel to a refuge
Those suffering domestic abuse are often unable to access money when they need it most. The Rail to Refuge scheme enables women with a confirmed refuge space to travel for free by train across England, Scotland and Wales. The refuge books the ticket and sends details to the woman’s mobile phone. As the Women’s Aid website explains:
“The survivor can then pick the ticket up from the station using any debit or credit card; they can travel like normal, on a normal ticket, without having to declare the ticket was free or that they are fleeing from domestic abuse.” (12)
Spotting the signs of abuse
As people start to return to work, now is the time for colleagues and managers to check for the signs of domestic abuse having occurred during lockdown. There’s a list of behaviours to watch out for at WebMD.
However, spotting these signs becomes more difficult if employees are continuing to work from home, as an article in People Management says:
“In normal circumstances, when staff are coming into work, changes in behaviour can be easier to spot than while they are remote working… Remote working can hide something that would usually require absence reporting, such as claims of ill-health to cover injury caused by domestic violence or staying home to protect others…. Employers should enable anyone they know to be at risk of harm at home to return to the workplace first.” (7)
Not just the UK
Domestic violence rates have been increasing across the world.
Russia has reported a doubling of reported cases.
- According to Dr. Hans Kluge, director of WHO’s European region, across Europe the number of women making emergency calls about abuse rose by 60% in April 2020 compared to April 2019.
- Even New Zealand, the country that is now officially COVID-19 free, saw calls about “family harm incidents” increase by 20% during lockdown. (9)
Domestic violence: how LGFL can help
We have years of experience in helping female and male victims of domestic abuse and coercive control. Nothing shocks us, or surprises us. We are here to help you get the legal protection you need, such as:
- Getting an emergency injunction
- Obtaining a non-molestation order
- Applying for an occupation order
- Establishing your legal rights to the family home
- Resolving who your children will live with
- Divorcing an abusive spouse
If you are a victim of any form of domestic abuse, emotional abuse or coercive control, please contact us to arrange an urgent consultation.
(2) According to the ONS, 576,000 men (2.5% men) and 1.2 million (4.8% women) were victims of partner abuse in 2018/19.
Coronavirus lockdown: Drop in the available beds for domestic abuse victims - BBC Newsnight
(8) Source: BBC Freedom of Information request