For survivors of Domestic Abuse, home is not a safe place for self-isolation.

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the government is encouraging social distancing and self-isolation, but domestic abuse groups are concerned about what this could mean for victims.

We are all aware of the governments' advice on self or household isolation to help combat the spread of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) and we are aware that your home can be a safe place from Coronavirus. However, for those experiencing Domestic Abuse the prospect of large parts of the population being confined to prevent the spread of the pandemic can be life-threatening.

Just as alcohol, drugs, unemployment etc do not cause domestic abuse, Coronavirus will not cause it either, however a heightened state of anxiety and the stress many of us will feel being in such close proximity for such extended periods of time with our families is likely to make this a more dangerous time for women and children.

'Having to stay at home can give abusers more opportunity to control and restrict their family’s activities and freedoms.'

Social isolation and social distancing are used by abusers as a tool of control and coercive behaviour within a pattern of physical, emotional, economic, psychological and/or sexual abuse. At this time a heightened state of anxiety and stress abusers may tighten their net of coercive control imposing stricter and more unrealistic rules surrounding their family’s activities and behaviours.

There are already indications that the pandemic has increased rates of domestic abuse in other countries. Incidents in China and Italy rose sharply after a lockdown was introduced, with the number of cases recorded by one charity almost doubling since the lockdown began. Many Domestic abuse support groups in the UK are fearing that a similar lockdown will shut down survivors’ routes to safety and support.

Jo Flanary, Senior support worker for Rooftop Housing Group said, “We are still operating our support services at this time but in different ways. We are making more telephone contact rather than face to face meetings and looking at new ways to continue group sessions. We urge people that if you are or someone you know is experiencing abusive behaviour, you must still seek help and stay with loved ones where possible.

Please visit our Domestic Abuse page for more information and support, where you can still access support and advice with links to local services or in an emergency please call 999.

Due to Covid19 restrictions Women’s Aid has taken action to protect the health & safety of their staff, volunteers and women accessing their services. Despite the uncertainty, their services remain available for those who need them. The Womens Aid National Helpline 1800341900 is fully available 24 hours, 7 days thanks to frontline staff & volunteers. Read more about risks of abuse in isolation and options available for support on the Women's Aid website

Here are a few things that might be useful for people to consider during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic:

  • Check-in with someone who you are personally worried about. If making a phone call to a suspected domestic abuse victim or survivor, always assume that the abuser could be listening in. The same goes for instant messaging services.

  • If you suspect that the victim or survivor isn’t able to talk because of being overheard, give them a line to end the call, e.g. if it is not safe to speak right now then please repeat after me “I’m sorry there is no one called Tina here, you must have got the wrong number.”

  • If it is safe to talk when you call, arrange a codeword or phrase that the victim can use if interrupted, for example, if you need to end the call at any point please say “no, sorry I’m not interested in taking part in the survey”.

Reducing the risk of Anxiety and Stress

While there is not a complete lockdown and people are still able to leave their houses go for a walk if not ill or in quarantine, the “time out” technique can be used as a last resort to stop immediate physical abuse. Using a garage or garden shed as a could also work as a safe space. The time out technique is taught within behaviour change programmes (abuser programmes) and is a way of creating physical space during times of escalation. It involves arranging an amount of time (between 45 and 60 minutes) for someone being abusive to physically remove themselves from an environment. They go to a pre-agreed location and message the victim when they are returning to the physical environment. We must underline that this is a last resort to using abuse and should not be treated as a “cure” for violence.

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