The first lockdown was downright dangerous for domestic abuse victims – male and female. I am genuinely afraid that this lockdown could be even more deadly.
The risk has only gone up dramatically: dark nights, short days and many people’s mental health and resilience are already at rock bottom.
It’s the perfect storm for victims who have no choice but to stay at home with their abusers. Domestic abuse also works from home: behind closed doors, hidden from view.
That’s why we all must play a role in responding to domestic abuse and I am calling for all of us to keep an eye out for signs over the next few weeks and months of lockdown.
It can be extremely risky for victims to reach out for help when they are with a perpetrator 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although there are now more ways to seek support including telephone helplines but also online via Live Chat and email.
Data from the Counting Dead Women Project showed that at least 35 women were killed between March and July of 2020, and I fear more women may be at risk of murder as we go into further strict lockdown conditions.
We also saw calls from male victims to the Respect helpline rocket during the first lockdown – up by 70 per cent in May from 1762 in 2019 to 3007 in 2020.
I can’t stress enough that, more than ever, we need to view domestic abuse as everyone’s business.
We all need to reach in to support victims to stop more people dying at the hands of partners or ex-partners and even in some cases other family members. It is time to stop the untold misery and devastation that domestic abuse causes to victims, children, and the whole community.
And there are resources out there to help us all to do this. For example, the charity SafeLives has been running a ‘Reach In’ Campaign which gives people who are concerned some tips about what to ask and how to help if you think someone’s at risk (safelives.org.uk/reach-in).
This campaign has already saved lives and will help thousands more victims if we all play our part. Whether you are a colleague, friend, family, housing officer, GP, teacher or just someone who lives down the road.
Women like Melanie who was working as a police officer while she was experiencing domestic abuse at home. Like many victims she kept the abuse to herself but one day a colleague took her to one side and told her that they were worried and offered to help her.
Melanie said: “Up until then I thought I was doing a great job covering up my injuries and making excuses for them. It was such a shock that other people knew.”
At home her abuser had told Melanie that no one would believe her if she reported the abuse and that she would lose her career so that colleague reaching in made all the difference.
It took time for Melanie to leave her abuser but eventually she did with the help of a colleague.
“So, for me, if you are a colleague of someone who you believe is being abused, ask them, say you will help. They may deny the abuse, say they don’t need help, but your offer will make them stronger in many ways,” Melanie said.
Training to spot the signs of domestic abuse is being rolled out across England and Wales to increasingly diverse members of the community. For example – Blackpool Council is working with its local college to train tattooists, beauticians and taxi drivers; the Ask Me Ambassadors scheme run by Welsh Women’s Aid and Women’s Aid Federation England trains members of the community to be aware of the signs.
Many organisations like housing providers are also training frontline staff with support from domestic abuse organisations like the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance.
People like gas engineers, repair staff or housing officers are often the first and only witnesses to what is going on behind closed doors, and so can play a critical role. And this saves lives.
Like the example of a Peabody gas contractor. He was trained to look out for signs while he was doing his repairs – things like punch marks in the walls or controlling behaviour including not allowing the partner to speak.
During one visit to a woman in her 40s he heard the woman ask her partner whether she could use the toilet. This might have gone unnoticed, but he flagged this as a concern to the organisation’s community safety lead.
The specialist team was then able to check whether this family was known to other services.
They found out when he was out and went in to do a ‘’routine’ tenancy audit. When she was on her own she was able to open up to specialist support workers who then helped her escape the abuse she was enduring. Without the training, and the professional curiosity shown by this gas engineer, it may have taken months or years before she would have been able to find help, if at all.
The levels of domestic abuse that we have seen during lockdown have highlighted what is being described as the ‘epidemic within the pandemic’. It’s always been there but now we are all more aware.
It’s at this moment that the Government has a crucial opportunity to tackle domestic abuse through the Domestic Abuse Bill which went back into the House of Lords on Tuesday (January 5th).
The Bill will bring about some important new changes, including giving me the powers I need to hold Ministers to account and end the ‘postcode lottery’ faced by victims and survivors, but it must go much further if it is to meet the Government’s own ambition to be truly landmark.
I am supporting amendments including making Non-Fatal Strangulation a standalone offence; ensure post separation abuse is included within the coercive control offence and paid leave for victims.
I am supporting amendments including making Non-Fatal Strangulation a standalone offence; ensuring post separation abuse is included within the coercive control offence; ensuring the statutory duty on local authorities to provide support includes community-based services as well as refuge accommodations; and paid leave for victims.
Finally, I just want to say to any readers who are experiencing domestic abuse or if you are concerned for someone you know – help is available. As the Prime Minister said on Monday (January 4th) you can break lockdown if you are at risk of harm or experiencing domestic abuse. The police continue to respond to calls and support services remain open. As the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, I stand with you, and will do everything I can to make our country a safer place for families everywhere.
National Domestic Abuse Helpline England: 0808 2000 247 – 24 hour
Live Fear Free Helpline (Wales): 0808 8010 800 – 24 hour
Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327 (Mon/Weds: 09.00–20.00, Tues/Thurs Fri: 09.00-17.00)
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428 (Mon/Tues/Fri: 10.00-17.00, Weds/Thurs: 10.00-20.00)
Karma Nirvana Honour-Based Abuse & Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 5999 247 (Mon-Fri: 09.00-17.00)
Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own abusive behaviour): 0808 8024040 (Mon-Fri: 09.00-20.00)
National Stalking Helpline 0808 802 0300 (Mon-Fri: 09.30 – 16.00, Weds 13.00-16.00)