Covid-19 and the risk of domestic abuse
The current Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event, but domestic abuse sadly is not. In ‘normal’ times, an average of two women are killed by a current or former partner every week. Since the lockdown measures were announced, domestic abuse charities have seen large increases in demand for their services.
The Domestic Abuse Hotline has seen a 50% increase in the use of its helpline1. To put this into context, the helpline already received around 250 calls per day and an annual total of 108,918 calls in the year 2018/19. Traffic to the Hotline’s website has also dramatically increased, demonstrating both how widespread the issue is and the important role online services may play for people locked down with their abusers.
In the wake of such uncertainty and heightened demand for services, the government and justice system have started to adapt in order to ensure the safety of survivors – but there is still a way to go to protect survivors of domestic abuse.
Could the government have done more to protect abuse survivors?
Despite calls to action, the government was slow to respond to the increase in reports of domestic abuse.
Nearly three weeks into the lockdown, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, announced the launch of a national communications campaign. Using the hashtag #YouAreNotAlone, it aimed to raise awareness of domestic abuse and highlight the fact that support services were still running despite the pandemic.
While it is important for the government to remind both survivors and perpetrators that abuse should not be tolerated, the campaign offered little practical support for people at risk of abuse.
A pledge of £2 million to support online services and helplines was also made. However, this amount was – quite simply – not enough to cover both the increase in demand for services due to Covid-19 and fill the resource gap felt so strongly in the domestic abuse sphere following years of austerity.
By the time that the campaign was announced, 14 women and two children were reported as having died by the Counting Dead Women project2 – far higher than the expected number over a three-week period.
Issuing support for survivors of physical and mental abuse
Thanks to the continued advocacy of domestic abuse charities and increased public support, the government announced a £76 million emergency fund to support the most vulnerable in society on 2 May 2020, including provisions for survivors of domestic abuse.
This funding is the first allocation of the £750 million package of support for charities announced in April by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak.
Of the money pledged, £28 million will be used to provide survivors of domestic abuse and their children with safe spaces, accommodation and access to support services. Domestic abuse survivors will now automatically qualify for priority need under their council’s duty to relieve homelessness, ensuring that vulnerable people who have fled situations of abuse do not end up destitute.
While this package is an important step, it remains to be seen whether these provisions will be enough to ensure the safety of those in situations of abuse during lockdown.
There are a number of challenges ahead, including ensuring that isolated survivors can contact the police, legal or support services.
Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, warned that demand for services may increase further once the lockdown is lifted and survivors who have not been unable to seek support are finally able to do so.
The government must continue to make financial provisions to help survivors of abuse throughout and in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak. Once the pandemic is behind us, survivors of abuse must not be forgotten. Support and financial provision from the government must continue as domestic abuse although worsened by the pandemic, is not caused by it.
The family courts continue to deal with domestic abuse cases despite the lockdown. For more information, please read our blog on the protection family law which can provide insights on the current approach of the courts.
Hodge Jones & Allen have expert family law solicitors who are experienced in obtaining such Orders.
We continue to support our clients during the pandemic by offering video conferencing meetings.