Perpetrators of domestic abuse like to be in control and there’s nothing that is going to threaten their sense of control more than the current pandemic of COVID-19 which we are currently experiencing.
Think of all the things that perpetrators of abuse don’t currently have control of such as the future of their job, their income, where they work, where they go, anxiety around catching COVID-19, how they socialise, who they are allowed to see, what they buy.. I can go on but I’m thinking you’re probably getting it.
Consider also the added tension of working from home, self-isolation, social distancing and children at home all day rather than at school. I’m feeling the tension in my stomach as I’m writing this. Are you? The combination is toxic and once we throw in additional factors such as poor mental health, alcohol, drugs and money worries, we are heading for a frightening mix. Those of us that work within the sector also have concerns over victims that have contact arrangement orders with their ex-partners for their children and how these can be met and adhered to safely in the current crisis. Often child contact ‘handovers’ are facilitated in a public place where there are lots of people and the current climate means that this is going to be difficult to achieve safely.
Domestic abuse doesn’t just affect the victim, it affects their children and their whole family and support network who may desperately be trying to get the victim to distance from the perpetrator already and now they may face the added concern of a 14 day period of not being able to see them or a potential lockdown of all social contact outside the home.
Domestic violence cases have tripled during the epidemic in China and there has also been a dramatic increase in Italy. Domestic abuse agencies there have observed first-hand the impact of forced coexistence, economic stress, and fears about the virus. The current pandemic has also meant that access to support services is increasingly challenging with lack of face to face support, closure of groups and fears of an outbreak within a refuge.
What both Italy and China have shown though are examples of innovative practices using technology and online resources and chats and thereby setting up networks to help those needing support. Online guides to creating a safety plan, livestreamed workshops, awareness posters encouraging people to be vigilant, creating awareness through online hashtags such as #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic and support sessions using online communications such as Skype and Facetime are being used to stay in valuable contact with victims.
Safety Planning is a big aspect of support that all domestic abuse professionals will undertake with victims and at it’s best, will involve a support network of professionals all tasked with elements of that safety plan.
What I wanted to do in this article is not to suggest that we can create a ‘one size fits all’ safety plan but to offer some guidance and advice that you can use to support potential victims or people that you are concerned about during what is an incredibly difficult time.
- Listen to any concerns they have about their relationship without giving judgement.
- Understand that stress and anxiety don’t cause domestic abuse however they may fuel someone that is already using controlling and abusive behaviours.
- Encourage them to consider any consumption of alcohol or drugs very carefully. Both of these can fuel domestic abuse but also have the capacity to impair a victim’s response and judgement in a dangerous and potentially escalating situation.
- Learn the telephone number of the National 24hr Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247 – you can then text it instantly or give it to them if they need it.
- Develop a codeword with them that you can use on the phone or via text if they are unable to talk or need help.
- Always assume that the perpetrator may be listening to calls or reading messages so be cautious in your wording.
- Keep in regular contact with them through a variety of different means.
- Encourage them to eat well and get some time out of the house into the fresh air for at least a short time each day.
- If you are concerned that they may be at imminent risk of harm, dial 999. If you are concerned that their children may be at imminent risk of harm, dial 999.
Some helpful telephone and online resources
- Women’s Aid’s online chat service is open from 10am-12pm Monday-Friday (www.chat.womensaid.org.uk)
- Chayn provides online tools, information, courses and support for people experiencing abuse, all free to access (www.chayn.co). They are also launching a secure Telegram channel to provide particular support during this time.
- Young people in crisis can contact Childline, a free 24hr telephone helpline on 0800 1111.
- The Respect Helpline offers help for domestic abuse perpetrators who want to change and male victims of domestic abuse. Call them on 0808 802 4040 or visit www.respectphoneline.org.uk
- The Hideout (www.thehideout.org.uk) provides support and resources as well as online activities to help children understand domestic abuse and how to take positive action if it is happening to them.
- The Samaritans work to make sure there’s always someone there for anyone who needs someone. Visit their website (www.samaritans.org) or freephone 116 123.
Stay safe and well everyone and try to look out for each other.
Alpha Vesta CIC