The announcement by Boris Johnson that everyone is to stay at home, exercise once a day, travel to and from work where “absolutely necessary”, shop for essential items and to fulfil any medical or care needs is likely to cause feelings of stress and anxiety for many families. There is, however, fear that the isolation measures brought in to cope with the coronavirus outbreak will result in an increase in domestic abuse or exacerbate ongoing abuse.
SafeLives, the UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, has issued a statement in which they say: “Early evidence from the lockdown in China suggests that reports of domestic abuse have doubled in some areas and we know previous crises have led to an increase in perpetrators abusing their victims”. In the U.K. the charity Refuge advised, on 6 April 2020, that the National Domestic Abuse helpline had seen a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since the lockdown.
It is important to understand that domestic abuse isn’t always physical violence. It also encompasses a pattern of controlling, threatening and coercive behaviour. This behaviour can be emotional, economic, psychological or sexual. Perpetrators of domestic abuse often use coercive and controlling behaviour to seek to isolate their victims from friends and family and to remove any support network they have. The lockdown has the potential to increase such behaviour where the victims are already cut off from the outside world.
There are various orders which can be made to assist the victims of domestic abuse and those will continue to be available, although applications are likely to be dealt with remotely through telephone or Skype hearings rather than at court. It is possible for the court to make an order regulating the use of the family home including, for example, who can use the kitchen at a particular time.
The court also has the power to exclude the perpetrator of domestic abuse from the family home entirely (an occupation order) and to grant an injunction to prevent abusive behaviour (a non-molestation order). We anticipate however some additional challenges with these orders being made in the current climate where movement is limited and options to stay outside your household (such as with family or at hotels/ temporary accommodation) are fewer. If this isn’t possible the court would look at regulating the occupation of the house and a non-molestation order. Breach of a non-molestation order is a criminal offence and as such will act as a deterrent for some.
Those who are suffering and need help will continue to be able to access it and we urge those people to seek advice and support.
Home Secretary Priti Patel wrote in the Mail on Sunday recently:
“Whilst [the government’s] advice is to stay at home, anyone who is at risk of, or experiencing, domestic abuse, is still able to leave and seek refuge. Refuges remain open, and the police will provide support to all individuals who are being abused – whether physically, emotionally, or otherwise.”
Helplines and support if you're experiencing abuse:
· Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247 (run by Refuge)
· Women's Aid online chat service (open Monday-Friday 10am-12pm)
· Chayn: information, guidance and courses to support coping and recovery
· Men's Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
· Galop: 0800 999 5428 (national helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people experiencing domestic abuse)
· As always, anyone in danger should call 999.