2 November 2020 | Comment | Article by Alan Collins
We’ve experienced an unprecedented time in 2020 with the impact of COVID-19. Sadly, not only are we aware of the health and economic implications of the virus, we also know there has been an increase in reported cases of abuse, as well as reduced services for those facing danger and exploitation.
Everyone is vulnerable to abuse: men, women, and children. And abuse comes in many forms - physical, emotional, and sexual.
The United Nations, Secretary General António Guterres, has called for urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence. And, just this month, Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty against Children (NSPCC), said there had been a “sharp increase” of reports of abuse against children in their own homes since the pandemic began.
The NSPCC has produced a report on the current concerns and charities around the world are recording a sharp rise in demand.
Refuge: The National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge, has seen on average an increase of around 50% in calls and over 400% in visits to its website since lockdown measures began. It has continued to work hard to ensure that the helpline remains open 24 hours a day. While lockdown itself does not cause domestic abuse, Refuge says it can aggravate pre-existing behaviours in abusive partners.
Unicef: The children’s charity has also highlighted concerns that increased rates of abuse and exploitation of children have occurred during previous public health emergencies. For example, school closures during the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, contributed to spikes in child labour, neglect, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies. In Sierra Leone, cases of teenage pregnancy more than doubled to 14,000 from before the outbreak
There’s no doubt that the conditions created by COVID-19 have increased the likelihood that both stressors and vulnerability will increase in the home, with no outlet. With restrictions on leaving the home, abuse victims are not only unable to escape but many charities and support outlets are restricted.
The government has confirmed however, even during lockdown measures, individuals can leave their home if they are experiencing abuse.
Lack of routines, non-school attendance, too much technology, alcohol misuse and substance abuse have the most strongly evidenced association with child abuse and recurrent maltreatment. Families are also experiencing financial pressure which research indicates increases domestic violence in the home.
Family members, childcare workers, and educational personnel - such as teachers - often play a key role in detecting and reporting cases of abuse or exploitation. Those who are normally trained to be vigilant to physical and behavioural changes, which may indicate some form of abuse, are no longer having the same level of contact with individuals.
According to the British Association of Social Workers, members are reporting concerns for children whose families refuse their visits on the grounds that they are self-isolating or maintaining social distancing.
Where to get help
Women’s Aid has provided guidelines for victims and how to make a safety plan. This includes:
- Having a code word with a trusted person that lets them know it is not safe to talk or to ask them to phone the police?
- Silent Solution: When you call 999, the operator (the person on the phone) will ask which emergency service is required. Listen to the questions from the 999 call operator. If you cannot say ‘police’ or ‘ambulance’, respond by coughing or tapping the handset if you can. If prompted, press 55 on your phone. This lets the 999 call operator know it’s an emergency and that you aren’t safe to speak.
- Emergency text service: If you can’t call because you are deaf or can’t verbally communicate, you can register with the police text service. Text REGISTER to 999. You will get a text which tells you what to do next. Do this when it is safe so you can text when you are in danger.
- Reporting a crime: If you need to report a crime but you are not in immediate danger, you can call the police on 101 or report online.The police have a duty to protect you and your children. You should not be discriminated against for any reason, including your immigration status.
- Look at local support services in your area which should be found on your local authority website
- Speak to or contact your GPwho can contact the police on your behalf
Women’s Aid has also listed websites to assist families dealing with Covid-19:
During this time a number of organisations are available to continue to offer support. This includes:
- Victim Support Line offering emotional and practical support for anyone who has been a victim of crime. Telephone: 0808 1689 111 victimsupport.org.uk
- Refuge https://www.refuge.org.uk/ Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247
- Rape Crisis Helpline emotional support service for women and girls aged 16 and over who have experienced sexual violence. Telephone: 0808 802 9999 Opening hours: Every day: 12:00-14:30 and 19:00-21:30 rapecrisis.org.uk.
- Women’s Aid https://www.womensaid.org.uk/ https://www.womensaid.org.uk/covid-19-coronavirus-safety-advice-for-survivors/ [email protected]
- The Survivors Trust Telephone: 08088 010818 Email: [email protected] thesurvivorstrust.org
- National Male Survivor Helpline and Online Service confidential helpline for male victims of sexual violence and abuse. Telephone: 0808 800 5005Email: [email protected] Text: 07860 027573safeline.org.uk
- Galop - for members of the LGBT+ community for individuals who have experienced sexual assault, abuse, or violence, https://www.galop.org.uk Telephone: 0800 999 5428 Email: [email protected]
- Sign Health - Specialist support for Deaf and disabled survivors experiencing domestic abuse, Call 020 3947 2601 / (Text or WhatsApp/Facetime) 07970 350366 [email protected] https://signhealth.org.uk/
- Respond Support for people with learning disabilities and/or autism who have experienced trauma and abuse https://respond.org.uk / 020 7383 0700 /[email protected]
- NAPAC (National Association for People Abused in Childhood) NAPAC offers support to adult survivors of all types of childhood abuse, including physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect. https://napac.org.uk/ helpline: 0808 801 0331
Email: [email protected]
- NSPCC [email protected] 0808 800 5000
- Shelter provide free confidential housing information, support and legal advice on all housing and homelessness issues: 0808 800 4444 / https://england.shelter.org.uk/
- Pets: Many refuges are unable to accommodate pets. But there are specialist pet fostering services that can provide a solution. For more information please contact the Dogs Trust Freedom Projector Paws Protect.
There are also support networks if you are worried you are hurting someone:
- Stop it Now https://www.stopitnow.org.uk/ Telephone: 0808 1000 900
- Respect https://respectphoneline.org.uk/ for support and help to manage your behaviour. Telephone: 0808 8024040