THE IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS ON DOMESTIC ABUSE IN THE UK
In the UK, as well as many other countries, all but essential services are closed for the time being, with new and strict restrictions in place for people to be able to obtain the necessities such as; medication, groceries, access to medical care and in some cases, banking. The UK Government has given guidance to the people of Britain to stay home. The instruction to stay home is backed up by legal legations under Regulation 6 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 which provides that; it is an offence for a person to leave home without ‘reasonable excuse”. Under Regulation 6, a reasonable excuse includes; leaving the house to access “critical public services” which includes social services and services provided to those at risk and leaving the house to avoid injury or illness or to escape the risk of harm. Despite these closures and the requirement to stay home being a necessity to stop the calamitous spread of coronavirus, there is an absolute equally devastating side effect to this lockdown, which is an increase in domestic abuse.
DOMESTIC ABUSE IN LOCKDOWN
There is mounting evidence that shows that the lockdown, due to the coronavirus, has exacerbated domestic violence. For example, The Women’s aid and the Charity organisation have raised concerns over the lockdown for the reason that, “it will heighten domestic tensions and cut off escape routes for victims”. This predicted impact has therefore manifested in the April 2020 National Domestic Abuse Helpline report which shows that there has been a 25% increase in calls and online request for help since the lockdown. Additionally, reports from the BBC news shows that fourteen women and two children have been killed in the first three weeks of lockdown in the UK.
Peterman (2020) proposes an explanatory theory for pandemics and domestic abuse in homes. he stated that during the times of crises such as the current pandemic, rates of domestic abuse tend to increase. This view is because, the stress of the situation, potential job loss and economic uncertainty and being limited to the home in close quarters could escalate the risk of violence.
THE IMPACT OF LOCKDOWN ON DOMESTIC ABUSE SERVICES
As a result of the increase in domestic abuse cases, many local charities and shelters are unable to effectively respond to the unusual number of calls. Chayn, a domestic abuse charity, in their report states that the analysis showed that visits to its websites had more than trebled more than the last month compared with April last year. More importantly, the effect of such traffic is that some charities can no longer “effectively support” and provide face to face or phone support to victims of abuse because of the lockdown, technical issues and staff sickness. In one of the recent BBC articles on domestic abuse and coronavirus, one of the victims of abuse stated that “I am scared I cannot contact these organisations. I am in a controlling, emotionally and abusive relationship and fear it could escalate due to the heightened stress surrounding the current virus”
For some victims who may escape from home, accommodation services may not be able to provide comfortable arrangement such as self-contained spaces. This is largely due to the government’s released guidelines on maintaining social distancing and self-isolation. Therefore, with little spaces, it is difficult to adhere to such guidelines and provide adequate support to victims of abuse.
THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE
In an attempt to tackle the increase on domestic abuse cases in the UK, the Government has published a detailed guidance to support the management of safe accommodation setting during the pandemic. In its published guidance, the Government stated that the accommodation settings, do not need to close unless directed to do so by Public Health England or the Government. Sites should implement careful infection control measures and maintain safe staff ratios. Residents’ access to shared spaces may need to be limited, and professionals may need to provide support over the phone or online rather than in person.
Despite assurances by the Government that it will deliver safe accommodation in cases of domestic abuse and protect the most vulnerable in society, adequate measures have not been taken on behalf of victims of abuse. This view is because, there are no safe means of communication between charities and victims. Additionally, as mentioned previously, there are not enough rooms in some accommodations to comply with infection control measures. Therefore, a suitable response will be a separate emergency fund for local authorities to ensure they are able to adequately house survivors of domestic abuse in hotels or other safe and suitable accommodation and to publish clear information to make survivors aware of the additional supports.