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This article will explore the understanding of domestic abuse, its remedies as well as the effects lockdown have had on those suffering from it during the Covid-19 pandemic. The article will then be summarised by highlighting the support available, whether charitable or directly from the government.
It is no surprise that the lockdown has had unintended consequences for those locked in abusive relationships. Therefore, this article will also consider how access to those remedies (within the confines of lockdown) have been adapted to the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in.
What is Domestic Abuse?
We often have our own perceptions of domestic abuse or violence as it is always known. We tend to link it primarily to physical violence and conduct which on the face of the facts, can be seen as excessive and perhaps even exaggerated. However, it is difficult to place it within a single definition and if anything, survivors of it will tell you that the above could not be further from the truth to an extent. It is important to appreciate that domestic abuse is complex – it can happen in ways in which one may never even begin to think that it could constitute abuse. Therefore, being able to recognise when it is happening is crucial for its prevention.
A variety of behavioural patterns is often associated with domestic abuse, aside from the physical violence, it also sees those who are victim subject to other types of harm. This includes but is not limited to:
- Emotional – abuse that makes the victim doubt themselves, or undermines their self-worth
- Intimidation – abuse that makes one fear injury or harm.
- Sexual – unwanted or inappropriate advances (could be physical or not), and includes forcing someone to perform sexual acts
- Financial – withholding or controlling money to the point where the victim’s financial independence and freedom is non-existent
- Psychological – subjecting someone to behaviour that creates feelings of fear, anxiety, trauma, stress, depression, low-self esteem
- Technological – using technology such as smartphones to facilitate abuse i.e. constant calling or messaging, accessing private social media accounts, threatening to expose information online (i.e revenge pornography).
For those being subjected to it, it brings with it feelings of not just pain, but helplessness, powerlessness and despair for which finding help can prove to be extremely challenging.
Remedies against domestic abuse
Remedies for domestic abuse exist both within the civil and criminal jurisdictions: Injunctions or restraining orders. The remedies include:
- Non-Molestation Orders – Injunctive relief that prevents contact between partners
- Occupation Orders – Orders the abusive partner out of the home
- Child Arrangement Orders – agreement that sees how children should interact (if appropriate) with one of their parents
- Restraining Order or a Protective Order– Restrains and prohibits a party from doing something i.e. prohibiting someone from getting in direct contact with someone.
Remedies are available and depending on the extremity, can be granted within the same say that the application is filed in court. However, in these unprecedented times, access to justice can seem remote.
How lockdown has affected domestic abuse
According to the charity Refuge, calls from women seeking help increased in the first three months of lockdown by 80% when compared to the same period as last year. For men being affected, calls reached a high of 8,500 by June too. It could be inferred from this that lockdown has directly led to a significant increase in cases of domestic violence.
Even in the first few weeks of lockdown in April, calls increased by 49% and the highest fatality rate (16 deaths in April rising to 26 by July 2020) in 11 years was recorded in in the first three weeks of lockdown. There has been some effort by the government to ensure that those facing domestic violence during the country-wide lock down had access to sufficient support.
What help is available?
The government announced that Household Isolation as a result of the Pandemic did not and does not apply to individuals who need to leave their home to escape domestic violence. They also pledged over £30 million to charities such as Refuge, which will be dedicated to providing help and prioritisation to those suffering from domestic abuse.
Furthermore, the Department for Work and Pensions has further supported the Government’s claim that those suffering are exempt from the strict rules of lockdown. They have taken the approach that is akin to the changes being proposed by the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee – a strategy that places emphasis on awareness in order to strengthen support and prevention.
However, their approach is a little more complex. In order to receive help specifically form the DWP, written evidence from a ‘person acting in official capacity’ (i.e healthcare professional, police officers, social workers, charities) has to be submitted showing that the ‘circumstances are consistent with those of a person who has had domestic violence inflicted’. Although it could be possible to highlight that this could come into conflict with the discreetness that is common among those seeking help, once this is done it opens up the doors to a variety of help schemes such as Universal Credit, Housing Benefits, Jobseekers and Support Allowances, Child Maintenance etc.
All of this is available as of this moment and the rules surrounding its accessibility have not changed even whilst lockdown was in effect.
We understand that being discreet is not always an option and that lockdown is no excuse for domestic abuse to thrive, therefore the following advice and help for those being affected is as follows:
- Police: 999 and if you are in a situation where you cannot speak, dial 55 when prompted
- Refuge 24 hour helpline: 0808 2000 247 – alternatively, if you wish to know more about domestic abuse you can visit their website at: https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/
- Welsh Women’s Aid Live Fear Free 24-hour helpline: 0808 80 10 800
- Scotland National Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriages 24-hour helpline: 0800 027 1234
- Northern Ireland Domestic Abuse 24-hour helpline: 0808 802 1414
- Men’s Advice Line0808 801 0327
- Citizens Advice – This link provides further assistance and phone lines that can be used in emergencies: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/gender-violence/domestic-violence-and-abuse-getting-help/
This article is intended for guidance only and must not be relied upon for specific advice.