29 June 2020
Mallika is a peer mentor for Independent Futures. In this blog she shares her views and advice on domestic abuse in COVID-19 times.
Coronavirus has impacted us all drastically. We’ve had to stay at home with our families for our own safety. The bitter irony of this message is that this can be life-threatening for those experiencing domestic abuse. Staying in an abusive household means they’re exposed to a lot more of their partner, and therefore a lot more abuse.
To clarify, I’m purposely saying abusive ‘household’ rather than ‘home’. Home reminds you of safety and comfort. Home should never be a place where it’s okay to be abused. And heartbreakingly, this makes it harder for people to get out.
Since lockdown, calls to domestic helplines have gone up by over 49% and killings have doubled. Coronavirus may not be causing domestic abuse itself, however, it plays a role in this increase and is a contributing factor as to why victims find it harder to leave during this time.
People living in an abusive household already feel torn. I grew up in a house where I was abused, and witnessed my mum receive domestic abuse from my father. It took her 13 years before she gained the courage to escape with myself and my brothers.
She feared many things. If my dad found us, it was certain that the abuse would get much worse. My mum also worried about what would happen if he didn’t find us. My dad had reduced my mum to thinking she was worthless and unable to function in the world without him.
Many abused people experience the same things when debating to leave. And now, it’s harder to escape because their abuser could be at home most (if not all) of the time.
There’s a lot of pressure on the individual to ‘just leave them’, but if you know someone who wants to get out of an abusive house they probably need help. I wish that our trusted family and friends had done so much more to help us escape sooner.
So how can we help?
I’ve made a list of some things that you can do to help domestic abuse victims during lockdown:
Listen and acknowledge their situation.
If they open up, listen closely and give them time to talk. However, don’t push them to reveal more than they say. It takes strength to speak about experiencing abuse. Encourage them to say how they feel about the situation, be patient and let them vent.
Some people may defend/justify their abuser’s behaviour at first. It’s hard to come to terms that someone they love would hurt them like this. Tell them that nothing justifies the abuser’s actions. No one deserves to be threatened, beaten, or controlled. Let them know that they’re not alone, and them that there are many survivors, and it’s possible to get through this.
It may be helpful after each discussion to note down anything that they’ve mentioned, including locations and dates. If they wish to speak to the police/solicitor later on, you can give them this information to help them build a case.
Stay in contact as much as possible during lockdown, but do it safely.
Visiting or calling is a lot harder during lockdown, and their abuser may be even more controlling. However, if possible, try visiting/calling to discuss how they are. Ask if they’ve suffered any physical harm and offer to take them to the hospital. If they choose, help them to report the assault to the police via phone call.
Plan strategies that respect their boundaries.
Remember that the abused person is in control of making their own decisions. Despite how hard it is seeing them in this situation, you cannot force them to leave if they aren’t ready.
If you know that they wish to leave their partner, plan safe strategies that they feel confident about e.g. giving your address/phone number/keeping an emergency bag ready.
Do NOT put yourself in ANY danger e.g. talking to the abuser on the victim’s behalf. This may cause the abuser to see you as a threat and cause more abuse to the victim or yourself.
Be ready with information on how to help.
Do some research on different organisations that can help and see what options sound best to them. I have included a list of various organisations below. Ensure that the plan helps the victim to leave the household, and places them somewhere safe where the abuser can’t find them.
They may be worried about leaving. Reassure them on the guidelines, which say that self-isolating doesn’t apply to those leaving their home to escape domestic abuse. Keep telling them throughout this process that leaving is the right decision.
These steps are only the start to a very lengthy journey of relearning their self-worth. The person experiencing domestic abuse is trusting you with their story and your reaction is important.
The right response could show them that they deserve more. The right response could give them the courage to leave their abuser. The right response could get them to stay at (a better) home.
Bristol-based domestic abuse support:
0117 925 0680 (Mon – Fri: 10am – 4pm)
Crisis support and temporary housing for women and children experiencing abuse.
0300 3031972 (Mon, Wed, Fri: 9.30am – 5.30pm and Tues, Thurs: 11am – 7pm)
Service for male identifying victims offering safety planning, support through civil and criminal proceedings, counselling, and access to appropriate housing.
National domestic abuse support:
If in immediate danger call/text 999 and ask for the police, if you’re unable to speak press 55 (only works if calling from mobile and doesn’t allow police to track your location)
National Domestic Abuse Helpline (Refuge)
0808 2000 247 (24 hours, free-phone)
Refuge offer: emergency temporary accommodation for victims escaping abuse, safety guides for women and children living with an abuser, and other emotional/practical support.
Services include: live chat service, survivors’ forum, and finding your local domestic abuse service. They also have advice on domestic abuse support during COVID-19.
0808 8010327 (Mon – Fri: 9am – 8pm)
A confidential helpline for male domestic abuse victims. They also have advice on domestic abuse support during COVID-19.
0800 5999247 (Mon – Fri: 9am – 5pm)
They support victims being forced into marriage, or being abused by their family/community because they’ve compromised their ‘honour’.
You can find more guidance on signs of abuse, and resources for BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic), LGBTQ+, disabled, and young people here.