The measures we take to prevent the spread of Coronavirus do not only save lives by preventing people from contracting the virus. They also prevent stringent lockdown measures from being put in place. For victims of domestic abuse, being trapped at home may be a matter of life and death.
This is made clear by the dreadful fact that in the first three weeks of lockdown, 14 women and two children were killed in alleged domestic abuse cases, double the average rate for a given three week period and the highest number in a three week period in 11 years. Furthermore, the rate of calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline run by Refuge was 25% above average in the second week of lockdown and 49% higher than normal after three weeks. Nextlink – which also provides domestic abuse services in the Bristol region – has had a big increase in demand for all services caused partly by increased referrals from the police and health services.
What matters now is that there is a coherent strategy and support available to help victims of abuse during the winter, when a second spike may cause more localised lockdown measures to be put in place. Furthermore, the economic toll of the crisis may cause increased tension and strain on relationships as people lose their jobs and businesses struggle.
In April, the government provided an extra £2 million in funding for domestic abuse services and has launched an online campaign to raise awareness of this issue under the Hashtag #YouAreNotAlone. Labour welcomed the move though felt the government measures did not go anywhere near far enough to provide the emergency support necessary to sustain vital services.
Responding to the later Home Office announcement of £3.1m for organisations supporting children affected by domestic abuse, my colleague Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds MP said: “This announcement falls woefully short of the amount needed to support vital front line services in the face of rapidly increasing domestic abuse during lockdown.“ Labour had set out an urgent £75m plan to fund charities working to protect people suffering from domestic abuse.
Nonetheless, Parliament was united in passing a Domestic Abuse Bill in the House of Commons in July which ruled out “consent for sexual gratification” as a defence for causing serious harm amongst other things. However, there are further actions that the government and the public can take to promote the safety and well-being of victims.
As schools reopen teachers must be able to identify students who’ve experienced difficulties at home and ensure they get the support they need.
Furthermore, we should also seek to make sure there are enough safe houses available for women and children who are seeking to escape violence and threatening behaviour.
In Bristol, a Mayoral Commission on Domestic Abuse has been set up led by councillors Helen Godwin and Asher Craig, which will produce a set of principles to be shared with organisations, institutions and companies across the city, hopefully resulting in real change.
Lastly, the Keeping Bristol Safe Partnership has launched a lovely campaign which encourages us all to ask our family, friends and colleagues, “Are you ok?”. Only by looking out for each other can we ensure the safety and well-being of Bristolians.
This blog was first drafted by sixth-former Saul Bhaidani during a work experience placement in Thangam Debbonaire’s office.