Coronavirus: Refuges Stay Open Amid Fears Domestic Abuse Will Increase
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Coronavirus: Refuges Stay Open Amid Fears Domestic Abuse Will Increase

By Aaron Walawalkar, News and Digital Editor, Sian Bradley, Journalist 20 Mar 2020
Justice
Credit: Unsplash

The UK government’s coronavirus response measures are making it harder for people to flee abusive relationships, a domestic abuse charity has warned. 

Charity Solace Women’s Aid, which runs refuges across London, is calling on the government boost funding for domestic abuse services as part of its efforts to tackle Covid-19 outbreak.

Official guidance urges the UK public to maintain “social distancing” – working from home where possible – and to self-isolate if presenting the symptoms of Covid-19.

News reports have claimed that a “lockdown” may be put in place in London this weekend – although No10 has insisted that this will not involve restrictions on freedom of movement.

“We think it is likely that there will be an increase in domestic abuse with people self-isolating,” said Fiona Dwyer, chief executive of Solace Women’s Aid.

“It will be even more difficult to leave abusive relationships if both partners are self-isolating or working from home.

“People fleeing abusive relationships will often have to identify that one, crucial, time during the day where it’s safe for them to go. That is going to be far more challenging if a partner is monitoring you 24 hours a day.

“Lots of women are being told to work from home. If they cannot work from home, or are on zero hour contracts – it’s going to put additional pressure on relationships that are already abusive. I do anticipate there will be an increase in abuse.”

Solace Women’s Aid is working with its partners and local authorities to keep its head office (during core hours) and all refuges open to ensure those fleeing abuse will have a place to go.

The pandemic means that some services – such as children’s play therapy – will most likely have to be placed on hold whilst others, such as adult counselling are possible to do online.

 

“For us this is completely unknown. It’s completely unprecedented,” she said.

Dwyer said that the government must ensure domestic abuse survivors do not lose their social tenancies if they are forced to flee to a refuge.

She added that it must “take seriously” domestic abuse in its coronavirus planning and not allow it to be an “elephant in the room”.

“We need the government to properly fund domestic abuse services overall. Funding of specialist domestic abuse services was almost completely missing from the budget.”

Earlier this month chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled his budget – of which £10m was devoted to curbing domestic abuse.

Support worker Emily Sterne fears her St Mungo’s-run women’s shelter could be forced to close if staff become ill. She spoke of how staff must often to prevent perpetrators from entering onto the premises.

She said: “I work with clients who have been held captive by their partners so being trapped inside will bring that up again. One woman goes for walks everyday just to remind herself she’s allowed to go where she wants to now.”

What To Do

“For some people, this stressful time will cause the best in people to shine through. We will see acts of bravery, selflessness, tolerance and support,” said lawyer Jacqueline Major, head of the family law team at Hodge Jones & Allen.

“But the enormous pressure on people is also bound to result in huge tensions, especially in enforced and unnatural setting.

“It remains to be seen whether domestic abuse will increase as a result of the pressures of self-isolation, and of living in close proximity to others during this  stressful time.”

She urged anyone fearing for their safety, or that of their family members, to call the police and highlighted that domestic abuse survivors can apply for court orders to protect themselves.

 

Anyone who requires help or support can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline which is open 24/7 365 days per year on 0808 2000 247 or via their website https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/. Solace Women’s Aid is available to help in London on 020 7619 1350 or via their website https://www.solacewomensaid.org/