Covid-19: Safety advice for survivors

Many survivors will be feeling unsafe isolating in a house with an abusive person, and isolated from their support networks.

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We want to reassure you we are here for you. We will be doing everything we can to support you during this challenging time.We have put together some advice and information about the support available. Remember that you are an expert in your own situation and only take on advice that feels safe and relevant to you. Always remember that the abuse you are experiencing is not your fault.

It is important to think through what steps you can take to keep safe. How might you respond in different situations? How will you get help if you need it?

  •  Try to keep your mobile phone on you at all times. Try to make sure your mobile phone is charged.
  • Family, friends and neighbours can support you.
  • Can you safely keep in touch with people you trust over the phone or online? This could be a friend, family member, neighbour, carer, or support worker. You can use the opportunities when you can leave the house to make these calls e.g. when you go to the supermarket.
  • Can you talk to them about what you are experiencing?
  • Can you have a code word with a trusted person that lets them know it is not safe to talk or to ask them to phone the police?
  • Could you agree a regular time and day for them to check-in?
  • Let them know if there are safe times to call you
  • Get familiar with how to delete messages quickly. If the abuser is monitoring your phone – delete your messages or call records afterwards. You can also try apps that allow for more secrecy. For example, Telegram and Signal
  • The police are a key service when in immediate danger. Do not be afraid to call 999 in an emergency
  • Silent Solution: When you call 999, the operator (the person on the phone) will ask which emergency service is required. Listen to the questions from the 999 operator. If you cannot say ‘police’ or ‘ambulance’, respond by coughing or tapping the handset if you can. If prompted, press 55 on your phone. This lets the 999 call operator know it’s an emergency and that you aren’t safe to speak. Click here to find out more.
  • Emergency text service: If you can’t call because you are d/Deaf or can’t verbally communicate, you can register with the police text service. Text REGISTER to 999. You will get a text which tells you what to do next. Do this when it is safe so you can text when you are in danger. Click here to find out more.
  • Reporting a crime: If you need to report a crime but you are not in immediate danger, you can call the police on 101 or report online. The police have a duty to protect you and your children. You should not be discriminated against for any reason, including your immigration status.

 

Help and support is available

Support services can help you think through your safety options and provide emotional support. You can access support by calling a national helpline or accessing support online. Local support services are also still open, and are adapting the way they work to ensure you can still get the help you need.

Women’s Aid is continuing to provide the following services:

  • The Survivors’ Forum is an online resource for survivors of domestic abuse. The Survivors’ forum can be accessed 24/7. This is a place where survivors can support each other and share their experiences.
  • Women’s Aid Live Chat is open from Monday to Friday 10:00am – 4:00pm, and on weekends, Saturday and Sunday 10:00am-12:00pm. This could be a safer way to access some support; particularly if an abuser might also be in the property so it would be unsafe to make a telephone call.
  • Women’s Aid email service is still operating and can also provide support.

 

National helplines

All national helplines are free to call and can provide interpreter services if English is not your first language. For details of helplines, go to: www.gov.uk/report-domestic-abuse

Online support

Accessing information online such as our Live Chat service and email, may feel like the best option for you at this time. If you do access any information online you may need to delete your browser history or use ‘private browsing’ as a way to hide your searches. For more information on how to stay safe online click here.

Specialist lesbian, gay, bixsexual and trangender (LGBT) support: 

Specialist ‘by and for’ support for Black and minoritised women: 

Specialist support for Deaf and disabled survivors:

  • Sign Health: Supports d/Deaf people experiencing domestic abuse, including a pilot online support project –
  • Call 020 3947 2601 / (Text or WhatsApp/Facetime) 07970 350366 [email protected]
  • Stay Safe East: Supports d/Deaf and disabled people experiencing domestic abuse and hate crime (London only) [email protected]
  • Respond: Support for people with learning disabilities and/or autism who have experienced trauma and abuse – 020 7383 0700 /[email protected]

 

Local support services

You can still access support from your local support service, most likely by telephone or online. To find out about the local support services available in your area:

  • Your local authority website should include information on where to get help in your local area. You can find out who your local authority is here

Women’s Aid Directory of Services

Rape Crisis

 

GPs

You can still book an appointment with your GP. This will probably be carried out over the phone or via a video link. GPs have been sent guidance on how to best support you if they know or suspect that you are experiencing abuse.

If it isn’t safe to talk when they ring you, you can ask them to call back. Make sure that you are alone and cannot be overheard if you accept the call.

Let your GP or nurse know if you don’t feel safe, are frightened, in immediate danger or if the abuse is getting worse. If it’s not safe for you to ring a support service or the police, you can ask the GP or nurse to do this for you.

 

Safety planning

A personal safety plan helps you to think about how you can increase your safety. It’s important to think through how you might respond in different situations, including crisis situations.

Support services can help you put a safety plan in place. There is also useful advice online:

Some questions to think through:

  • Think through the layout of your house. Which rooms are safest? For example, where you can more easily leave the house. Which rooms should you try and avoid during an incident? For example, the kitchen.
  • If your children are old enough – can you teach them how to call for help?
  • If you had to leave in an emergency do you know where you would go?
  • If possible pack an emergency bag for you and your children and keep it somewhere safe. Try to include essential things such as medication, identification, money or cards, and essential clothing for you and your children.

 

Do you want to leave?

It may feel particularly difficult to leave at the moment. Your abuser may tell you are not able to leave because of self-isolation. But the government has confirmed that you can leave your home if you are experiencing abuse.

There are four other reasons people can currently leave their homes– food shopping, health reasons, essential work, and exercise. These could provide opportunities to seek help.

If you do decide to leave, it is best to plan this carefully as it can be a risky time. Support services can help you plan the safest way to leave. You can also find further advice here. The following information on housing options and legal protection may also be useful:

 

Housing and refuge

  • We understand that due to self-isolation staying with family and friends might not be an option.
  • Refuge services could still be an option for you. You can find out about available refuge places by calling one of the national helplines, asking another support service or the police to help you.
  • Refuge services are still open and accepting referrals, though this has become more difficult. There is guidance for refuges on how to provide support during the Covid-19 pandemic including for survivors and children who may need to self-isolate with them.
  • Pets: Many refuges are unable to accommodate pets. But there are specialist pet fostering services that can provide a solution. For more information please contact the Dogs Trust Freedom Project or Paws Protect.
  • Your local authority housing department still has a responsibility to give you information about your housing options. You will need to contact the department by phone or email. Contact details for your local authority housing department will be on their website. You can find out who your local authority is here.
  • Shelter provide free confidential housing information, support and legal advice on all housing and homelessness issues: 0808 800 4444  / Webchat https://england.shelter.org.uk/

 

Legal protections

There is also a range of legal protections you can apply for:

  • An occupation order – this order can exclude an abuser from living in a property, even if they are the joint or sole owner of the property.
  • A domestic violence protection order – this is a temporary order and can remove an abuser from your residence and from making contact with you for up to 28 days.
  • If you are not living with the abuser but are still experiencing abuse, you can apply for a non-molestation order which can prevent the abuser from contacting you.
  • You can apply for a domestic abuse injunction online using RCJ Citizens Advice CourtNav service or you can self-refer to FLOWS for support making an application here.
  • More information is available on the Rights of Women’s website, and they also run a legal helpline if you need advice.

 

Disability

Disabled survivors experience specific types of abuse, such as ‘carer abuse’, and experience more barriers to accessing support. Disabled survivors will also be experiencing more challenges during this time. Support services, social services and the police are still working, and are there to help.

  • We understand that you may rely on the abuser for everyday tasks like getting washed and dressed, taking your medication, getting food, communication or paperwork. But you can ask your local social services for help with a care package so you don’t have to depend on the abuser. You must tell social services you are in danger, and need an emergency assessment. It’s important to tell them what help you need with and why the abuser can’t help. Your local disability association can help advocate for you to get the support you need from social services.
  • All the support services and legal protections outlined above are available to you. There are also specialist support services for Deaf and disabled survivors mentioned above (Sign Health, Stay Safe East, and Respond).
  • Disability Rights UK provides guidance for users of social care and personal assistance – click here.

 

Information available in accessible formats:

  • Sign Health has produced accessible videos about Covid-19/ Coronavirus in British Sign Language, including updates after the daily government briefings – click here.
  • Sign Health has produced accessible short educational films on consent, sexting, so called ‘honour’ based violence, forced marriage in British Sign Language. Available here.

 

Children and young people

Children and Young People are also deeply affected by abuse, and facing real challenges during the Covid-19 crisis. Support available for children and young people:

General resources for children/ families dealing with Covid-19:

 

Child contact and family court

Child contact is often used as a way for abusers to continue their control, and arrangements have become more difficult due to Covid-19.

  • Be mindful of sharing details such as your address, phone number or email address with your abuser that could compromise your safety. If your abuser turns up at your property without agreement do not allow him in. Call 999 if you are feeling threatened.
  • Rights of Women have developed some useful information about child contact during Covid-19 – available here.
  • The President of the Family Division has released guidance on compliance with family court child arrangement orders’ during Covid-19 – available here.

 

If you have concerns around the family court:

  • CAFCASS are regularly updating their information in regard to Covid-19 – available here.
  • The judiciary have also released some guidance on Covid-19 including remote access to family courts.

 

Migrant and refugee survivors

We know that migrant survivors and those with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) face barriers to accessing support.

The below updates and resources may be useful:

The NHS have confirmed that no charges will be made in the diagnosis or treatment of coronavirus (Covid-19). This applies to everyone living in the UK, regardless of your immigration status. No immigration checks are required for testing or treatment for Covid-19, so please access healthcare if you need to. More information available here.

The Welsh Government has confirmed that those with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) in Wales will now be eligible for some additional types of government funded support such as housing and refuge support. More information available here.

Also note that if your visa is about to expire or has expired after 24th January and you cannot travel due to #COVID2019, the Home Office has stated that you will be able to extend it until 31st May 2020. More information available here.

 

Information available in different languages

If English is not your first language, you can find information on Coronavirus (Covid-19) and advice for patients in 21 different languages – available here.

The Muslim Women’s Network UK has posted audio safety messages about domestic abuse and Covid-19 in different languages – available here.

 

Finances

Many survivors experience economic abuse, and many will experience financial hardship during the Covid-19 crisis. There are some useful sources of support and information if you are facing financial difficulties:

  • Surviving Economic Abuse has produced guidance on economic abuse while self-isolating, as well as practical issues including benefits and sick pay. The guidance is updated regularly as the situation changes.
  • Citizens Advice have guidance on coronavirus outlining what benefits are available, and how to access foodbanks.
  • Turn2us also helps people to access the money available to them through welfare benefits and grants.
  • The Royal Association for the Deaf can support d/Deaf people to access welfare benefits. You can contact them by email – [email protected] They also have a new Live Chat on their website.
  • Some charities offer grants after leaving your home because of domestic abuse. For example Family Fund for families with disabled children, and Buttle UK grants for families in crisis.

 

Mental wellbeing and self-care

If you are or have previously experienced abuse, lockdown can be distressing. During this time it is important to prioritise your health and wellbeing.

Self-care and useful resources

Self-care is always important, but even more so at this time. Here are some useful resources to help you:

Mindfulness Apps

Online counselling

If you were accessing counselling that has now been suspended; some counselling services can continue to provide helpline support. For example, Support Line provide a confidential telephone helpline and email counselling service. Sign Health are offering online therapy sessions in British Sign Language for d/Deaf People.

Mental Health Helplines

LGBT Networks and Resources

 

Drug and alcohol misuse

Many survivors use alcohol or drugs as a means to cope with their experiences. All the support services listed in this resource provide non-judgemental emotional support. These services should be able to provide you with information about specialist drugs and alcohol support services. You can also access some online advice from We are Here You.

 

Mutual aid groups

During this crisis we have seen the power of communities with thousands of local mutual aid groups coming together across the country. These groups are made up of your neighbours who want to help one another with the challenges of current isolation measures. For example doing food shopping for those who can’t, and combatting loneliness. You can find your local mutual aid group here.

 

We hope you have found this information helpful.

Please remember you are not alone.

We are here for you.

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Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

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