Resources and support
Covid-19 does not cause domestic abuse, only abusers are responsible for their actions. The pandemic does, however, threaten to escalate abuse and close down routes to safety for women to escape.
Survivors contacting Women’s Aid’s direct services have reported escalating abuse and having to live in lockdown with an abuser due to Covid-19. Women in lockdown with their abuser will be less able to get breathing space. It will be harder to text or phone to get support from friends and family, and from specialist support services. Child survivors will no longer have the respite of school or nursery, which can often be a safe space to access support.
An initial survivor survey carried out by Women’s Aid in April 2020 , confirmed that Covid-19 had impacted on the experiences of women experiencing domestic abuse.
- 67.4% of survivors who are currently experiencing abuse told us that it had got worse since Covid-19.
- 76.1% told us they are having to spend more time with their abuser.
“It’s hell on earth living 24/7 now with my abuser & can’t get out to escape put distance between us when I feel tension rising”
“More time at home magnifies the issues, you can’t get away from it, I have to work harder to keep him happy.”
Women also found an increase in post-separation abuse.
- 13.7% of survivors who said they’d experienced abuse in a past relationship also told us the abuse from their abusive ex-partner had got worse since Covid-19.
This group of survivors talked about how feelings of isolation affected their wellbeing and recovery meaning that they continue to experience the impact of domestic abuse.
“It’s brought back feelings of being trapped and suffocating. Difficult to adjust to isolation as only just got used to being free”
“Being isolated takes away your support system. We don’t normally stay at home we’re out as much as possible in case he decides to turn up. But during this time we’re stuck inside and there’s only a front door between us if he decides to try and kick it in again.”
Survivors contacting Women’s Aid direct services told us about perpetrators using Covid-19 as part of abuse and concerns that perpetrators are failing to take necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.
Perpetrators of domestic abuse who use coercive and controlling tactics may use Covid-19 government restrictions to further control and isolate their partners. For example, preventing them from seeking medical attention, reaching out to support networks, or leaving the house.
“I am reliant upon my abuser to get food and medication as shielding for 12 weeks. This is being used against me”
- 71.7% of survivors responding to our survey who were experiencing current abuse told us their abuser has more control over their life since Covid-19. 
Survivors contacting Women’s Aid Direct services reported a range of impacts relating to Covid-19. They told us about being unable to flee as planned or unsure of their options for leaving. Although a government awareness campaign gives the message that you can still leave, there remain major questions about how services are practically going to be able to support the number of women and children seeking safety (see question below on the impact on service providers).
Covid-19 can make it more difficult for women to leave an abuser, particularly if they share a home.
- Over three quarters of survivors (78.3%) told us that Covid-19 has made it harder for them to leave their abuser1.
“I wanted to leave the relationship. However since Covid-19 and the lockdown coming into effect it has made it harder to leave. I am a keyworker who is around COVID +ve patients, so I don’t feel like I could go home and stay with my parents…”
Other survivors spoke about how the specialist support they are able to access has been impacted: 
“NHS counselling was cancelled – only had 5 out of my 8 sessions. Would have to go back on waiting list to access again.”
“My mental health and PTSD has got worse and I am struggling to get repeat prescriptions for medication for these conditions due to GP restrictions”
Service providers are finding their capacity to support survivors is impacted by Covid-19: 
- 84.4% (38 out of 45) of service providers responding to a Women’s Aid survey said they’d had to reduce or cancel one or more services, with over a third, 36.4% (12 of 33), refuge providers having to do so.20
- 68.9% (31 out of 45) of service providers responding to a Women’s Aid survey were concerned about future loss of income from fundraising.
- 48.9% of all service providers responding to a Women’s Aid survey had been impacted by staff off sick, and 64.4% by staff unable to come into work due to self-isolation.
Some refuge services are struggling to comply with government guidance to stay open and support new referrals: 
- Less than half (48.5%, 16 out of 33) of refuge service providers were able to comply with government guidance for existing service users and new referrals.
- Less than a third (30.3%, 10 out of 33) of refuge service providers reported that they had been provided with adequate PPE for their staff.
Availability of refuge spaces has decreased since the start of the pandemic
- Women’s Aid took a series of weekly snapshots from Routes to Support to show the number of refuge vacancies available in England. For the ten week period from 25th March to 27th May 2020 there were an average of 92 vacancies available at any one time. This compares to an average of 182 over the same time period in 2020.
- Reasons for this could range from services finding it harder to accept new referrals (see above), having to reduce the number of families in shared housing at one time to meet guidance or increased challenges around finding move-on accommodation for women already in refuge during the pandemic. Women’s Aid will explore this further in future research.
Use of Women’s Aid’s national online services has increased
- Women’s Aid’s Live Chat service saw a 41% increase between the 19th-25th March and 26th March-1st April
- Women’s Aid’s Survivors Forum saw a 27% increase between the 19th-25th March and 26th March-1st April
What we know about the impact on new referrals to local service providers.
Feedback from our members, including from our recent survey of service providers, shows that the impact on numbers of new referrals is varied. Some services reported increased referrals in the weeks after lock down whilst others saw a decrease. The reasons for this are varied and WA are seeking more local and national data to help us understand this picture.
Our data from On Track, looks at the overall trend on referrals to local services. It shows that:
- Referrals to refuge have decreased by almost 40%. 
- Referrals to community-based services have decreased by 16.5%. 
- The number of survivors calling local helplines decreased by one third. 
Services anticipate a spike in demand as lockdown lifts
Most services feel there will be an increase in demand once measures are lifted.
- 66.7% (30 out of 45) of service providers stated they were concerned about future increases in demand.
 This data was input by 55 organisations in England who run refuge services and use On Track. For these refuges combined, the average daily number of referrals received between 2nd January and 13th March 2020 was 31.7. After lockdown (from 23rd March 2020 to 17th April 2020) this dropped to an average of 19.7 referrals per day, a percentage decrease of 37.8%.
 This data was input by 66 organisations in England who run outreach, advocacy, IDVA/DAPA, floating support and advice & information services and use On Track. For these services combined, the average daily number of referrals between 1st November 2019 and 13th March 2020 was 231.6. After lockdown (from 23rd March 2020 to 17th April 2020) this dropped to an average of 193.5 referrals per day. This is percentage decrease of 16.5%.
 This data was input by 33 organisations in England who run local helpline services and use On Track. For these 33 local helplines combined, the total average daily number of calls from survivors between 2nd January and 13th March 2020 was 113.6. After lockdown (from 23rd March 2020 to 17th April 2020) this dropped to an average of 75.2 calls per day. This is percentage decrease of 33.8%.
There is currently a focus on community responses to survivors during Covid-19. Since 2016 Women’s Aid Federation of England has been leading a community response to domestic abuse called ‘Ask Me.’
This is now a tested and established scheme with a network of 1,164  Community Ambassadors across 13 geographical sites in England, covering parts of the North East, North West, Midlands, South, South East and London.
Since the government lockdown, Community Ambassadors have continued to raise awareness about domestic abuse in their communities, have safe conversations with survivors and signpost them to support.
Our survey with Community Ambassadors, carried out in April 2020, shows that they feel experiences of domestic abuse are worsening due to Covid-19, for women who are experiencing it now, in varying ways, and women who have experienced it in the past. Accessing support services as well as informal support has also become more difficult.
As a result, Community Ambassadors have adapted their ways of working. For example, Ambassadors have been:
- using social media more to share information about local and national support services;
- becoming more knowledgeable by reading and learning more about Domestic Abuse. One Community Ambassador said that they are “more aware of restrictions on survivor’s lives”;
- making sure people in their workplaces are aware of domestic abuse services support services;
- wearing an Ask Me badge when they go for walks; and
- waiting for survivors to call them as this is better for a survivor’s safety.
This has led to:
- Most ambassadors (63%), who responded to the survey, having more conversations since the government lockdown across society and in communities, about domestic abuse.
- Two thirds (66%) of Community Ambassadors, responding to this survey, have shared information and/or signposted survivors to get support since the government lockdown.
Change that Lasts, developed by Women’s Aid Federation of England and Welsh Women’s Aid, is a plan for a future where all survivors get the right response to domestic abuse the very first time. This includes getting the right response in the community. Ask Me scheme shows the power of training community members to understand domestic abuse, and to listen and believe survivors. The survey highlights the vital importance of ensuring that this type of training is rolled out in any community response to ensure survivors get the right response the first time.
 This data reflects Community Ambassadors trained from the beginning of the scheme up until December 2019, in England only.