Survivors say domestic abuse is escalating under lockdown
Women’s Aid Survivor Survey published ahead of the domestic abuse bill’s second reading.
Women’s Aid works to ensure that the voices of survivors are heard by decision makers. The charity has warned that the Covid-19 lockdown will have serious impacts on women and children experiencing domestic abuse and has called for coordinated government action in response.
Over two-thirds of survivors responding to Women’s Aid survey in April 2020 told the national charity that domestic abuse is escalating under lockdown and 72 per cent said that their abuser has more control over their life since Covid-19.
1) Domestic abuse is worse during Covid-19
Women’s Aid Survivor Survey shows that abusers are using Covid-19 to perpetuate abuse, and the abuse is escalating. In the survey, 67 per cent of survivors who are currently experiencing abuse said it has got worse since Covid-19 and 72 per cent said their abuser had more control over their life.
“I am reliant upon my abuser to get food and medication as shielding for 12 weeks. This is being used against me.”
This also impacts on children who are affected by the domestic abuse directed towards their mothers. Additionally, over one-third of survivors with children told us their abuser had shown an increase in abusive behaviour directed towards their children.
“I have two small children…They are experiencing more [abuse] as they are witnessing it more.”
2) It is significantly harder to leave your abuser and seek specialist help
Over three-quarters (78 per cent) of survivors reported to Women’s Aid Survivor Survey that Covid-19 has made it harder for them to leave their abuser. One survivor said how lockdown has impacted on her plans:
“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 positive patients, so I don’t feel like I can go home and stay with my parents.”
Others spoke about how the specialist support they had been able to access has been affected:
“NHS counselling was cancelled – only had 5 out of my 8 sessions. Would have to go back on waiting list to access again.”
“I have [one child] down to go to the Trauma Recovery Centre but it’s not working now.”
3) Isolation increases as informal support decreases
According to the survey, women experiencing domestic abuse are feeling trapped within their homes. It is harder to access informal support from family, friends or work colleagues. Unsurprisingly, a staggering 80 per cent of survivors, who previously had been supported through face-to-face informal networks, said this had stopped completely or decreased.
“It’s hell on earth living 24/7 now with my abuser and I can’t get out to escape and put distance between us when I feel tension rising.”
This sense of isolation is also impacting women who had escaped abuse before lockdown started.
“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.”
4) There is an impact on child contact
Many women in the Women’s Aid Survivor Survey have experienced difficulties around child contact during the Covid-19 lockdown. Of the survivors with child contact arrangements, 40 per cent told Women’s Aid Survivor Survey that child contact arrangements have been used to further abuse and 35 per cent said they were concerned about the safety of child contact during this time.
“My biggest concern is that my child may be given back to our abuser if I were to become seriously unwell with the virus or not survive.“
“My abuser is withholding our young child in violation of our custody orders, I have had no contact with my child for weeks.”
“I have stopped contact between the children and their father for the duration of the epidemic. He is threatening me with court… I do not trust him to keep our children safe.”
Nicki Norman Women’s Aid Acting CEO said:
“Our Survivor Survey gives voice to the women experiencing abuse, from former or current partners, and how they are affected by lockdown. Covid-19 has laid bare the lack of protection for women and children experiencing domestic abuse and demonstrates the urgent need for action. After years of delay, we welcome the domestic abuse bill’s return to parliament.
However, significant changes are required to ensure this legislation delivers the transformation that survivors need. Women’s Aid has long called for the bill to deliver a safe child contact and family court system, stronger housing rights to enable survivors to escape an abuser, and equal protection and support for migrant women. As Covid-19 shuts down routes to safety and support, these reforms are more needed than ever.
Most urgently, the national network of domestic abuse services needs emergency cash, and a guarantee of a secure funding future, to continue delivering the life-saving support survivors need so desperately right now. Women’s Aid is calling for at least £48.2m in emergency funding to help local services cope during this crisis.”
Sarah Davidge Women’s Aid Research and Evaluation manager said:
“We empower survivors by listening to women and children and responding to their needs. The Survivor Survey will enable Women’s Aid to continue to assess and monitor the impact of Covid-19 on women and children who are experiencing domestic abuse or have done in the past. We know from the world’s previous pandemics and conflict that lockdown threatens the safety of women and children. This survey confirms and evidences our deepest concerns.”
Women’s Aid Survivor Survey was circulated widely online in April 2020 via Women’s Aid’s Survivors Forum, Women’s Aid Facebook groups, Mumsnet, Netmums and #thecourtsaid. The analysis is broken down by survivors who are currently experiencing abuse and those who have experienced domestic abuse in the past.
If you are worried that your partner, or that of a friend or family member, is controlling and abusive, go to www.womensaid.org.uk for support and information, including Live Chat, the Survivors’ Forum, The Survivor’s Handbook and the Women’s Aid Directory. Live Chat is open from 10 am – 2 pm for confidential expert support from specialised support workers. Click to access support and advice.
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Women’s Aid is the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. Over the past 45 years, Women’s Aid has been at the forefront of shaping and coordinating responses to domestic abuse through practice, research and policy. We empower survivors by keeping their voices at the heart of our work, working with and for women and children by listening to them and responding to their needs.
We are a federation of nearly 180 organisations which provide just under 300 local lifesaving services to women and children across the country. We provide expert training, qualifications and consultancy to a range of agencies and professionals working with survivors or commissioning domestic abuse services, and award a National Quality Mark for services which meet our quality standards. We hold the largest national data set on domestic abuse, and use research and evidence to inform all of our work. Our campaigns achieve change in policy, practice and awareness, encouraging healthy relationships and helping to build a future where domestic abuse is no longer tolerated.
Our support services, which include our Live Chat Helpline, the Survivors’ Forum, the No Woman Turned Away Project, the Survivor’s Handbook, Love Respect (our dedicated website for young people in their first relationships), the national Women’s Aid Directory and our advocacy projects, help thousands of women and children every year.