As the words “Stay home, Stay safe, Save lives” are spoken throughout the country, it is important to remember that for some home may not represent a safe space and that the isolation of lockdown may in fact be life threatening. At the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit we recognise that those who are vulnerable in society are experiencing the greatest impact of this pandemic on many levels.
We want to take this opportunity to highlight one group that has come to the forefront of these conversations – the victims and survivors of domestic abuse. For those living in coercive or violent relationships, lockdown creates a “perfect storm” in that victims are trapped at home with an abusive partner and the potential for help seeking from support services, friends and family members, is reduced.
In this piece, we want to make victims and survivors of domestic abuse aware that they are not alone and that they do not need to suffer in silence. We also offer advice on how to access support for yourself or someone that you are concerned about.
Domestic abuse can affect anyone, and it exists in all sections of our communities.
Domestic abuse extends beyond physical acts of violence and can be verbal, sexual, psychological or financial. Recent changes to legislation in Scotland recognise the multiple ways people can be affected by abuse within the context of relationships and coercive control as a criminal offence.
Research consistently shows that incidents of domestic abuse increase during times of societal stress and crisis. Evidence around the world is highlighting a rise in incidents of domestic abuse during lockdown and there are reports that victims have sadly already lost their lives at the hands of their abusers. Countries living in social isolation have seen more contact with domestic abuse helplines as well as increased traffic to online services. It’s important to note that just like COVID-19, we are not aware of everyone who has been affected by domestic abuse during this time. These statistics only include those who have contacted services, and so may only represent the tip of the iceberg of this issue. Some may not have been able to safely make a call, and first-time victims may not always recognise behaviours as abusive, and so may be unsure who they can contact for support.
We are looking to other countries ahead of us in the trajectory of this pandemic to determine how best to tackle the spread of the COVID-19 virus and we should do the same in relation to violence reduction. It is currently too early to tell the impact that lockdown will have on domestic abuse rates in Scotland. However, we have the benefit of foresight and in looking to the evidence of increased abuse across the globe, we know what to expect which means we have the potential to make a difference. We need to spread the message that just because we are in lockdown, it does not mean that people should remain trapped in abusive homes or feeling that they are unable to seek help or support.
Help is still out there.
This is a time of anxiety, uncertainty and stress for all of us and for some the perceived lack of control within these circumstances will be especially challenging. However, it should be clear that violence in any form is unacceptable in all situations and there is no excuse or justification for domestic abuse. It is a crime and will not be tolerated in Scotland.
If you are worried about a friend, family member, colleague or neighbour it is important to remember that social distancing does not mean we need to be socially disconnected. Check in on any person that you are worried about virtually, just bear in mind the perpetrator could be listening. Whilst you should not refer to the abuser, as that may put the individual at risk, you can help a victim or survivor just by reaching out and being there for them. If safe to do so, remind them they to phone 999 if they are in immediate danger, or to reach out for support online.
If you are concerned about a neighbour, do not approach the perpetrator about their behaviour as this could put the victim at increased risk and you could be putting yourself in danger as well. Instead, call 999.
Where can help be found?
If you are experiencing domestic abuse and are in immediate danger, please call 999 and ask for the Police. If it is not safe to speak you have the option to use the Silent Solution System. After dialling 999, you dial 55 when prompted and this will inform the operator that it is an emergency and you will be transferred to the Police.
Woman’s Aid and SafeLives are some of the organizations who have published guidance for staying safe during this time which includes advice such as making sure that you have a phone and small amount of money or a card on you at all times, in case you need to escape.
- The Women’s Aid’s webchat service is open from 10am to 12pm, Monday to Friday https://chat.womensaid.org.uk/ and they have an email service too https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/help-by-email/
- The National Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline Scotland is available 24 hours a day: 0800 027 1234
- The Men’s Advice Line offers advice to men who are experiencing domestic abuse: 0808 801 0327