“When I lost my job during the lockdown, his abuse got worse. He got more controlling. I had no access to money. He stopped me talking to my daughter. I felt trapped and alone.” Natalie
Lockdown has seen a surge in domestic abuse reports like Natalie’s. During the six months of lockdown, police received a call about domestic abuse every 30 seconds[i]. Calls to domestic abuse helplines have also rocketed.
Before Covid-19, one in four women and one in six men would have been a victim of this abuse in their lifetime[ii]. But the restrictions placed on people’s movements, coupled with the stress and strain of increasing numbers of job losses, has sadly piled pressure on already unhealthy relationships and contributed to the level of abuse at home that victims are now reporting across the UK.
With domestic abuse causing victims long-term mental and physical trauma, society cannot stand by and allow more frequent, more severe and more dangerous incidents of abuse to continue.
We must break down barriers because this type of abuse is happening in all our neighbourhoods, to people we know. Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, regardless of ethnicity, religion, income, age, gender, sexuality or social background. It’s a stark reminder that someone you sit next to in the office, a person you pass in the street, a friend or family member could be suffering at the hands of an abuser.
We have seen in the news recently that even high -profile figures can be perpetrators and victims of abuse. With their responsibility as role models, there should be no free passes for famous people who abuse their partner.
Spotting the signs
Sometimes the signs abuse is happening are clear. You may have heard arguments or constantly raised voices coming from your neighbour’s house, but other times it’s not easy to spot. Individuals who carry out this type of abuse can control every aspect of a victim’s life, such as their money, who they see, what they wear or where they go.
As lockdown measures began to ease, some victims have come forward to ask for help. But the truth is that post-lockdown may have only been a momentary pause in the intensity and cycle of abuse some victims experience. Two-thirds of victims still feel unable to seek help because they fear the repercussions of speaking out[iii]. The recent increase in coronavirus cases and the potential for further restrictions may have compounded their anxieties.
Thankfully for Natalie, her story has a positive ending. While she was on probation for a fraud offence, her probation officer was able to spot the signs of abuse because of the learning and development programmes she went on. She helped her to escape an unhealthy relationship that left her in fear for too long. With our support, she found emergency accommodation. She started a new job and has regained a sense of independence.
But for many others trapped in an abusive relationship, they feel unable to break away or build the confidence to seek help.
In recent weeks, the government has announced more local lockdowns across large parts of the North. Many other communities could face a similar situation nationally. Our society must make sure there is additional support for victims, including a focus on hard to reach groups, so they too can have the courage like Natalie to leave.
While the government has produced guidance to support domestic abuse victims to get help during the pandemic, and provided funding to charities, we must still to do more to help victims seek a place of safety too. We take this responsibility to work together with other agencies and our Police and Crime Commissioner to address domestic violence in our local communities seriously.
Work with perpetrators much-needed too
Supporting victims must always be a priority, but if we want to stop abuse in the first place, we must also work with those who cause harm to change their ways.
Research by Safer Lives found that a quarter of perpetrators in the UK who cause serious harm are repeat offenders – in some cases having at least six victims. But currently fewer than one percent receive a specialist intervention to change.[iv]
Our domestic abuse and stalking programmes give perpetrators the psychological understanding and strategies to avoid turning to coercion, control, violence and intimidation again. By using these newfound skills, the perpetrator can make a positive life-decision and end their abusive past.
Programmes like these that address the way the perpetrator mentally processes the reasons for carrying out such violence and intimidation, cut an individual’s physical and sexual abuse by more than 80%.[v]
It is through these types of interventions we play our role in helping victims when they need us the most. Society must also continue to work together to address these hidden crimes, to prevent more people from becoming victims and to offer those trapped in the cycle of abuse a route to a life free from fear.
Carl Hall is Deputy Chief Probation Officer for Kent, Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company.