For people in abusive relationships the coronavirus pandemic has created the very worst situation imaginable.
‘Home’ may be the most dangerous place in the world to be.
But, the facts speak for themselves.
“….in the 12 months from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020, there were 32,015 domestic abuse incidents recorded by the PSNI, an increase of 128 on the previous year. Domestic abuse incidents now account for 19.1% of all police recorded crime, up from 16.5% on the previous year.
The number of domestic abuse crimes rose to 18,885, an increase of 1,569 (9.1%) on the previous 12 months and the third highest 12-month period recorded since 2004/05″Women’s Aid
In 2020 Panorama reported: there was one domestic abuse call every 30 seconds in the first seven weeks of lockdown.The Guardian
Refuge recorded an average of 13,162 calls and messages to its National Domestic Abuse helpline every month between April 2020 and February 2021. That is up more than 60% on the average number of monthly contacts at the start of 2020, it says.
Refuge said 72% of these were from women who said they were experiencing violence and abuse, and nearly a fifth said their abuser had threatened to kill them.
It said many calls were from women who were being terrorised in their own homes, and who were afraid to seek treatment for their injuries in case they overburdened hospital staff.
Respect, a charity that runs an advice line for male victims of domestic abuse, says it saw a 70% increase in calls, emails and webchats in 2020 compared to 2019. And during the current lockdown, appeals for help have continued to rise.BBC
These statistics are shocking. More so because this level of abuse is not an unusual occurrence, a one-off or a blip. It is an escalation of a deep-rooted problem. Reported by the BBC: “One campaigner described it as an epidemic beneath a pandemic.“
People in abusive relationships (mostly women) suffer an intensity of control that is far worse than being in prison.
When you think of it Covid has introduced the perfect conditions for domestic violence: simmering tension, a restrictive lifestyle, limited access to friends and family. Factor in additional money issues, home-schooling, redundancy and/or the emotional pressure of working from home. It is a powder-keg for domestic violence and abuse.
Unable to remove themselves from their abusers, victims are forced to be at home 24/7 where they are watched and controlled. Their every move, their every habit, what they do – and what they don’t do – may be subject to criticism and barbed comments.
From the first hints of passive aggressive behaviour, to a level that ratchets up to actual physical violence – this is the reality of what many people face on a daily basis.
The restrictions of lockdown created a perfect storm for abuse:
- Everyone forced to stay at home.
- Being locked up with an abuser
- Cut-off from random social contact.
Pre-Covid, people could go to work and mix socially. Children went to school and games and clubs and the home was the locus, but not exclusively the centre of people’s lives.
In lockdown the home is where everything happens: work, school and leisure. The whole family may be together, all the time.
Sharing time and space can undoubtedly bring families closer together, but it can also set them further apart. Close physical proximity and lack of personal space may add friction to what might already be a difficult relationship.
Most homes were not designed for 24/7 occupancy.
A typical 3-bed family home does not include a study space, a den, a walk-in wardrobe or playroom. Children may have to share a bedroom. There may be only one bathroom, and no garden.
Where parents are working from home and trying to home-school their children, the pressure and use of space is intense. Not having anywhere else to go adds to the strain. Everyone is cooped up. Everyone is missing their friends and hobbies, and the option of being somewhere else.
One study ( SEA) revealed that in lockdown abusers are sabotaging victims’ ability to work from home by ..”hiding work equipment, refusing to help with childcare and wrongly informing the victim’s employer that they had broken lockdown rules.”
To be dependent economically on someone else, restricts their opportunity to leave; but also their position and their status and their relationship with ‘others’.
Consider what it must be like to live in fear of someone else. And for that someone to be living with you. All the time.
With no let up, the four walls come closing in.
There are some options. There are safe places to go. But, the hardest thing is recognising when the time is right to leave. Most of all being brave enough to make initial contact with the support services that can help.
Then it is decision time:... to go…. or not to go…. uproot the family…. make a new start… give it one more go… hope things will change…. give in… take back control..
And all the time being conscious not to arouse any suspicion that enough is enough. Devices such as phones and laptops can be easily accessible. For this reason support services advise people to be careful, and take all necessary precautions.
Violence in lockdown has hit migrant women, LGBT community, deaf, disabled and women on insecure status particularly hard. They are the most vulnerable. They have less options and perhaps least likely to know what else they can do. To live in unfamiliar surroundings, with little or language and lack of familial support the isolation must be terrifying.
People chose to create a home and life together. They were happy once. But, that relationship has gone very, very wrong once someone lives in fear of their life.
If home is no longer a safe place to be then what is it? A place to exist? Somewhere to house your belongings? It may just become a physical reminder of a relationship gone bad, as a place of vanished dreams.
Home Sweet Home.
There has always been domestic violence and abuse, but the situation is getting worse, rather than better. So what does that say about the society in which we live, and about what needs to be done?
As we (hopefully) emerge from lockdown and the effects of Covid, we can see the past 16 months+ have taken their toll on everyone. There was the devastation of the full force of of the pandemic at it peak. But there is a much a wider fall-out from this which only now is starting to be pieced together.
It will take a lot for people who have experienced this high-level of stress and abuse to re-gain their confidence. And, for them to re-establish themselves so they feel comfortable again ‘at home’.
But, for the people who have already lost their lives due to violence and abuse, it is already too late.