By Sarah Houston
The government recognises that the recently announced measures, such as the order to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, could cause significant fear or anxiety for those who are experiencing or feel at risk of domestic abuse. It is clear that many important life-changing decisions are having to be put on hold, during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, this should not mean that you should have to wait to get urgent help, if you or your family are at risk. Furthermore, domestic abuse could even be aggravated further by the chaos and uncertainty unleashed by the pandemic.
Domestic abuse is completely unacceptable in any setting. This article highlights some guidance and identifies the support services which remain open, during this difficult time, available for those who feel that they are at risk.
The advice continues to be, that if you or someone you know, is in immediate danger (including a child or children) do not hesitate to call 999 and ask for the police. The police will continue to respond to emergency calls. While the government has advised to stay at home, anyone who is at risk of or experiencing domestic abuse, will be able to leave their home and seek refuge. Refuges will remain open and the police will provide support to any individuals who need urgent help.
If you are unable to speak
If you are in danger and you are unable to talk on the phone, do not hesitate to call 999 and then press 55. This will transfer your call to the appropriate police force, who will assist you without you needing to speak. Guidance is also available to help perpetrators if they are concerned or worried about harming someone. If you suspect that your neighbours or those in your community are victims of domestic abuse, you are encouraged to report the behavior to the police.
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is not limited to physical violence. It can also include, but is not restricted to:
coercive control and ‘gaslighting’ (gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation, in which a person may cause another person to doubt themselves, question their own memory, or judgement, resulting in significant changes in the targeted individual, such as low self-esteem).
The government continues to support and fund multiple charities. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some which can continue to be contacted during the pandemic:
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline provides guidance and support for potential victims, as well as those who are worried about friends or loved ones. They can also be called, for free and confidentially, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.
Womens Aid has provided additional advice specifically designed for the current coronavirus outbreak, including a live chat service.
The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and those supporting them.
If you are a member of the LGBT+ community, Galop offers specialist support to victims.
If you are concerned about how COVID-19 may affect your finances and leave you vulnerable to economic abuse, then the charity Surviving Economic Abuse also provides additional guidance and support.
If English is not your first language
Chayn provides online help and resources in a number of languages, ranging from identifying manipulative situations and how friends can support those being abused.
If you are worried about hurting someone
If you are worried about hurting someone, whilst staying at home, call the Respect Phoneline for support and help to manage your behaviour.
While the Family Courts are working ‘virtually’ and on limited timescales, they confirm that they will remain open for emergency applications for injunctions, so as to ensure protection for victims of domestic abuse.
Legal aid can help meet the costs of legal advice, family mediation and representation in a court or tribunal. If you consider that you might be eligible for legal aid, you will be able to find further information here or contact the Law Society for a list of solicitors who could offer legal aid in your area.
If you are not eligible for legal aid and you require legal advice regarding your position, or that of a family member or friend, then do not hesitate to contact a specialist family lawyer.
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