Domestic abuse has risen dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic and has been the cause of numerous headlines. It has highlighted the need for reform, addressed by a revised Domestic Abuse Bill currently under debate. Will these changes be substantial enough?
Covid-19 and the subsequent stay-at-home orders have had dramatic impacts on the security of those suffering from domestic violence. “The Office for National Statistics reported 259,324 offences of domestic violence during the first lockdown”, accounting for an “18% increase from two years ago. The Home Office states that there were 1.6 million domestic abuse sufferers last year”.
There has been a mainstream effort to portray the pandemic as the cause of this rise in domestic violence, but one must note that the lockdowns only heighten the control of an abuser. They provide an environment where one has to stay indoors all day every day, is isolated from friends and family, and has no privacy or ability to reach out for help as in-person counselling has been curtailed. The victim depends on their abuser even more. The situation has also seen a rise in children being abused at the hands of domestic violence, with “referrals from the NSPCC helpline to agencies in London [having] increased by more than 40 per cent during the pandemic”.
The stay-at-home order has also heightened a need for workplaces to better arm themselves to provide a safe working environment for their employees and to offer assistance to those suffering from domestic violence. This is crucial as in “November, 43% [had experienced] an abuser [interfering] with someone’s ability to work or study from home during the crisis”. This further impedes on one’s financial independence and ability to leave a dangerous relationship, with women being 1.8 times more likely to be unemployed than men during the pandemic. Furthermore, technology has been instrumentalised as a mean of control for abusers who are in relationships where they do not live with their victim. Refuge reports that “2,513 tech-abuse survivors have sought their services since the pandemic began”.
What is the government doing to tackle the issue?
A revised Domestic Abuse Bill is currently being debated in the House of Lords. It defines domestic abuse as “physical or sexual abuse, violent or threatening, controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse and psychological, emotional or other abuse between people who are “personally connected””. This is the first time that coercive behaviour is legally included in the definition which is crucial for victims to feel safe enough to come forward. Regulations are said to be put in place to ensure the safety of the victims: they will be protected immediately by Protection Notices and then Orders, cross-examination will no longer take place as it they are traumatic to the victims, there will be an extension of UK court’s jurisdiction so offences committed abroad can be brought to trial. An accent will also be made on children and recognising them as victims of the abuse with jail penalties being pushed to up to 14 years in jail when children are involved.
Some legislations have already been put in place:
- A ban on using the ‘rough sex’ murder defence.
- A new strangulation law to tackle abusers, as it is currently charged as a common assault “which carries a maximum of six months in prison.”.
- The Ask for ANI scheme: a trained pharmacy worker will offer a private space where they can aid the victim. The service is now available in pharmacies.
Although the bill makes major improvements on tackling domestic abuse, there are some omissions that need to be addressed: a ban of stalker ware apps, protecting victims of domestic violence who “committed crimes in the context of being in an abusive relationship” and the need for a safe-reporting mechanism, allowing migrant women to safely report abuse without being inquired on their immigration status.
At JAN Trust we put a focus on minimising the prevalence of domestic violence by providing impartial, culturally sensitive and confidential advice and guidance in English and South Asian languages for women suffering or fleeing from domestic abuse. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, try to maintain social connections online or over the phone, if it is safe to do so.
You can contact us at [email protected]
In an emergency call 999. If you can’t talk press 55 when prompted, the operator will stay on the line with you.
- Refuge: run a freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247 refuge.org.uk
- Respect: run a helpline for male victims of domestic abuse 0808 8010 327 org.uk
- Galop (for LBTQ) 0800 999 5428 galop.org.uk
- Rape Crisis (England and Wales) 0808 802 9999 rapecrisis.org.uk