Tina Bhartwas discusses how Covid-19 has exasperated the domestic abuse crisis.
The Covid-19 global pandemic has really highlighted the Domestic Abuse crisis we are facing. UN Women has dubbed it the ‘Shadow Pandemic’. I believe to tackle it we must expand on the Domestic Abuse Bill which is currently going through Parliament with a wider Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy to ensure that no victim is left behind.
“Over the last four months Refuge has seen huge spikes in the number of women who have needed our support during lockdown”.
Lockdown has meant that women and girls across the country (and the world) are trapped with their abusers. Many face being ill with their abusers, self-isolation and a struggle to recover. There are examples of police saying that victims must isolate with their abusers in separate parts of the house.
Covid-19 has made it that much harder for victims to find a safe space for numerous reasons- because it has not been very clear that victims can flee during the lockdown, difficulties of escaping an abuser when you are isolating with them and risk of spreading the virus making it less likely that someone you know will take you in.
Although much has been made of the homeless being housed in reality this is not necessarily the case. Refuges and shelters are really struggling and it is incredibly worrying. Where a victim is taken in even outside of the current circumstances there is very little support for parties involved and no real way to ensure that victims are safe.
There is also an assumption of what happens if you are housed. For example those that manage to find housing may not feel an instantaneous sense of relief and victims often leave with little/none of their possessions which is unnerving anyway. It is an utterly horrific assumption.
More of an effort needs to be made to include those affected in the conversation about the steps needed going forward. There are many examples of preventative measures and measures to support those aiding victims which need attention. For example Children’s Services and Adult Social Care both of which are chronically underfunded could play a huge role if allowed to do so. Some specific Domestic Abuse services are being run by local councils but they too lack in support due to depleting local government funds. And of course due to the lack of funding for local councils there may not be a local place for some women to go causing more upheaval than necessary and more distress in the midst of the uncertainty and ‘new normal’ of Covid-19.
Many charities and organisations are working hard to support victims. Those working and volunteering with such services often have personal experience making these services invaluable and yet they have also experienced severe cuts.
We must all work together with the voluntary sector, businesses and individuals in order to raise awareness of Domestic Abuse. A great example is that The Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline number: 0808 2000 24/7 is now on the bottom of all Tescos receipts, providing a lifeline for people.
Lastly, it is essential that we all challenge our own assumptions. When thinking about victims- who are we picturing? For instance BAME women come across cultural stigma or children that are victims of both parents are not typically thought of.
There is very much an idea of what a victim looks like- an assumption about who you are and your situation. None of us can afford that. Domestic Abuse can affect any one of us.
We can and must do better as a society.
I believe vehemently that we need a wider VAWG Strategy and this is something I will continue to campaign for. It is not and can not be about ideology or party politics. We have seen a start to working together in campaigns for the Domestic Abuse Bill. It must continue and expand.