Six months ago, our country went into lockdown. Almost immediately, we saw both the best and the worst of human behaviour. For many, charity truly began at home, with family members caring for shielding relatives, and neighbours pulling together in new and different ways.
But for some, it was abuse, rather than charity, that began at home. Deeply troubling statistics have shown the sharp rise in domestic violence since March. It is thought that, globally, cases have escalated by 20%. In the UK, more than a third of specialist services have reported an increase in requests for their support.
Yet nearly two-thirds of victims have felt unable to seek help, for fear of repercussions from their partner, or because of the restrictions of Covid-19. SafeLives, the UK-wide domestic abuse charity of which I am patron, has been undertaking an online survey of people living in abusive relationships over the past few months. The responses have been heartbreaking.
“His emotional and verbal abuse is escalating the longer we’re isolated, and I’m concerned that mentally I won’t survive this.”
“Every so often he gets on his high horse and pushes me or spits in my face and he shouts and scares us.”
“Psychologically I feel unsafe, being coercively controlled by my ex-husband as he has my daughter. He is using the Covid-19 situation to further control and making it difficult as I am in the vulnerable category too. I am powerless and have no-one to help me.”
No one to help me. Over the years, I have been privileged to meet many women, men and children who have escaped domestic abuse and who are determined to tell their stories to save others. One such person is Vicky. She managed to leave a violent relationship and her ex-partner was sent to prison. But Vicky, rather than celebrating, found herself grieving for the life she had had before the abuse. So she decided to move forward by using her, albeit unwanted, personal knowledge of domestic violence to help others. She started working for the police, supporting victims and witnesses of crime, with a particular focus on those who had experienced stalking. Today, Vicky says: “I am about to commence my Independent Domestic Violence Adviser course. There is life after domestic abuse, I am evidence of that.”
But far too often, those living with abuse do feel there is no one to help. I have learned how vital it is to spread the word about the help that is available. For any readers in that situation, please know that you are not alone. As well as the national helplines (details below), you can also find assistance in shops, including Boots, Superdrug and Morrisons pharmacies, where the UK Says No More campaign has brilliantly set up a network of safe spaces. If you request a private appointment in a consultation room, you will be given information about how to access national advice lines and local specialist services.
Some of you might be worried about a friend or relation. In these situations a simple inquiry can be incredibly powerful. Earlier this year, SafeLives started the Reach In campaign, as it is so hard for those living in an atmosphere of coercion and fear to “reach out”. SafeLives provides guidance on how you can prepare, open a conversation gently (“I’ve noticed you seem a bit down. Has anyone upset you?”), listen, reassure and support. One woman whose concerned workmate took her aside, writes: “If you are a colleague of someone who you believe is being abused, ask them, say you will help. They may deny the abuse, say they don’t need help, but your offer will make them stronger in many ways. They will know inside they have an option, that they will be believed – and when they do escape the abuse it will be in part because you reached in.”
The media’s role in “reaching in” is equally crucial, and I am deeply grateful for the Guardian’s work in this area. I have often said that domestic violence is characterised by silence: of the abused, of the abuser and of those who don’t know how to intervene. But the media have the ability to break this corrosive silence: bringing us the voices of victims; shattering the taboo; and raising awareness of what we can all do to stop this heinous crime. As ever, efforts that are united are the most powerful. In the words of SafeLives, together we can end domestic abuse, for everyone and for good.
After six months of lockdown, it is clear that Covid-19 is not the only pernicious disease that has been attacking our society. While many aspects of our lives are now slowly returning to some kind of normality, we must also remember there are those for whom the lockdown of fear and abuse remains. It is therefore vital that we continue to do everything we can to help them in whatever way possible for as long as is necessary.
For more information visit www.safelives.org.uk
• Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is patron of SafeLives
If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. Silent calls will work if you are not safe to speak – use the Silent Solution system and call 999 and then press 55 when prompted. If you can’t use a voice phone, you can register with the police text service – text REGISTER to 999. You will get a text that tells you what to do next. Do this when it is safe so you can text when you are in danger.
If you are not in immediate danger, the following contact details may be helpful.
England 24h National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247
Scotland 24h Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
Wales 24h Live Fear Free Helpline: 0808 80 10 800
Northern Ireland 24h Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428 email@example.com
Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327 firstname.lastname@example.org
Karma Nirvana, UK helpline for “honour”-based abuse and forced marriage: 0800 5999 247
Victim Support National 24 hour Supportline: 0808 1689 111
Source: The Guardian