The Catholic Church in England and Wales has urged the nation to support victims of domestic abuse amid a rise in calls for help since the Covid-19 lockdown began.
The call comes after domestic abuse charity Refuge said it had experienced a 25 per cent rise in the number of women contacting the 0808 2000 247 helpline since the UK entered lockdown measures.
“At this time of national emergency, we are being asked to stay at home to save lives, but for those who are experiencing domestic abuse, the home is far from being a place of security, self-fulfilment and health. Too often it is a place of pain, fear, degradation and isolation,” said Bishop John Sherrington, of the Bishops’ Conference domestic abuse working group.
Noting that there are many for whom the call to stay at home will be dangerous and potentially life-threatening, he said abuse inflicted can include many forms of violent and non-physical intimidation such as persistent verbal abuse, emotional blackmail and enforced social or financial deprivation.
“There is a risk that such abuse, which usually occurs behind closed doors, could grow and worsen during this time that we are being asked to be socially distancing from others,” the bishop said.
“I applaud the organisations and individuals who are continuing to work through the Covid-19 pandemic to support women, men and children who are suffering domestic abuse, and to ensure that nobody has to stay in an abusive home,” he added.
Bishop Sherrington noted that last year the Day for Life appeal highlighted the scourge of domestic abuse in society, and called for Catholics in England and Wales to support existing groups and projects working to help the most vulnerable, and to assist in spreading awareness and information about domestic abuse.
“I reiterate this call now and urge us to continue to come together as a nation to support those who are most vulnerable during this pandemic, including those suffering domestic abuse,” he said.
“Every person has a right to live their life free from violence, abuse, intimidation and fear. Please join me in praying for the women, men and children who are experiencing suffering due to domestic abuse during this pandemic, asking the Lord to give them hope and courage in the knowledge that there are places of safety for them during this pandemic.”
Nikki Dhillon-Keane, a member of the Church’s Domestic Abuse Working Group, explained that the rise in domestic abuse incidents during lockdown has been expected, and has followed the patterns of other countries that went into lockdown before the UK.
“It is important to be clear that these incidents are not caused by the lockdown itself; although the situation might trigger incidents or give many more opportunities to abuse and control victims, domestic abuse is caused by other factors,” Ms Dhillon-Keane told The Catholic Universe.
She voiced her concern at headlines such as ‘lockdown murders’, explaining that they shift the blame onto the coronavirus crisis itself and bypass the real issue of domestic abuse.
“I cannot imagine the terror of being quarantined with an abuser and feeling that there is no escape,” she said. “People are telling us all to stay safe at home, but what if your home is the most dangerous place you could be? There is also a danger of children, while schools are closed, being more likely to be subjected to abuse in the home.”
Acknowledging that the government has recognised the need for victims and survivors to be able to leave the home in order to escape abuse, Ms Dhillon-Keane explained that, while there are still refuges open, there is a need for more places to rehouse victims/survivors and their children safely during this crisis. She pointed out that there have been suggestions to use empty hotels for this purpose.
Before the pandemic, two women a week were murdered by a partner or former partner, and over 10 women a week committed suicide as a result of domestic abuse. Ms Dhillon-Keane warned that these numbers are set to increase sharply over this period. She noted that there have already been 10 murders related to domestic abuse since the lockdown began.
“Without adequate support the situation could become much worse,” she said.
“Thankfully, Rishi Sunak has just announced funding support for domestic abuse services, and I am hopeful that this can help save some lives, but we are still facing unprecedented challenges.
“For those of us supporting victims and survivors, it is difficult to get access to support victims safely while they are in lockdown with their perpetrator, or to safely send them vital information. But there are ways for victims to access support,” Ms Dhillon-Keane explained.
“You can ring 999 and if it is unsafe to talk, dial 55 when asked for the service you require. The police will automatically be dispatched to your location.
“The national domestic abuse helpline 0800 2000 247 is still operational. Women’s Aid have a live chat service on their website for people who can’t safely talk on the phone with their abuser in the house.
“There is also information about safety during the coronavirus crisis on www.womensaid.org.uk
“There is support for male victims from the men’s advice line 0808 801 0327.
“If you need information about legal protection, such as an occupation order which would force a perpetrator to leave the home, you can see the Rights of Women website www.rightsofwomen.org.uk
“If you are worried about someone you know during this time, find a way to check in on that person safely, for example using a code word. You can contact the national domestic abuse helpline (above) if you are worried about another person.”
Information and support on domestic abuse:
Police: 999 press 55 when prompted if you can’t speak
Refuge UK wide 24-hour helpline: 0808 2000 247
Welsh Women’s Aid Live Fear Free 24-hour helpline: 0808 80 10 800
Picture: Posed by model. File photo shows a shadow of a man with a clenched fist as a woman cowers in the corner. (Dominic Lipinski/PA).