The UK is in its second week to stricter self-isolation measures to try and curtail the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The governments restrictions on movement means that victims of domestic abuse are now more vulnerable than ever. Many millions of men and women may be very concerned about what this means for them if they are a victim of domestic abuse.
When tougher ‘lockdown’ measures were introduced, many individuals felt sudden fear when they thought they would have to remain inside with an abusive partner for an extended period. The government cannot provide the British public with an end date to these measures, meaning that an already challenging situation is amplified.
When dealing with cases of domestic abuse, it is important to remember that domestic abuse is not limited to physical actions. It can also be psychological, emotional, sexual or financial abuse. There is no formal definition of domestic violence. However, the government advises that it is “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality”.
In 2019, an estimated 1.6 million women and 786,000 men suffered from domestic abuse in England and Wales. Campaigners in the UK and around the globe have warned that domestic abuse has already seen an increase, since people are being forced to remain indoors with their abusers as this pandemic continues.
The founder of the Stand up to Domestic Abuse organisation stated that “Perpetrators and the victims would normally spend some parts of the day in work or socialising”. Therefore, during this ‘lockdown’ it is likely that as families are asked to spend more time together and are feeling the stresses and strains of the restrictions on movement, the pressure on finances together with health concerns, that the number of cases of domestic violence reported to the Police increases. This has already been witnessed by Avon and Somerset Police, who, in the last 2 weeks, have reported a 20.9% increase in domestic abuse incidents. Many postal works and delivery drivers have been asked to look out for the signs of abuse.
It is increasingly likely that a number of relationships will break down during this time due to the added pressure of forced close habitation. The number of relationships breaking down will not be insignificant. We can help you with facing these difficulties, even whilst the lockdown continues.
The rules on leaving the house
When ‘lockdown’ measures were introduced by the government it was safe to say that ambiguity ensued. However, the situation has recently been clarified by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. Writing in the Mail on Sunday, she stated that victims of domestic abuse are “permitted to leave their homes to seek help at refuges, despite the rules on movement imposed by the Government”.
There are genuine fears that contracting the virus could lead to a perpetrator asking an individual to leave the family home.
As a result of this and the inevitable prospect of incidents rising, many housing authorities are being urged to use empty homes to accommodate victims of domestic abuse and their children. In other countries across the globe, they have started to do the same with empty hotels and B&Bs.
This will be very welcome news to most individuals who were worried about the length of time they would have to spend with their partners but also what to do if the situation was to escalate.
Police powers and orders of the court
Priti Patel stressed that her “message to every potential victim is simple: we have not forgotten you and we will not let you down…and my message to every perpetrator is equally as simple: you will not get away with your crimes."
For many years now, domestic abuse has been classified as a criminal offence and victims are encouraged to contact the Police if they are experiencing or are at risk of abuse. The Police have more powers to be able to support victims, by using their powers to intervene, arrest, caution or charge an abuser.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, also known as Clare’s Law, named after Clare Wood who was murdered by her ex- boyfriend in 2009 was implemented in 2014. The scheme gives members of the public a “right to ask” police where they have a concern that their partner may pose a risk to them or where they are concerned that the partner of a member of their family or a friend may pose a risk to that individual.
Non-molestation orders and occupation orders can also be applied for through a solicitor or other legal professional. A non-molestation order is an injunction against the perpetrator and will protect you against any further domestic abuse, which includes preventing a partner or ex-partner from using or threatening violence against the applicant or their child, or intimidating, harassing, or pestering them, in order to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of the applicant and their children.
If the perpetrator breaches the terms of the injunction, then this is a criminal offence and the perpetrator can be prosecuted.
An occupation order regulates the occupation of a house and it can exclude someone from living at the property.
The courts are still available to hear urgent applications in relation to children, non-molestation and occupation orders.
The effect of domestic abuse on Children is a grave concern to individuals affected by domestic abuse. A Child’s welfare should always be of paramount concern. If you and your children are at risk then it is important to seek help from the Police, charities, organisations or family members and to seek legal advice as soon as possible.
If you must vacate the family home because of domestic concerns, there is a high probability that contact arrangements could then become an issue. Wright Hassall have issued guidance on child arrangements during the outbreak of COVID-19. This guidance is applicable if you have a Child Arrangements Order in place, or a more informal arrangement. You can find this guidance here:
Coronavirus: Impact on Child Arrangements
We can also provide you with bespoke advice regarding your situation.
If home is not the safe- haven it should be the advice is to contact the Police straight away.
However, if you are a victim of domestic violence it is not a guarantee that you will have the opportunity to contact the Police for assistance. Therefore, it is a good idea to contact a trusted neighbour, family member or friend and arrange a safe word or another form of communication in which the other person knows that you are in danger and to contact 999. It is always important to keep phones charged and accessible where possible.
The charity Women’s Aid suggest that if this is not an option to call the Police, then you should “familiarise yourself with the ‘Silent Solution System’. This is a system for victims of domestic abuse who might be afraid of further danger and escalation of harm if they are overheard when calling 999 in an emergency. When somebody calls 999, an operator will ask which emergency service is required. If the caller is unable to audibly signal to the operator, the call will be forwarded to an operating system.
If 55 is pressed by the caller, the system will detect this. The operator will then transfer the call to the relevant police force as an emergency”.
There are many charities and organisations in the UK who continue to operate during the outbreak. Some of these include:
- Women’s Aid
Telephone: 0808 800 4444
- National Domestic Violence Helpline
Telephone: 0808 2000 247
- Samaritans (24/7 Helpline)
Telephone: 116 123
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline
Telephone: 0800 999 5428
Priti Patel also confirmed that the government would protect victims, by donating £1.6bn to local councils to help those in need and was working with charities. This is welcome news to many victims affected by domestic abuse.
The pandemic will not stop the epidemic of abuse.
How we can help
Please contact our family law team on 01926 732512 who are fully operational during this difficult period and ready to help you resolve the challenges you face.
You can ask a trusted family member, friend, neighbour or work colleague to contact us, so that we can arrange an initial assessment as to what help you may need and how best this can be provided to you. We can provide you with advice remotely, whether this is over the telephone or through Skype, Microsoft Teams or Zoom.