While the Covid-19 pandemic did not cause domestic abuse, it created a situation where those on the receiving end of this abuse had potentially no escape, very often locked into dangerous and frightening situations.
Domestic abuse is a gendered crime which is deeply rooted in the societal inequality between men and women. It is a form of gender-based violence with women more likely than men to experience its different types of abuse.
In 2019 1.6 million women in the UK experienced domestic abuse and were referred to specialist domestic abuse refuges. However, 64% - that is over one million women - were turned away due to a severe lack of refuge spaces. Leaving these women with two options; either to remain in the home with their abuser or become homeless.
Since the start of the pandemic women's sector charities have faced even more challenging times. While many other crimes decreased during the nation's lockdown, cases of domestic abuse have risen to frightening levels.
Families forced together for long stretches of time, plus worries about employment and loss of income led to additional tensions, stresses and strains and increased the number of cases of domestic abuse.
This is because domestic violence perpetrators use many tactics to control and isolate victims from support mechanisms; coronavirus is now being used as yet another tool to trap, control and manipulate women experiencing domestic violence. In fact, Women's Aid recently reported that of those women living with their abuser during lockdown, 61% said the abuse had worsened.
Government support for women experiencing domestic abuse in 2020
On the 3 March 2020 the Domestic Abuse Bill was re-introduced to:
- raise awareness and understanding about the devastating impact of domestic abuse on victims and their families;
- further improve the effectiveness of the justice system in providing protection for victims of domestic abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice;
- strengthen the support for victims of abuse by statutory agencies.
And on 2 May 2020 the Government announced funding to support survivors of domestic abuse. A change to the rules now means that women fleeing domestic abuse and facing homelessness as a result are automatically considered as a priority need by their council for housing - ensuring more survivors of domestic abuse have access to a safe home.
However, despite this extra funding, and aggravated by the pandemic, many refuges have struggled to cope with the sheer volume of women looking for safe shelter. In their ‘A Perfect Storm' report, Women's Aid reported that during the full lockdown period (23 March to 31 May 2020) there was a 42% reduction in the number of refuge vacancies available.