Being at home, for many women, means being at risk.
Around the world, women and girls are facing lockdown with their abusers. With tensions already high during a global pandemic, they are at risk of escalating physical, sexual and emotional violence at a time when help is harder to access than ever. Many support charities are having to quickly adapt their services to new lockdown regulations, setting up free helplines and online advice, whilst cutting back on face to face help and access to emergency accommodation.
The UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, reported a 700% increase in calls to their helpline in a single day since the lockdown began. From the 23rd of March, at least 16 suspected abuse killings have taken place in the UK alone. This is over double the number recorded in the same time period over the last ten years. As leader of the pioneering project, Counting Dead Women, Karen Ingala Smith states it is important to emphasise that coronavirus does not create violent men. This is simply a window into the levels of abuse that women live with all the time. With triggers being exacerbated in a time of crisis and restricted access to support, it is imperative that we step up as a nation to protect women at risk.
Over the weekend, the government announced new support for domestic abuse victims. This comes in the form of £2million pledge to support services and a public awareness campaign launching this week. In order to show solidarity with those suffering, members of the public are encouraged to share images on social media of a heart on the palm of a handprint using the hashtag #YouAreNotAlone alongside links to the support available. In the age of online activism, the hope is that this campaign will raise awareness of domestic abuse in lockdown and highlight that there are still support services working to help those in need. The home secretary, Patel, gave the statement; ‘Coronavirus has opened Britain’s enormous heart and shown our love and compassion for one another as we come together to help those most in need. I am now asking this nation to use that amazing compassion and community spirit to embrace those trapped in the horrific cycle of abuse.’
This government support is desperately needed, however experts like Fiona Dwyer, the chief executive of Solace Women’s Aid, argues it is simply not enough. Whilst £2million would make a huge difference to the abilities of an individual charity, this amount spread across an entire country is ‘pitiful’. More needs to be done to support women at risk. Having to adapt support and services is not easy, especially for charities who are already working at full capacity on a minimal budget. Dwyer describes the urgent need for alternative accommodation for those fleeing abuse, yet council funding for women’s refuges has been cut by almost £7million since 2010. With lockdown in place it remains near impossible to find emergency housing and the staff required to make these moves happen. For those who are able to make the move to safety, refuge staff are cleaning daily without personal protection equipment, creating new elements of risk. Some hotel chains have agreed to follow in the footsteps of France and Italy by opening their doors to victims of domestic abuse and their families. However once again, more financial support from government is urgently needed in order for this to happen effectively.
No one deserves to spend lockdown in fear but there are lots of ways you can support vulnerable women from your home. Here at Irise, we are working together to protect, provide for and restore power to women and girls during this crisis. You can be a part of this by donating to our coronavirus emergency appeal. Just £10 enables us to reach another woman or girl with an empowerment pack containing the resources she needs to experience lockdown with dignity and access potentially lifesaving advice about how to flee domestic abuse. You could also take part in our online exercise challenge #SitUpForSisters, posting a video of you doing ten sit-ups in aid of women at risk and nominating your friends and family to do the same. If you’d like to join the conversation and develop the skills you need to take action in your own community and beyond, join our next Empower Period webinar at midday on Monday 20th April, or take a look at the recording of our first webinar on our website.
Thank you for taking the time to read about this important issue and support those in need, Ellie.
National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247
Galop: LGBT+ community: 0800 999 5428