Domestic Abuse and Lockdown: The Rules

By Poppy Joy Watson, journalist and blogger at Poppy Joy (wordpress.com)

Experts tell Poppy Watson how victims can safely escape a violent home situation

‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.’

This was the key rhetoric of the UK government for two months up until this week and in Scotland, it remains so.

But for women living with an abusive partner – victims of a pandemic that has been around far longer than coronavirus – home is not a safe option.

Despite this, it has emerged many are afraid of the police response if they violate lockdown rules by fleeing.

Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “The messaging hasn’t been clear that one of the reasons it’s okay to leave your home is if you need to minimise your risk of domestic abuse… we are working with the government and police at the moment to rectify this.”

The Scottish Government has underlined that the reference to escaping a risk of “harm” in the coronavirus regulations includes fleeing any form of domestic abuse.

But the message is failing to make an impact.

Dr Scott reveals the Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline has heard abusers have threatened to call the police if they try to leave.

She said: “We have had several queries from women seeking to take themselves and their children to a relative’s by using public transport but concerned they will be returned home by police.”

The police are keen to stress this will not happen.

Detective Superintendent Debbie Forrester, Head of the Domestic Abuse Task Force, said: “It is so important that people understand that we are here to help. We will continue to treat reports of domestic abuse as a priority, we will listen and we will investigate. Your safety is our priority.”

And it is evident their support is needed.

Calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline run by Refuge have risen by 49% since lockdown measures were introduced, while researchers at the Counting Dead Women Project found killings doubled in the first three weeks of lockdown.

This has driven UK businesses to step in and help.

Train companies nationwide are offering free travel to those fleeing domestic abuse through a partnership with Women’s Aid.

People escaping domestic abuse anywhere in Britain during coronavirus lockdown restrictions can apply for free train travel to refuge accommodation.

And now Boots pharmacies have introduced a scheme to help victims access support from a safe place. People living with domestic abuse can ask staff at the counter to use the consultation room, where they will be able to contact services for help and advice.

UK Ministers have also recently announced a £76m fund to help victims of domestic abuse and rough sleepers, while the Scottish Government will boost Scottish Women’s Aid with an extra £1.35m over the next six months.

There is still help available during lockdown.

All Women’s Aid services in Scotland are still running and offering support.

Dr Scott said: “Our Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is still 24/7… and in case people are concerned about being overheard, they can communicate with us via webchat or via email.”

Co-director of Zero Tolerance, Laura Tomson, said: “Coronavirus has proved we are capable of taking drastic action to protect each other. It is important to support women through this time. We also have to think about changes that need to happen to end gender inequality and violence against women.”

If you or anyone you know are at risk of domestic abuse, please call the police on 999 in an emergency or contact the domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline on 0800 027 1234. Help is available 24/7.

As published in the Daily Record – 14/04/20

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