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"Support for victims of domestic violence"
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Domestic violence

Support for victims of domestic violence during lockdown

The lockdown enforced by the Government on March 23 2020, aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19, placed huge extra pressure on many families and relationships.

It resulted in an almost immediate surge in calls to helplines and support groups, with the Government pledging £2million to enhance online and telephone support for those in need, and launching a media campaign aimed at reaching out to those in fear of domestic violence.

At Hudgell Solicitors we have represented many victims of domestic violence, and families of those who sadly have lost loved ones due to not having the support and protection they needed.

Vicky Richardson, of our Civil Liberties and Human Rights team, looks at some of the key questions around tackling domestic violence, and protecting victims, during the coronavirus outbreak.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can people being abused leave their home during lockdown?
Yes. Anyone who feels in genuine danger during the lockdown should of course leave their home and seek support and a safe place to stay. The Government has said that people will not be penalised for seeking safety. Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Whilst our advice is to stay at home, anyone who is at risk of, or experiencing, domestic abuse, is still able to leave and seek refuge.” Refuges remain open under the lockdown, but many are reportedly short of available places already, so another safe place, such as family, friends and neighbours are acceptable as long as they are safe. The safety of children and removing them from dangerous environments and situations is also of course a priority, so people can and should take children with them if they fear for their safety.
Will the lockdown make people more vulnerable?
Domestic abuse is not just physical, but also psychological. With more people confined together for long periods throughout lockdown, it is anticipated more people will be victims of both physical and emotional abuse. Somebody setting rules that a partner must follow, or frightening them by using their size, by being violent such as punching walls or by breaking things, could be considered to be breaking the law and committing an offence of psychological abuse. Restricting a partner’s access to money and stopping them from contacting friends and relatives is also illegal, and of course would be even more upsetting and difficult during lockdown when phone calls and contact with loved ones are even more important to people. Of course, people are breaking the law if they force partners to have sex when they don’t want to.
Who should you call about domestic violence?
The Police should always be the first point of contact for anyone who has been the victim of any form of domestic violence and feels in danger, calling 999. This of course includes physical violence and sexual abuse, but also emotional and verbal abuse and coercive control. Many people worry about not being able to speak out loud on the phone because their abuser could become aware. For this situation police forces offer The Silent Solution, in which people can press 55 and be put through to a police call handler who will attempt to communicate by asking simple yes or no questions. They will assess your call and should arrange help if the caller is believed to be in danger.
What should the police do when somebody reports abuse?
It goes without saying that any report of domestic abuse should be treated seriously and if there are reasonable grounds to justify an arrest, police should certainly consider this, as protecting the caller and any children must be a priority. Police forces have a duty to take actions to remove the risk of further violence and have powers to arrest, and to remove an individual from the home. They are able to issue a Restraining Order and/or charge an individual and place them on bail. Police do not need a warrant to arrest someone who they suspect is about to commit an offence, nor do they need to witness an assault. An abuser can also be held for up to 24 hours (or 36 hours at weekends) before there is a need to charge. They don’t need to ask for the permission or insist on a taking a statement from the person making the allegation first, although they would need to take one at a later stage. Ultimately, the police should anyone reporting an incident of domestic violence, or being fearful for their safety, feeling supported and assured. They can also offer help to get you to a safe place if you want to move.
What steps should be taken to protect people?
Sadly our team at Hudgell Solicitors have represented a number of families where women have been killed by their partners or ex-partners who were already known to the police, and had been reported as a danger – sometimes on numerous occasions. Once a complaint has been made, and even after people have been prosecuted, they can remain a threat in the longer term. In some cases there is an increased danger, and police should do all in their power to protect those at risk. Domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs) can be used by the police and magistrates and can ban people from returning to a named address, or from and having contact with the victim for up to 28 days. Victims of domestic violence can also apply for Occupation Orders, injunctions which remove an abusers’ rights to reside in the family home. Ultimately, abusers can be, and should be rearrested if there remains a genuine threat of harm.
Are there other people to call other than the police?
People who feel they could be in any form of danger are advised to try and keep a mobile phone with them at all times to be able to call 999 in an emergency. National helplines, email, text and live chat support services, and local specialist services, are currently open for business as usual and there are many suitable helplines for people who feel they are not in any immediate danger. Local authorities also have a responsibility to provide information about housing rights should people want to leave their home for safety. Shelter provides free confidential housing information, support and legal advice on all housing and homelessness issues. They also have an emergency helpline on 0808 800 4444.

Comments from Vicky Richardson

It is a reality that the current situation has caused many who fear for their safety to spend more time at home with the perpetrators of domestic abuse, so it is imperative that those people have all the support they need to ensure they can be safe.

It is of course vitally important that police forces take each and every contact with regards to domestic violence seriously.

We feel that, during times of enforced lockdown particularly, it is imperative that the safety of those who are already known to police forces and other agencies as having being at any level of risk must be constantly reviewed and their situations fully understood and monitored, with plans in place to try and ensure their safety.

The situation surely calls for much more regular assessment across all relevant parties. In our work we know that often victims, who remain in danger, withdraw allegations because they have been pressured by the perpetrator.

Bodies such as police forces, local authorities, child protection and social workers must have a full picture of those potentially in danger to assess situations such as this.

By using all resources available to them, victims can help ensure that those responsible for protecting them, collectively now have the best opportunity to do so.

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