Whilst we are all being told to stay at home during the COVID-19 health crisis to help protect ourselves and others, only being allowed to leave our homes for essential work, food and medicine supplies or for exercise, for women experiencing domestic abuse this situation is causing them huge anxiety, leaving them feeling even more vulnerable and at risk of further abuse. Self-isolation means that many women are now essentially trapped in their homes in abusive relationships in fear of further violence or danger and unable to seek help and support exit routes.
This is likely to be a challenging time for women’s sector charities: according to charities and police leaders. Whilst many other crimes are likely to decrease during the nation’s lockdown, cases of domestic abuse are expected to increase. Families being forced together for long stretches of time, plus worries about employment and loss of income can lead to additional tensions, stresses and strains and increase the likelihood of more cases of domestic abuse. This is the sector-wide statement on COVID-19.
Global Increase In Domestic Abuse Cases
Domestic violence perpetrators use many tactics to control and isolate victims from support mechanisms. And now, around the globe, coronavirus is being used as another tool as women needing to self-isolate who are going through domestic violence become trapped further in their situation.
Indeed, because of the pandemic, countries across the world are reporting an increase in domestic abuse as more women are at risk, forced to stay indoors and self-isolate with their abusers:
As a result, governments worldwide are putting plans and support in place for women at increased risk of domestic abuse, including emergency accommodation, online support for women and legal or policy changes to evict perpetrators from family homes.
UK Plans To Support Women Experiencing Domestic Abuse
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the UK Government had pledged £15 million to tackle domestic abuse crimes, £16 million to support refuge services and had committed further to supporting and protecting people experiencing domestic abuse through its new enhanced Domestic Abuse Bill. The aim of this Bill is to do three things:
But in light of the nation’s lockdown and the concern about women at risk of domestic abuse, Home Secretary Pritti Patel has said that whilst government advice is to stay at home during the national lockdown, anyone who is at risk of, or experiencing domestic abuse, can and should still leave and seek safety at a refuge.
However, many refuges have closed due to a lack of regular and reduced funding; the number of refuge bed spaces in England is now 30% below the number recommended by the Council of Europe. And whilst many refuges remain open, they may already be at full capacity. Refuges are also potentially vulnerable as the virus spreads as they provide a communal form of accommodation - enabling women and children to self-isolate if they contract the virus will be difficult and could see some refuge services having to lockdown, unable to take further referrals. This, of course, will have an impact on the numbers of women able to access support and safety from refuges during this time.
Earlier this year, Women’s Aid reported that in 2019, a staggering 1.6 million women in the UK experienced domestic abuse and that 64% of women referred to specialist domestic abuse refuges were turned away. These women face a dangerous choice: return to their perpetrator whilst waiting for a refuge space or become homeless.
Women experiencing domestic abuse need to know that they have the option of an alternative safe place to escape to during – and after – this national lockdown if refuge spaces are at capacity or not available.
One option could be for rooms within hotels and student accommodation blocks to be made available for women who need to escape domestic abuse during this time (as we are seeing for rough sleepers and other vulnerable groups). The Labour MP Jess Phillips and a cross-party group consisting of Compassion in Politics, Southall Black Sisters, and the Jo Cox Foundation, have written to the major hotel chains asking them to provide rooms for women who need to escape domestic abuse.
Longer-Term Need For Safe Housing For Women
But longer-term there will be an even greater ‘priority need’ for safe and secure housing options for women escaping domestic abuse and at risk of homelessness - either because they can’t access the services of a refuge or because they are moving on from a refuge and into resettlement.
There are many solutions that I am sure both charities and Government will be developing over time, but we strongly believe that in addition there is a social investment solution, that can help, that’s why we are launching the Women in Safe Homes property fund as a solution to the lack of safe, affordable and secure homes for women so that they can be safe and live their lives free from violence and abuse.
The Fund will invest directly in around 750 homes over its lifetime within communities across the UK. It will buy properties and lease them to women’s sector organizations and homelessness charities which will rent these to women in need, with a secure tenancy.
By partnering with women’s sector charities, we can ensure that women will not only be provided with safe and affordable housing but will also have access to support networks needed to help them rebuild their lives.
Find out more about the Women in Safe Homes Fund.
Article last updated 7 April
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