COVID 19 - Tackling domestic abuse

30 Apr 2020

For many of us, home is a place of safety in times of difficulty, stress and uncertainty. But for those who experience domestic abuse or coercive control, home is often a place of violence, danger and fear. According to government figures, an estimated 1.6 million women and 786,000 men in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse last year.

One of the most disturbing consequences of the lockdown as a result of Covid 19 is the significant increase in domestic abuse. Not only has the lockdown resulted in an increase in violence but evidence suggests perpetrators are using it as a tool of control. The Charity Refuge has reported a National Domestic Abuse helpline reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day.

Members in the MoJ may not only experience domestic abuse and coercive control in their relationships but must also deal with its consequences during their working day.

Help Available

If you are currently experiencing – or have experienced – domestic abuse and coercive control you may feel even more isolated and frightened than usual and more at risk, particularly as lockdown may have reduced or removed avenues of escape. You may feel unable to reach out for help.

Workplace reps are in a good position to help. They have a pretext to 'go behind closed doors' and check in with people via a phone or video call. Reps have experience building trust with vulnerable workers and know how to handle sensitive conversations and will respect confidentiality. Reps are non-judgemental. They can signpost members to help and support.

In addition to work place reps, there are many organisations offering advice and support during this very frightening time.

Police

The police have confirmed that any restrictions currently in place due to Covid-19 must come second to keeping yourself, and your children, safe. If the risk is so great you need to leave your house and you are able to leave – then do so. Find a safe place. Call 999.

If you are unable to leave and are able to, dial 999. If you are unable to speak, a series of prompts will ask you to respond to questions and instructions by coughing or otherwise making a noise and prompt you to press 55 if there is a genuine emergency. Police operators will know you need help and will give instructions and ask questions which can be answered by tapping on the handset or with yes or no responses.

Refuge and Victim Support

Both of the above and other organisations that support those experiencing domestic abuse also state you should do what you need to, in order to stay as safe as possible in your situation. You will be the expert in this relationship. If you are already in touch with an organisation – contact them.

Practical Advice

The following are steps that you may be able to take to help you:

  • Keep your mobile charged and at hand
  • Develop a “code word” with someone you trust which they know means you need help
  • Identify a safe room in your home where you can lock yourself in
  • Keep important documents for you, and your children, in a safe place
  • If using the internet to search for help – clear your search history
  • If you can – use the shopping / exercise time to get help
  • Keep in touch with family and friends – use of visual apps like WhatsApp and Zoom – are a good way of checking in with others and keeping that social contact that is so important
  • Speak to a PCS rep for support.
  • Always remember – this is not your fault

Phone Apps

If it is safe to do so, use the following phone apps:

Bright Sky: a free-to-download mobile app, providing support and information to anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or those concerned about someone they know. It can also be used by anyone looking for information about issues around domestic abuse such as online safety, stalking and harassment and sexual consent. It appears as a weather app on the phone. 

Hollie Guard : provides enhanced levels of protection - essentially transforming your smartphone into an advanced personal safety device. All you need to do is shake your phone or tap the screen and you generate an alert, which automatically sends your location and audio/video evidence to your emergency contacts

Other Sources of Support, Help and Information

Domestic Abuse, Stress and Mental Health

During this difficult time, you also need to look after yourself, including your own well-being and mental health. Home working of itself can cause work-related stress and affect people’s mental health.

Spending more time at home because you are required to self-isolate, have been directed to work from home or because of rota systems introduced to support social distancing can also place staff at greater risk.

Being away from managers and colleagues can make it difficult to get proper support generally but particularly when someone is experiencing domestic abuse or coercive control. Workers may feel disconnected, isolated or abandoned.

The following may be of assistance:

  • SilverCloud: is a free, safe and secure online guided self-support and includes online programmes for depression and anxiety, sleep, and stress. 
  • The Mental Health Foundation: has advice about looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak including some specific advice for those in an abusive relationship.
  • Samaritansoffer a non-judgemental listening service. It’s a free and confidential 24-hour phone and email service which provides emotional support for anyone who needs someone to talk to. No advice and no pressure. 
    Call 116123 or email jo@samaritans.org

The MoJ’s Employee Assistance Provider PAM Assist offers a wide range of confidential support and advice to staff on personal, social or work-related problems. They can be contacted on 0800 882 4102 and found at www.pamassist.co.uk or on the intranet.

Managers can help reduce the risks and provide support

  • By ensuring that they adhere to their  policy obligations to safeguard staff Some staff may be safer by being in the workplace
  • Keeping in direct contact with those at home and recognising and addressing signs of stress or domestic abuse as soon as possible.  This could be via a means that offers but does not mandate individuals being able to see each other such as Skype.  Where there is a risk of being overheard, through emails, text messages or WhatsApp.
  • They may not be ready to talk, but it could make a difference for them to know that there is someone ready to listen and to help.
  • Signposting staff to support services.      

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