We’ve experienced an unprecedented time in 2020 with the impact of COVID-19. Sadly, not only are we aware of the health and economic implications of the virus, we also know there has been an increase in reported cases of abuse, as well as reduced services for those facing danger and exploitation.
Everyone is vulnerable to abuse: men, women, and children. And abuse comes in many forms - physical, emotional, and sexual.
The United Nations, Secretary General António Guterres, has called for urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence. And, just this month, Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty against Children (NSPCC), said there had been a “sharp increase” of reports of abuse against children in their own homes since the pandemic began.
The NSPCC has produced a report on the current concerns and charities around the world are recording a sharp rise in demand.
Refuge: The National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge, has seen on average an increase of around 50% in calls and over 400% in visits to its website since lockdown measures began. It has continued to work hard to ensure that the helpline remains open 24 hours a day. While lockdown itself does not cause domestic abuse, Refuge says it can aggravate pre-existing behaviours in abusive partners.
Unicef: The children’s charity has also highlighted concerns that increased rates of abuse and exploitation of children have occurred during previous public health emergencies. For example, school closures during the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, contributed to spikes in child labour, neglect, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies. In Sierra Leone, cases of teenage pregnancy more than doubled to 14,000 from before the outbreak
There’s no doubt that the conditions created by COVID-19 have increased the likelihood that both stressors and vulnerability will increase in the home, with no outlet. With restrictions on leaving the home, abuse victims are not only unable to escape but many charities and support outlets are restricted.
The government has confirmed however, even during lockdown measures, individuals can leave their home if they are experiencing abuse.
Lack of routines, non-school attendance, too much technology, alcohol misuse and substance abuse have the most strongly evidenced association with child abuse and recurrent maltreatment. Families are also experiencing financial pressure which research indicates increases domestic violence in the home.
Family members, childcare workers, and educational personnel - such as teachers - often play a key role in detecting and reporting cases of abuse or exploitation. Those who are normally trained to be vigilant to physical and behavioural changes, which may indicate some form of abuse, are no longer having the same level of contact with individuals.
According to the British Association of Social Workers, members are reporting concerns for children whose families refuse their visits on the grounds that they are self-isolating or maintaining social distancing.
Where to get help
Women’s Aid has provided guidelines for victims and how to make a safety plan. This includes:
Women’s Aid has also listed websites to assist families dealing with Covid-19:
During this time a number of organisations are available to continue to offer support. This includes:
There are also support networks if you are worried you are hurting someone: