COVID-19: When keeping safe WITHIN your home is your first concern
By Jackie Mensah, Family Solicitor for Bennett Griffin
Everyone is, rightly, talking about staying home. I received the Prime Minister’s letter yesterday (no doubt posted before he was sadly struck by the coronavirus) and will abide by his directions, to the letter, as will everyone I know. As Bennett Griffin’s Family Lawyer (happily in my 16th year with the firm now), I and my colleagues are working remotely from home and continuing to deliver our unique brand of professional services, whilst staying safe and keeping our clients and contacts safe also.
But what if your home is not a safe haven due to the threat of physical harm to you, your children and others in your home, or via a denial of telephone and social media access? Feeling secure becomes feeling trapped, equating with double isolation.
The National Domestic Abuse helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since the lockdown, the charity Refuge says. It received hundreds more calls in the second week of the lockdown, compared to the first week. A social epidemic, on top of a health pandemic.
Campaigners have warned the restrictions could heighten domestic tensions and cut off escape routes. For instance, an abuser can delete social media accounts and prevent a victim from having vital contact with friends and family, including stopping brief, social distanced, visits. In a BBC news report, Sandra Horley, CEO of Refuge, said that many perpetrators already use isolation “…as a tool of control…” and continued that “…last year 1.6 million women in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse, and while in lockdown or self-isolation, women and children are likely to be spending concentrated periods of time with perpetrators, potentially escalating the threat of domestic abuse and further restricting their freedom…” and that “…domestic abuse isn’t always physical – it’s a pattern of controlling, threatening and coercive behaviour, which can also be emotional, economic, psychological or sexual.”
I hasten to add here that abusers and perpetrators come in all genders, ages, etc and that, as a society, we are still discovering the true extent of female and male on male abuse and elder abuse, the latter being an area which my colleagues in our Private Client and Court of Protection teams often provide advice about. Our Dispute Resolution team are skilled in civil harassment law matters, which can affect those suffering abuse, who are not in relationships with one another.
All charities, including those providing support for those experiencing domestic abuse, are struggling at this exceptional time in social history, even though those services are crucial in the fight against the virus, as they provide infrastructure for stability and safety, including addressing and supporting mental health and addictions issues. We have all heard that alcohol sales rose by over 20% in the first two weeks of the lockdown. The issues that existed previously are amplified. One effect of being locked down with your abuser could be that not only are people more vulnerable to domestic abuse, but also possibly less likely to be able to make an emergency phone call.
Local independent domestic abuse charity, Safe in Sussex, are concerned about people living with domestic abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic and Finance Officer, Linda Puttock told me that “… as home is not always a safe place for people and perpetrators may use the infection control measures as a way of controlling and using coercive behaviour. We (Safe in Sussex) are still offering support through our outreach service over the telephone, via text and email. People can call us or visit our website to refer themselves to the outreach service. Our refuge service is still operating and keeping people safe remains a priority for the charity.”
- As an experienced Family Lawyer and former Trustee of Safe in Sussex, I often refer my clients to them. Their contact details are: Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4pm 0330 333 7416 and email email@example.com safeinsussex.org
- The Police are emphasising that women and men facing abuse at home during the lockdown should still report their experiences to police and seek support from domestic abuse services, even though the perpetrator may be less visible than ever now. The police will seek to remove the perpetrator still. If you are in immediate danger, call 999 and press 55 when prompted, if you can’t speak.
- The National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247 is open 24 hours, seven days a week, with staff operating from home. They offer the option of contacting them through the website, with a quick exit button which ensures no record of the attempt is left on the phone.
You may feel that the lockdown has given you clarity as to wanting and needing to escape a relationship. I am here to offer reassuring advice as to your legal options and expert representation, be it as to protective injunction applications to the court; separation or divorce; contact with children or financial issues on a break-up. I am Resolution trained and will work for you, on your side, in a robust and calm way.
Please email me, Jackie Mensah, on firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 01903 229914, as appropriate and possible, to discuss your needs. I look forward to helping you stay safe and well at this challenging time.