Words by Miranda Dunne
TW: This article contains reference to domestic violence.
The UK government has released a call for evidence from those with “lived experience of or views on violence against women and girls” ahead of its 2021-2024 strategy for Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). It closes on 19 February 2021.
The call for evidence published on the gov.uk website reads:
“The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on both existing problems of accessing services easily and quickly and, the strains on support services across the whole area of hidden harms.”
The strategy is calling for evidence from the general public, which can be completed via an online survey. It also asks for published data and research from “academics and others who have interest and expertise in violence against women and girls.” It came after a study released in Radiology in August concluded “a higher incidence and severity of physical intimate partner violence (IPV) during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic compared with the prior 3 years.” Intimate partner violence during the coronavirus pandemic was found to have increased by nearly two-fold.
The call for evidence is not just for domestic abuse, but a number of crimes that either do or “should” fall into VAWG such as image-based abuse, sexual assault, female genital mutilation and cyber flashing. It also stated that “men and boys experience crimes which fall within the definition of violence against women and girls” and as such the report acknowledges male victims of violence.
The strategy is supported by FGM campaigner Nimco Ali OBE, who was appointed as an Independent government Adviser on Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls in October by Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Ask for Ani, a UK-wide-scheme, was also launched on the 14 January by ministers whereby those at risk of domestic abuse can give the code word ‘Ani’ (Action needed immediately) in pharmacies. The scheme is available across 2,300 Boots pharmacies and 255 independent pharmacies, with other pharmacies being asked to sign up.
Safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins said: “The codeword scheme offers a lifeline to all victims, ensuring they get urgent help in a safe and discreet way.”
Labour shadow home officer Jess Phillips, however, questioned the scheme, saying, “domestic abuse and community support services are currently planning for redundancies in March… the staff being made redundant are the very people the minister needs for ‘Ask for Ani’ to have any chance of success.”
In November 2020, the Office for National Statistics reported that police recorded crime data demonstrated an increase in offences categorised as ‘domestic-abuse-related’ during coronavirus. However, it is highlighted that police have improved recording of such offences in recent years, meaning it is yet to be determined whether the increase can be directly assigned to the pandemic.
The London Metropolitan police received a spike in calls for domestic incidents following the lockdown. Most of them were from third-party callers such as neighbours, likely due to people spending increased time at home.
Along with this, demand for domestic abuse services for victims has increased during the pandemic, with helplines receiving more calls as lockdown measures have been eased. The report says: “this does not necessarily indicate an increase in the number of victims, but perhaps an increase in the severity of abuse being experienced, and a lack of available coping mechanisms such as the ability to leave the home to escape the abuse, or attend counselling.”
An anonymous woman spoke to ITV in an interview published last week which read that she found it easier to have her abuser at home so “she could keep an eye on him,”
Saying: ‘Obviously I was scared of the pandemic, I was scared of the abuse and harassment from him, and in a weird way, me knowing where he was meant he couldn’t tamper with my car or just let himself in.’
The abuse, she said continued after they were no longer in a relationship. Speaking to ITV News West Country, she said she eventually went to the police, though she had been worried they wouldn’t believe her. The perpetrator has been jailed with a sentence of 25 months and ‘Rosie’ is now living in a safe house.
Data gathered from survivors and services by SafeLives charity in August last year suggested 61% of victims were unable to reach out for support during lockdown, with some reporting being unable to “access phone or online support, or the perpetrator was with them all the time.”
“Women killed by intimate partners of family members account for 58% of all instances of female homicide.”
Leaders have also emphasised that the rise of domestic violence during the pandemic is a global issue
UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a statement in April:
“…Lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19. But they can trap women with abusive partners.”
“… as economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying global surge in domestic violence. In some countries, the number of women calling support services has doubled.”
In an emergency call 999
- Refuge, 24-hour national domestic abuse helpline: 0808 2000 247
- Mankind, 01823 334 244
- Galop, LGBT domestic abuse helpline 0800 999 5428
Picture Credit: Number 10