All of us will have seen and heard many different statistics over the last year, relating to cases of Covid-19, hospitalisations, mental health, long Covid and so on, but far less has been reported about the significant increase in domestic abuse and violence and the impact the global pandemic has had for those suffering abuse.
Domestic Violence Helplines and the NSPCC have all reported a rise in cases since the Covid pandemic started, and according to the domestic violence charity Refuge, the number of calls they received between April 2020 and February 2021 increased by more than 60% compared to the average number of calls at the start of 2020.
What is Domestic Abuse and Violence?
According to GOV.UK:
“Domestic Abuse can be defined as any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional factors”.
Domestic violence can happen against anyone, and anybody can be an abuser. It involves one person in a relationship having power and control over the other person.
Although historically women were seen as the victim and men as a perpetrator, 25% of reported domestic abuse involves crime against a male. Men and women can both be the victim or perpetrator.
There are a number of potential risk factors that have been identified which may increase the risk of incidents of domestic abuse and violence. These include, but are not limited to:
- Physical learning difficulties – a victim may find it harder to disclose what has happened or may be reliant on the perpetrator for personal care or mobility.
- Socio-economic status
- Relationship status
- Household structure
- Sexual orientation
- Mental health
Although consideration should be given to these factors, there is no clear cut way to define who may or may not experience domestic abuse and violence, and therefore, anyone reporting or showing the signs of experiencing domestic abuse and violence must be given appropriate support and resources.
Domestic Abuse and Violence can take place anywhere, at home or beyond and can have many components, not always physical and can include abuse and violent harassment by phone, over the internet or through social networking sites. It can have many different guises with differing levels of severity including:
- Stalking and harassment
- Online and digital abuse
- Teenage relationship abuse
- Child to parent abuse
- ‘Honour’ based violence
- Financial abuse
- Physical abuse
- Verbal abuse
- Coercion and control
All of these aspects are covered in more detail in our Domestic Abuse and Violence online training course.
It’s important to remember that domestic abuse and violence are never the fault of the victim.
Why have Domestic Abuse and Violence increased during the Covid-19 Pandemic?
There are a number of reasons for the increased prevalence of domestic abuse and violence since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the main factors involve the UK lockdown and increased isolation. Many abusers used lockdown to maintain and fuel methods of coercive control and victims have felt more alone and with less access to resources or support. Confining victims under the same roof as perpetrators for prolonged periods of time has been found to be one of the key factors for the rise.
Families have faced financial pressures, a changed routine, the increased presence of children, anxiety about health, mental health problems and no opportunities for a holiday or a respite from the day to day challenges. For those living with a perpetrator of domestic abuse or violence, these pressures have been magnified.
Communication challenges have led to problems with reaching out for help and support, with many victims being unable to access online video calls in place of face to face support due to the presence of their abuser. Victims have faced reduced mobility while having to stay at home and not being able to leave their home has meant they lost many of their coping strategies and resources.
Domestic abuse charities reported less spaces in refuges during the first lockdown due to social distancing measures, reduced staffing capacity and funding for support services being lost or reduced.
On 29th April 2021, the Domestic Abuse Act was passed in both Houses of Parliament and signed into law. This will provide further protection to the millions of people who experience domestic abuse and strengthen measures to tackle perpetrators. The Bill will also aim to raise awareness and understanding of the impact domestic abuse and violence can have, and further improve the justice system.
Impacts of Domestic Abuse and Violence
Victims of domestic abuse or violence can experience significant impacts on both their physical and mental health, both short term and long term. Amongst others, these can include:
- A sense of helplessness
- Hyper vigilance
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
- Flashbacks or nightmares
- Physical or sexual injuries
- Inappropriate or changing emotions
- Persistent fear
Some people experiencing abuse and violence may turn to coping strategies such as substances or alcohol, they may withdraw from friendships and try to deny what is happening, both to themselves and to those around them. It may become difficult to concentrate at work and employees may seem distracted and unable to cope with their workload.
People often ask why a person experiencing domestic abuse or violence chooses to stay in the situation, but a victim may feel they have no choice. Their experiences may have given them low confidence and they may feel they cannot ‘stand on their own two feet’ or support themselves without the perpetrator. There may be practical reasons such as the fear of children being taken away or they may feel that they will have a lack of support if they do leave,
Numerous studies have shown that women in particular are at the greatest risk of homicide at the point of separation or just after leaving. Those experiencing domestic abuse and violence need support and help from those around them, to empower them, care for them and to help them make decisions.
Experiencing domestic abuse and violence clearly impacts every aspect of a victim’s life and therefore, employers need to recognise that this can include workplace impacts and should try to provide support and resources for victims.
Support for Victims of Domestic Abuse and Violence in the Workplace
Many employers have realised the need to support their staff with both raising awareness of domestic abuse and violence issues, and supporting employees who may be experiencing these. Recently, we have been approached by a number of organisations across different sectors who asked us to support them in training their staff, which is how our Domestic Abuse and Violence Awareness Training evolved.
Employers and HR teams have told us they want information about this issue, they want training about how to recognise the signs, they need to know how to support their staff and what to do if they spot the signs of domestic abuse and violence in their employees or suspect things may be amiss. We worked with experts in the field of Domestic Abuse and Violence to ensure our comprehensive training course covered all this and more, therefore ensuring those responsible for staff training were provided with everything they needed.
We have found that the course is of benefit to everyone, employers and employees alike, as it raises awareness, offers advice and guidance, and provides resources and additional help. The course takes approximately 45 minutes to complete and although it contains sensitive information, it is informative, educational and ensures every individual has the information they require – whether they need to provide help or ask for it themselves.
We will happily offer a free trial of our Domestic Abuse and Violence Awareness Training course to all those who may find it of use to their organisation.