This difficult and unprecedented time is worrying and scary for all of us.
For victims of domestic abuse, the consequences of the outbreak of COVID-19 can mean that feelings of fear and anxiety are heightened, as a result of the prospect of being made to stay at home for an indefinite and prolonged period of time, with their abusers.
Domestic abuse includes physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse and coercive control. Abusers often work on isolating their victims and so, worryingly, self-isolation aids them in their pattern of control.
Victims are unable to find escape or freedom from their abuse at work or through everyday activities and with tension rising as a result of the situation, the risk of abuse or violence is heightened and they are increasingly vulnerable.
There are concerns that the strain and pressure associated with COVID-19 and self-isolation, be it due to health concerns or financial stress, will not only intensify an already dangerous situation, but may result in some people experiencing abuse for the first time.
Additionally, financial problems may result in an increase in economic abuse whereby the abuser continues to, or begins to, exert control over the family finances and ‘control the purse strings’.
Predictably, since the Coronavirus outbreak, there has been a rise in the number of domestic abuse incidents, and this is thought to be directly attributable to the virus and the lock down which has followed as a result. It is thought this increase will continue.
It should be noted that domestic abuse does not only relate to abuse perpetrated by a spouse or partner, but extends to abuse from family members or carers.
What to do if you are at risk of domestic abuse during this period
- Dial 999. If you or your children are in immediate risk of harm, you need to call 999 straight away, as you would usually do. Domestic abuse is a crime and the police remain equipped to deal with these situations and offer help.
- Leave the property. Members of Parliament have recently spoken out about domestic abuse during this time, making it very clear that anyone who is experiencing, or is at risk of experiencing domestic abuse may leave their home and seek refuge, despite the lockdown.
- There are a number of charities committed to supporting victims during this time. The following are still open and able to help:
- Refuge- 0808 2000 247
- National Domestic Abuse 24hr Helpline- 0808 2000 247
- Women’s Aid- https://www.womensaid.org.uk/
- Create a safety plan. This is a personalised, practical plan which helps you look at ways for you and your children to remain safe, build up your support network, and remain positive. The charities listed above can assist you with creating your safety plan. For example Women’s Aid have issued guidance recommending that those at risk keep a phone on them at all times.
- Try to keep in touch with your support network the best you can. Ensure that you have a safe space to go if needed and that you have someone to talk to. This can be a family member, a colleague or close friend. Please make sure you do this safely, as your phone may be being monitored.
- Court orders available to domestic violence victims
A family law specialist at Rayden Solicitors can advise you on making an application for a court order to protect you. There are remedies available to victims of domestic abuse in the form of Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders.
Non Molestation Order is an injunction which offers protection where there is a risk of any violence. It also protects against threats of violence, intimidation, harassment or pestering both in person and through other means such as text messages and phone calls.
Non Molestation Orders usually stay in place from 6-12 months but can be extended.
A breach of a Non-Molestation is a criminal offence and the police have the power to arrest anyone in breach.
Occupation Orders regulate occupation of the family home and defines who can live there. Abusers can be excluded from the home whilst the victim and the children remain, or they can be excluded from certain areas of the home.
Occupation Orders usually last for a period of 6 months, although this can be extended for an indefinite period of time in some instances.
Both Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders have a specific set of criteria that has to be fulfilled before it is made.
Leaving an abusive relationship is extremely daunting for a number of reasons, particularly where there are children involved and victims are not financially independent.
We are still open and able to help during this time. We can advise you on your position in relation to your finances and children as well as the protective orders discussed above. Please do get in touch with one of our family law specialists to set up a virtual meeting.