COVID-19 Lockdown: A Rise in Domestic Abuse
The Coronavirus pandemic is having an unprecedented impact on society. The lockdown restrictions and recent measures announced by the government to tackle Covid-19 have had an indisputable impact on family dynamics and have sadly led to a sharp rise in domestic abuse cases.
According to the charity Refuge, the National Domestic Abuse helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since the lockdown commenced on 23 March 2020 and visits to the National Domestic Abuse helpline website were reported to be 150% higher than during the last week in February.
Working at home, self-isolation and social distancing can lead to increased levels of anxiety for those suffering or at risk of suffering from domestic abuse, adding to existing pressures within families. Such circumstances give rise to increased tension and serve as a breeding ground for domestic abuse.
During this time of crisis, victims should be encouraged to stay in touch with friends and family. Friends and family of victims should be alive to the mental health effects of domestic abuse, which can be exacerbated during this period. It is important that any persons suffering in this situation are aware that they are not alone and there is support available.
This blog will consider the current legislation and what support is in place for victims of domestic abuse.
What does the Law say?
The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 came into force on 26 March 2020 and sets out situations which are considered to be a “reasonable excuse” for leaving the home. In relation to domestic abuse, the following provisions apply:
Restrictions on movement
- 6. — (1) During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.(2) For the purposes of paragraph (1), a reasonable excuse includes the needs:
(h) to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings
(i) to access critical public services, including:
(iv) services provided to victims (such as victims of crime);
(m) to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.
It is important to note that the household restrictions on movement do not apply to persons who need to leave their home to escape domestic abuse.
What support is available?
The Home Secretary Priti Patel has made it clear that, whilst government advice is to stay at home, anyone who is at risk of, or experiencing domestic abuse, is able to leave and seek refuge. Refuges remain open, and the police will provide support to all individuals who are being abused, whether physically, emotionally, or otherwise.
Victims should consider seeking the following support and/or assistance:
- Obtain a non-molestation order or occupation order from the Court.
- Call the police on 999 if they feel at risk of immediate danger. The ‘Silent Solution System’ is in place and is triggered if during calls to 999 a caller taps 55 to indicate a victims who is unable to speak on the phone due to risks of danger, but require police assistance.
- Contact the following charities or similar charities providing support to victims of domestic abuse:
- Women’s Aid (https://www.womensaid.org.uk.),
- The 24-hour National Domestic Abuse helpline (0808 2000 247 or https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/)
- Support Line (https://www.supportline.org.uk)
- Support from family, friends and neighbours.
- A range of resources for those seeking support are available on the government website: see Coronavirus (COVID-19): support for victims of domestic abuse.
How can the Law help me during the Lockdown?
Any person suffering from domestic abuse is able to apply to the Family Court for a non-molestation order or occupation order under Part IV Family Law Act 1996 providing they satisfy the criteria of being an “associated person” in accordance with s.62(3). [Click here for link]
According to recent guidance issued by Mr Justice Macdonald:
“ The COVID19 Pandemic necessitates, that, for the time being, the default position should be that all Family Court hearings should be undertaken by way of a remote hearing using telephone conferences or an electronic communications platform”.
The Courts are therefore working remotely during the lockdown period and are prioritising urgent matters such as children matters, non-molestation and occupation orders, with hearings taking place via electronic platforms such as Skype, Zoom and BT MeetMe. The preferred platform varies from Court to Court and guidance is continually being updated in relation to proceedings.
Victims should not hesitate to seek legal advice if they are suffering or at risk of suffering from domestic abuse and would benefit from the protection of a Court Order.