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Domestic abuse: the shadow pandemic

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Care and support, child protection, coronavirus, Domestic violence and abuse

Woman with hand to glass panel in a front door

Pandemics add pressure

We can’t avoid the information that’s emerging about the extent to which domestic abuse is increasing during lockdown. As well as the potentially fatal intimate partner abuse, there is also an increase in adolescent-to-parent violence and elder abuse.

In multi-generation families living together, it is important to examine the line between shielding an elder relative, or someone with a low immunity or disability, and locking them up.

In households that may have previously witnessed volatile environments, the potential has increased for situations to escalate to violence and abuse.

This, together with financial uncertainty, economic stress, increased consumption of alcohol and substance misuse, can make a heady cocktail for this so-called shadow pandemic of domestic violence and abuse.

Family unit in silhouetteAnyone can be involved

We know that domestic violence and abuse (DVA) can affect all types of relationships irrespective of class, culture, economics and family composition. Some cultural barriers, customs and a feeling of shame can prevent people seeking help.

Some survivors can feel trapped in a maze, with the perpetrator right behind them watching their every move, ensuring they never walk the path to freedom and support.

The rare occasions when survivors meet others, and have a chance to escape or even seek some momentary solace, have now become more difficult during lockdown.

There is some comfort in knowing that a strong network of agencies exist work and liaise together, so that collectively we can all gain a clearer bird’s eye view of the maze; and support and navigate people through.

Footprints on abeachPositive steps

One example I heard was of a police authority proactively looking back at families that had recently come to the attention of the police a number of times, but who had not reported any incidents lately.

Other organisations who are working with perpetrators have adapted programmes to work online. They work with the victim/survivor and perpetrator at the same time online, whilst they are either in different rooms or whilst one is out of the house walking or in a car.

These solutions are not ideal, not available to all, and present their own challenges, but they are a positive step.

Isolation is a key tool of coercive control. What does this mean as lockdown rules begin to ease and we slowly move into recovery? The threat to victims, as they try to emerge from lockdown, could be even greater than before and all services must be alert to this.

While it is positive to have services and support for victims/survivors, it is also critical we ensure the right services are in place for perpetrators, with equally funded programmes and campaigns.

Prevention is vital

There is, understandably, a focus on the victim attempting to leave the situation and seek support. However, without prevention programmes for children and young adults and well-evidenced perpetrator programmes, the domestic abuse and violence usually just continues with a new victim.

One such programme is DRIVE, a well evidenced, tailor made, high-risk high-harm perpetrator programme employing a whole systems approach and coordinated multi-agency response.

Many people are experiencing real stress and hardship resulting from COVID-19, and there are no excuses for being abusive. However, from my professional experience, many perpetrators have deep and complex emotional and cognitive issues that have been suppressed for years. We need a cross-party, multi-agency approach to address these issues.

Find out more

For further information please go to SCIE’s COVID-19 hub on DVA

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