During the police-enforced coronavirus rules, a study by the University of Western Scotland has found victims of domestic abuse were confined in isolation with their abusers, deprived of safe spaces and opportunities to contact others for help or support, and that more children witnessed the abuse due to school closures.
Zara Brodie, of the School of Education and Social Sciences at the university, said not only did the restrictions make it much more difficult for victims to get the support they needed, but that “abusers were weaponising government restrictions and diffusing responsibility for their controlling behaviours”.
“Many would tell the victim that they didn’t have to stay at home and cease contact with family because they, the abuser, wanted them to, but because the government insisted,” she said.
“Many abusers were also purposefully disobeying government guidelines, with the aim of inciting distress, leaving victims fearful that they or their children might be at increased risk of contracting Covid-19.”
The university study looked into the impact of the coronavirus on those living with domestic abuse though in-depth interviews with staff from several UK-based support organisations.
Academics who worked on the study said that victims worried about how much cash they would have if they decided to escape, as large parts of the country’s economy was shut down and millions put on furlough.
They also found those moments the victim would usually have got away from the abuse, when they went to work or other social engagements, ended with lockdown, and perpetrators used the stay-at-home order as an excuse to end or minimise child contact where the children lived with the abuser.
And as well as having a significant impact on those living with abuse, the university said lockdowns had a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of helpline staff.
Chloe Maclean, from the university department, said: “They worry about their callers, they worry about the changing landscape of support for victims/survivors of domestic abuse, and they worry abut their own family potentially overhearing traumatic aspects of their work whilst they work from home.”
Call handlers said that in some cases online support for victims was seen to be positive, with many in remote areas having difficult engaging with face-to-face services.
But many said that forcing victims to engage with new services or ways of their delivery increased the risk of re-traumatisation – where callers had spent months or years sharing their experiences with a support provider who was no longer available, and now had to relive that trauma to bring the new service up-to-speed.