Victoria Derbyshire opens up about domestic abuse she and her mother suffered from her father during childhood

‘When Boris Johnson told us all to stay at home, one of my first thoughts was, ‘So, what if you are living in a house with a violent partner?’ Because you would be literally trapped,’ Derbyshire states on BBC Panorama programme

Sabrina Barr
Monday 17 August 2020 12:00 BST
Victoria Derbyshire returns to childhood home, recalling domestic violence she and her mother suffered from her father

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Content warning: This article contains references to domestic abuse some readers may find upsetting.

Victoria Derbyshire has opened up about suffering domestic abuse during her childhood, stating that she understands the “terror of lockdown“ for people who may have be “trapped” in abusive households.

On Monday evening, a BBC Panorama programme, Escaping my Abuser, presented by Derbyshire, is being shown on BBC One.

During the programme, Derbyshire investigates the extent of domestic abuse that has been suffered during lockdown, in addition to recalling her own experiences of growing up in a household with an abusive father.

At one point in the programme, the journalist pays a visit to her childhood home, the first time she has returned in 35 years.

As she looks at the house, the 51-year-old becomes visibly emotional, recollecting a time when she was around 12 years old when she ran to the police station to alert them that her father had locked her mother in a room and was hitting her.

“So this is the house where I grew up. And it’s so weird, I haven’t been here for so long, and I’ve got some really happy memories of being there. But there was some really difficult times. Because my father was violent,” Derbyshire said.

“I remember once, he locked my mum in their bedroom, and he was hitting her and there was loads of noise, and I was scared. So I ran from here, down to the police station which was, I don’t know, maybe a mile or something. I was 12 or 13, I was so scared, I just ran to the police station, just ran in and said, ‘My dad’s hitting my mum please can you come.’”

Derbyshire stated that when Boris Johnson announced the nationwide lockdown, one of her “first thoughts”was of people who are living in homes with abusive partners.

“Because you would, you be literally trapped,” she said.

According to research conducted by Women’s Aid exclusively for BBC Panorama, three quarters of those living with an abuser said that lockdown made it harder for them to escape.

Victoria Derbyshire in ‘BBC Panorama: Escaping My Abuser’
Victoria Derbyshire in ‘BBC Panorama: Escaping My Abuser’ (BBC One)

Two-thirds of the women who spoke to the charity said that the coronavirus has been used as a form of abuse against them.

Furthermore, following a Freedom of Information request made to police forces across the UK, it was discovered that the police received a call for help every 30 seconds from male and female victims suffering domestic abuse.

In the BBC Panorama programme, a woman called Jess* speaks about how on the night lockdown was established in March, her husband turned to her and said: “Let the games begin,” stating that the number of times she has been raped during lockdown has been “a hundred easily, if not more”.

Writing for the BBC, Derbyshire said Jess’s story was “one of the most brutal” she had ever heard.

Looking back on her childhood, Derbyshire wrote that she remembered her “whole body tensing every time I heard my father’s key in the back door”.

The newsreader emphasised that in lockdown, some domestic abuse survivors found it difficult calling for help on the phone “because their abuser was at home 24/7”.

“Spending the last few months finding out about the reality of domestic abuse under lockdown has been shocking – but I’ve also met women who’ve courageously escaped during the most challenging circumstances,” Derbyshire said.

Speaking to BBC Panorama, Fiona Dwyer, CEO of domestic abuse refuge provider Solace, said that the “timing was dreadful” when the government declared it was giving an additional £2m to domestic abuse helplines 19 days after lockdown was first implemented.

“It should not have taken 19 days to mobilise any sort of action,” Ms Dwyer said. “And what it highlights is that it wasn’t a priority for the government, it wasn’t thought about for the better part of three weeks to wait for any sort of response, and then two million is just really... it’s a poor effort.”

Victoria Atkins, minister for safeguarding, told BBC Panorama that she didn’t think the government were too slow to take action.

“I don’t think we were because when we were talking to charities in the very, very earliest days, we were very much responding,” Ms Atkins said.

“We said to them what do you need for us to help, so we very much focused on that practical help whilst also preparing for the charities’ bid that the chancellor announced and then the additional £2m for helplines.”

*Contributor’s name has been changed.

If you have been affected by domestic violence you can call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 and in Scotland 0800 027 1234. You can also contact the Respect Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327.

You can watch BBC Panorama: Escaping my Abuser on BBC One on Monday 17 August at 7.30pm and on BBC iPlayer.

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