Government launches campaign to raise awareness of domestic abuse victims amid coronavirus crisis

Calls to UK’s national domestic abuse helpline have soared during Covid-19 crisis

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Saturday 11 April 2020 19:38 BST
Priti Patel’s announcement follows mounting pressure on the government to introduce emergency measures to tackle the surge in domestic abuse incidents in the wake of the government’s lockdown
Priti Patel’s announcement follows mounting pressure on the government to introduce emergency measures to tackle the surge in domestic abuse incidents in the wake of the government’s lockdown (Sky News)

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The home secretary has launched a campaign to draw attention to domestic abuse victims locked up with their abusers during the coronavirus crisis.

Priti Patel’s announcement follows mounting pressure on the government to introduce emergency measures to tackle the surge in domestic abuse in the wake of the government’s lockdown.

Calls to the UK’s national domestic abuse helpline have soared and police report there has been a rise in domestic violence incidents directly linked to the Covid-19 emergency.

The government’s new campaign, which uses the hashtag #YouAreNotAlone, draws attention to the fact support services are still up and running to help those subjected to domestic abuse.

“I am now asking this nation to use that amazing compassion and community spirit to embrace those trapped in the horrific cycle of abuse,” Priti Patel said during Downing Street’s daily coronavirus briefing.

“And to help us all look out for those who need help, we have created a symbol of hope – a handprint embossed with a heart – so that people can easily show that we will not tolerate abuse as a society.

“I would urge everyone to share it on social media or in the windows of your home, alongside a link to the support available, to demonstrate just how much this country cares. And to show victims of domestic abuse: you are not alone.”

The government’s idea for a handprint embossed with a heart has been mocked by critics on Twitter.

Ms Patel argued it should be abusive partners who are forced to leave their homes by the authorities to ensure the domestic abuse victim and their children can remain. However, the Conservative Party politician noted that “sadly this is not always possible”.

She said the government is looking at alternative forms of accommodation to support those fleeing abuse but failed to set out any concrete plans around how this would be implemented.

Ms Patel pledged £2m to boost online support services and helplines for victims of domestic abuse – a tiny fraction of the £48.2m emergency cash injection a leading domestic abuse charity has called for to help services during the coronavirus crisis.

Women’s Aid’s call for the emergency funding came after a survey of 45 local domestic abuse services found 84 per cent of services said they had been forced to either reduce or totally cancel one or more services in the wake of the pandemic. Around 70 per cent of services voiced fears around future loss of income from fundraising.

Domestic abuse services have been badly hit by government austerity measures in recent years – with shelters for abuse survivors suffering from a chronic shortage of bed spaces. Local authority spending on refuges was cut from £31.2m in 2010 to £23.9m in 2017, forcing several to close their doors.

Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, argued the government’s campaign did not go far enough to address the scourge of domestic violence.

She said: “Despite stark advance warnings from other countries, the government’s lack of action on domestic abuse until three weeks into lockdown has already cost lives, and is symptomatic of its inability to recognise and respond to the gendered impacts of this pandemic. This failure is not surprising when its ‘war cabinet’ is entirely male.

“While the additional £2m for online services and helplines is much needed, it is a drop in the ocean. Despite the reassuring words from Priti Patel on addressing perpetrators of abuse, today’s announcements still focused on enabling victims and their children to flee their homes – effectively rendering them homeless. We also need to make it easier for police to evict dangerous perpetrators.

“Which is why I am calling for domestic abuse protection orders to be extended for the full period of lockdown, for forces to be supported and directed to make wider use of them, for court fees to be waived and cases to be prioritised. If it is not addressed, the escalation of abuse during this period will take a terrible toll that will reverberate in families, communities and our society for years to come.”

The government’s new campaign highlights the support currently being provided by Refuge, the UK’s largest provider of shelters for domestic violence victims, via the freephone 24-hour national domestic abuse helpline.

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Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said: “We have worked around the clock to ensure our national helpline and frontline specialist services remain open and accessible to women experiencing domestic abuse.

“What is needed now, more than ever, is to ensure every woman experiencing domestic abuse is aware of the confidential support available. We hope the government’s campaign will reach the tens of thousands of people experiencing domestic abuse, helping send the message – you are not alone.”

The Independent recently spoke to frontline service providers and experts about a range of measures that need to be implemented to help women cooped up with their abusers during the lockdown.

Charities have argued the chancellor’s recent £750m pledge in emergency funding for charities across the UK is not adequate. Charity sector bodies previously estimated charities will lose out on a minimum of £4.3bn of income over the 12 weeks – with some arguing the figure could be radically higher.

Anyone who requires help or support can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is open 24/7 365 days per year on 0808 2000 247 or via their website

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