Sharp rise in domestic abuse cases since the lockdown came into force

Katherine Johnston (29 April, 2020)

'We are increasingly worried that women are not able to reach out for help due to being monitored 24/7 by their abuser' - Solace Women's Aid chief executive

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While overall crime drops domestic violence is rising as victims are trapped with their abusers during the lockdown.

Across London, the Met has recorded a nine per cent rise in domestic abuse incidents from March 9 to April 19, compared with the same period last year.   This includes ‘non-crimes’ like rows called in by worried neighbours.

A total of 4,039 domestic abuse arrests were made in London over the last six weeks, with charges up by a quarter.

This comes as overall crime is falling – offences were 32 per cent lower in London between March 12 to April 14 than last year.

In Southwark specifically, overall crime dropped by 19.5 per cent between February and March.

But domestic abuse in our borough has risen in line with figures seen across London, says Southwark and Lambeth commander Colin Wingrove.

The courts are already seeing lockdown cases. One, heard at Croydon Magistrates’ Court this month, was a hearing for a father accused of holding a knife to his partner’s head and choking her in front of their children.  Police were called to the SE5 flat on April 14 by concerned residents.

Chief Superintendent Wingrove told the News: “The Met takes a zero-tolerance approach to domestic abuse.

“With people socially distancing and self-isolating, we know that this puts potential victims at greater risk.

“Domestic abuse is historically an under-reported crime and victims are now likely to feel even more isolated, and like they have less opportunity to access help and support.

“In Central South Basic Command Unit, Southwark and Lambeth, officers are continuing to prioritise and respond to domestic abuse calls, and we continue to work closely with a range of partners to ensure victims receive the support and service they need.

“I would urge anyone, whether you are experiencing domestic abuse or you know a friend, relative or neighbour who you think is at risk, call police right away. In an emergency, always call 999.”

Solace Women’s Aid, the largest domestic abuse support service in London, says its Southwark team has seen a spike in referral. Visits to its website have also shot up by 70 per cent.

In particular the charity has seen an increase in women who have experienced abuse for years but are only reporting it for the first time.

There are also a higher number of more serious incidents, women fleeing with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and more sexual violence cases – all in our borough.

Chief executive Fiona Deyer said: “We are in uncharted waters when it comes to supporting women living in enforced isolation and lockdown.

“Calls to our helpline had hit an all-time high in the days leading up to lockdown but have since dropped drastically.

“We are increasingly worried that women are not able to reach out for help due to being monitored 24/7 by their abuser.”

The charity, which operates throughout London,  has a challenge on two fronts: a dramatic increase in demand for its specialist support, and the difficulties of providing it when there are limited opportunities for women and men to get respite from their home lives.

Some families are at higher risk as the abuser may be laid off work, with financial pressures escalating existing abusive behaviour.

Its support workers are coordinating with food banks and Southwark Council’s COVID-19 emergency support to try and minimise risk, but even before COVID-19 faced ongoing cuts to services.

Its refuges are also struggling to find PPE, maintain staffing levels due to sickness, and manage COVID-19 cases.

An extra £2 million of government funding isn’t enough, the CEO has warned.  The charity has now launched an emergency appeal, aiming to raise £150,000.

 

Since the lockdown began, across the country fourteen women and two children have died at home in suspected domestic abuse attacks.

Solace is supporting 2,300 women right now – a number it says will only rise further when the lockdown is lifted.

The Southwark Advocacy Support Service (SASS), run by Solace Women’s Aid, with funding from Southwark Council, provides expert independent advice and support for all women and men aged 16-plus experiencing domestic abuse.

Call 020 7593 1290, email southwark@solacewomensaid.org or visit solacewomensaid.org/get-help

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