It is an odd topic to have to talk about. The home is meant to be a sanctuary, a place of all types of memories, a safety net in day-to-day life; it provides a way out of a stressful and taxing day and we have most definitely all had that yearning feeling of 'I cannot wait to get home'. That feeling of wanting to escape somewhere safe is embodied by so many, but what if that safety net isn't available to you due to the hands of another occupant?
COVID-19 has been, without a doubt, shit, and for the past two months we've all collectively been confined to the spaces of our homes. This has seen a rise in all sorts of positive things on the other hand: new-found creativity, a camaraderie spirit that has swept across the UK, and an increasingly grateful perspective on what we have in our developed, civilised Western society and a larger sense of respect for each other. However, where there should already be a princely sense of respect for each other, a dramatic decrease is occurring. Levels of domestic abuse against all types of people have skyrocketed during the period of COVID-19, and quite frankly there is a bold (reported) percentage of the population who aren't safe in their own homes.
Anyone can experience domestic abuse: rich or poor, young men and women, adults in or out of relationships, older people by their carers, children by parents, siblings, and carers too. It does not exclude anybody from its grasp.
Refuge, the largest Domestic Abuse charity in the UK, published figures of a 700% increase in calls in a single day
From 9 March, charges of domestic abuse increased by 24% in London and over the course of March and April 4,100 arrests of domestic abuse were made in the Capital alone, revealed by the Met Police. To accompany the harsh reality of it all, two domestic-related murders occurred in London and by several arrests being made, overwhelming leads to other crimes are being discovered.
The Home Office have released a campaign entitled the #YouAreNotAlone campaign, aiming to boost awareness around the severity of the situation and let victims and survivors know of the available support; Home Secretary Priti Patel has said that the government will and have always been protecting the victims of abuse, funding with all their strength, and making sure that they can 'save' as many people a possible.
But where was this spirit when they slashed fundings by 80% to the largest and arguably most effective UK domestic abuse charity, Refuge, in 2011?
Where was that protective attitude when the figure emerged that 60% of women were being turned away at Refuge shelters due to there not being adequate space as 1 in 6 shelters were closed in 2010. Staff providing support that Patel claims to have always been giving have had to have their hours shortened or their jobs terminated due to these cuts, and devastatingly, victims are being kept in these rancid and sickening situations more and more each day.
There is a gender imbalance within the field of domestic abuse.
In 2018 nine times more women were killed by men by their partner or ex-partner.
There is an excessive intensity for women, 89% of those victims experiencing four or more incidents of domestic violence are women, and although women are three times more likely to be arrested for domestic abuse, CPS shows that 93% of cases that actually end up in court obtain male defendants and 84% of victims are female, and only 8% of these cases lead to conviction. The saddest thing about this all is that the police receive a domestic violence-related call every 30 seconds, but less than 24% of domestic abuse and crime events are actually even reported to the police.
Victims are suffering in silence and shadows. You never know if the person next to you is experiencing it.
One may feel ashamed and embarrassed about the topic, vulnerable over speaking about it, a burden if they do, and it may push them to become a person who withdraws themselves from their usual life.
The person you once knew will change and it usually won't be until you see an obvious and nauseating sign that you will be able to tell. Then comes your part if you ever find yourself put in a situation as difficult and admittedly uncomfortable as this; you cannot begin to view this person as a victim to one's face, because that is one of the most prominent reasons as to why they will not speak out. The initial shock of experiencing abuse deeply resided within the victim and the capacity to go to the police or wave a red flag is minuscule, but when it continues to happen, due to one not reporting it or say anything about it first time it becomes normalised, and then when a victim has a realisation about the felonious acts of their abuser it is likely that they will be embarrassed by the timescale and may find themselves accepting the repeated routine.
Guidance on what to say to someone you suspect is experiencing abuse can vary,
It is vitally important to let the victim know that in no way, shape, or form are they imposing an inconvenience upon you.
Let them know that you want to help and if there is anyway you can then with no hesitation will you. Once you extend your unconditional support then trust slowly will start to build, even if it doesn't seem like it to you, but you have to remember to keep the victim and yourself safe. Always try to talk face-to-face and in private due to the common pattern of intrusive, suspicious, and possessive behaviours amongst abusers; as well as this, if the victim is unsure of doing anything do not make them do it at first hand, for this could only contribute to increasing anxieties and worsening their situation.
Be sure to remain as relaxed and open as possible; instead of making assertions make suggestions, be sensitive to the situation and understand that the perspective from the victim's point of view is wildly different to your own, for if it were the same then they may have pushed forwards with seeking justice for themselves. Your friend might not always listen to what you tell them and to be honest, at the start that is okay, it's a petrifying situation that has reconstructed their approach to everything.
Stand by them regardless of their decision. Whether they decide to seek peace for themselves or whether they decide to continue remaining in their situation, it's not your job to convince them, it's your job to support them and provide safety for them, something they don't have the privilege to obtain.
Nothing is as simple as merely walking away, in the case of family for example: if a brother is abusing his sister the sister cannot just get up and leave, she might find it incredibly hard to even portray feelings of upset, it is very likely that she would hold a facade to the entire family in order to keep the peace. Imagine having to break that news to your family, imagine the ruin those words will have, imagine the terrifying nature around that conversation in a victim's head, imagine the victim's thoughts over the potential consequences when the abuser finds out they have been accused, think about that when you don't understand why someone hasn't spoken out.
If one does leave a situation then it isn't unlikely for them to return, because a lot of the time that is all a victim knows and what one is used to. The possibility of them being coerced by the promise of change and dedication by the abuser is persistent, and manipulates the mind. It could take years for someone to walk away fully, so don't give up hope if you see it as a repeated cycle that is self-inflicted; it isn't but that is their life and by walking away it's the start of something foreign that they never asked for, it was imposed upon them. You should be prepared for something like this to occur, and accept the fat that things won't always run smoothly first time, but do not give up hope; keep the alert mindset you had when you first became a branch of their support network; if the decision is well and truly theirs then the victim is likely to not return, but when pushed to do so, in time their old mindset will come back and you cannot blame them for this. Just be understanding.
So, all in all, I think it's vital that we all come to terms with the fact that this is very much an issue that is now more than ever, considering the severe spike in reports of domestic abuse showing the heightened emergency as people are being incredibly brave and coming forwards. We need to bear in mind that not everyone is lucky enough to come from a household that acts as that safety net that we hold dear, not everyone is lucky enough to have that feeling of wanting to come home. Regardless of how normal and good life may seem for a person on the outside, it is the sole truth that you never know what happens behind closed doors.
Although we stand together as a nation in a time like this, many stand alone, in silence.
https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/ (for the exploitation of older people)
http://www.galop.org.uk/domesticabuse/ (specific to LGBT+ anti-violence)
https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/ (also extend support to those who have witnessed or have been impacted by crimes that have not directly happened to them)