As people are told to lockdown and stay at home, fears have been rising for another vulnerable group in these worrying times — those suffering from domestic abuse.
In the last week, Isle of Wight Police reported that 1 person has been charged with a domestic violence offence, and further enquiries were being made in another case — but they were just the cases reported.
A 59-year-old man from Shanklin was charged with assault by beating and has been bailed to appear at the Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court at the end of April.
In the Hubei province, where the coronavirus pandemic started, domestic abuse rates more than tripled during the lockdown in February, according to Chinese activists.
In England, police and campaigners have already warned the lockdown could lead to a sharp rise in the number of domestic violence cases as new measures mean you should only leave your house for essential reasons only.
The government has acknowledged the measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus can cause anxiety but said domestic abuse is unacceptable in any situation.
According to the Office for National Statistics, an estimated 786,000 men and 1.6 million women across England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2019.
Writing in her newspaper column in the Mail on Sunday, home secretary Priti Patel said restrictions were harder when ‘home is not the safe haven it should be’ — but abusers would be found and punished. She said:
“My message to every potential victim is simple: We have not forgotten you and we will not let you down. And my message to every perpetrator is equally simple: you will not get away with your crimes.”
Ms Patel also said while the advice is to stay home, anyone who is at risk of, or experiencing, domestic abuse is still able to leave and seek refuge.
The Isle of Wight Police said the risk of domestic abuse may be heightened with the current measures imposed but reiterated the help and support victims can get.
A spokesperson from Hampshire Constabulary said:
“We are working closely with our partners and the charities that support victims of domestic abuse to make sure we carry on supporting victims and responding to calls for help.
“Families are under increased pressure while schools are closed and there is uncertainty about jobs and finances as the government tries to suppress the spread of the virus.
“Keeping people safe is our number one priority and it is important that anyone who is being abused at home knows they can still call us, we still care and we will help.
“If it’s an emergency, people should always call 999.
“If people would rather talk to someone other than the police, there is support available from local and national agencies.”
WightDASH, a women’s domestic abuse support group on the Island, has had to suspend its usual activities during this time of crisis but is still offering support over the phone and online.
Fiona Gwinnett, chief executive of WightDASH, said the impact of an abusive relationship is often underestimated even after the relationship is over but WightDASH can signpost, offer information, practical suggestions and emotional support. She said:
“Difficult times can provoke difficult memories and feelings — this is why our focus is now on recovery related to any form of multiple disadvantage.
“We are continuing to support those already known to us and we can offer phone support to any woman who is feeling overwhelmed by the current situation.
“We hope to offer online face to face contact and perhaps some virtual craft groups soon too.
“Social connectedness is crucial to well-being and resilience and it is resilience that will ultimately support us during these uncertain times. ”
You can visit wightdash.co.uk for help or ring 01983 300423 or 01983 825981 to speak to a member of the team.
The Isle of Wight Council’s commissioned domestic abuse support provider You First has put in contingency plans to keep services running and ‘welcome contact from anyone who may need support’. You First phone lines are open and remote support is being offered — you can contact You First by calling 0800 234 6266 or email [email protected]
Men can seek help by phoning the Men’s Advice Line 0808 801 0327 or visit mensadviceline.org.uk.