Covid-19, Lock Down and Domestic Abuse

Abuse is NOT “disputes”.

Lock down does not “cause” domestic abuse. It does make existing abuse riskier, more frightening, and harder to escape.

“COVID-19 will not cause domestic homicides – only abusers are responsible for their actions. The pandemic does, however, threaten to escalate abuse and close down routes to safety for women to escape.”

– Nicki Norman, Women’s Aid UK Acting CEO. 

“I don’t believe coronavirus creates violent men. What we’re seeing is a window into the levels of abuse that women live with all the time. Coronavirus may exacerbate triggers, though I might prefer to call them excuses.”

– Karen Ingala-Smith, Counting Dead Women 

“Lock down”, self-isolation and home working due to Coronavirus have all led to an increased risk in domestic abuse situations. Isolation of the victim is a main tool of an abuser, and government measures to stop virus spread have inadvertently strengthened this tool, saving lives from coronavirus, but inadvertently putting lives at risk from domestic abuse. (There are usually over 2 deaths a week in the UK due to Coronavirus, this has increased to more than 5 a week at present.)

Sadly, there has been some very poor advice going out, including announcements of “code words” to use if you need help. Code words can be helpful, but need to be secret. Public announcements and use of social media to publicise code words and other safety strategies put lives at risk by alerting abusers to their use.

Disappointingly, comments and advice on the Isle of Man so far have been particularly poor, and have shown a lack of understanding of both the nature of domestic abuse and its very serious impacts. The Chief Constable’s word choice in referring to “domestic disputes” and people struggling to get along together under the same roof confused arguments (disputes) with domestic abuse and by doing so, minimised abuse. His comments also suggested that stress and being confined to the house cause abuse – they do not. They will make the experience of abuse more traumatic and frightening, but responsibility for abusive behaviour lies with the abusive person, and a person does not suddenly “become” abusive because they are locked down.

Unfortunately, this ill-advised terminology has been picked up by others. A recent feature article on Domestic Abuse and Covid-19 written by a local Advocate’s firm and posted on the 3fm website perpetuated the idea of “domestic disputes”, blamed the abuse on stress, financial difficulties etc, and gave advice that although well intentioned, could be experienced as condescending and judgemental.

At Space 4 Action we feel strongly that services and officials need to return to the correct terminology: if we are talking about domestic abuse, then call it abuse. Abuse is not a “dispute”. Equally an argument – however fiery – is not abuse. Abuse is about power and control, not frayed tempers. All couples argue, that is normal, and irritability may well increase during lock down. However, in a healthy relationship there is no penalty to pay, no reprisal when you disagree, and no sense of living in fear.

Unfortunately, in addition to the lack of understanding of the difference between “disputes” and abuse, and a corresponding lack of understanding of coercive control as underpinning all abuse, the Isle of Man is particularly hard hit, with a reported 71% increase in domestic abuse call outs (compared to a reported 25% increase in UK). Our Island still lags behind in terms coercive control legislation, safe housing and specialist DA service provision, which leaves victims potentially more “alone”, more trapped, and less supported than victims in the UK. There has been no announcement on how this 71% rise is being addressed or what support is being made available. The domestic abuse Bill is still awaited. We still have only one designated DA Police Officer, and only one refuge with just 5 bedrooms.  This is not adequate when DA affects 1:4 of us.

It is clear that the Covid-19 crisis highlights what an enormous need there is on our Island to address domestic abuse, educate and raise awareness, allocate significant government funding, provide safe housing and invest in providing specialist support. We invite you to join us in awareness raising, in promoting abuse education and in creating a community safety-net.

Space 4 Action has begun compiling a list of useful resources to help us all through this heightened period of risk and will continue to add to it as we come across more material.

It is important that all of us remember we are not alone. Good advice and online support is out there. Together we can defeat this blight on our society and lives can be saved.