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Domestic Abuse in the Pandemic

There have been reports of a surge in domestic abuse cases since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Camden Safety Net (CSN), also known as Independent Domestic and Sexual Violence Advisory Service, provides services to survivors of domestic abuse and/or sexual violence as well as to children affected by violence.

 

In this blog, Caitriona Scanlan, Risk Reductions Manager with Camden Council, talks about the various innovative ways in which CSN has adapted itself during the lockdown period to communicate with women and children in need.

 

It is difficult to believe that a year has passed since 23rd March 2020, when the Government, acting on the advice of the medical and scientific experts, initiated a lockdown for the country. I, along with my colleagues in Camden Safety Net, was instructed to work from our homes.  This was a completely unprecedented situation for us since our model of working had demanded that we see people face to face to ascertain risk.  Our “digital transformation” happened overnight!  For those of us who were not that technically minded it was a challenge to be embraced.  But we did it, and many of the changes we made to our working will continue once the lockdown has been lifted. 

 

Once the lockdown took effect, I immediately asked my team to check in with all our survivors to see how they were doing to ascertain what this would mean for them and any children.  We developed bespoke methods of communicating with our clients to determine any risk and see what we could do together to ensure their safety.

 

In many instances, we were unable to make contact and it became clear that we needed to adapt our approach to really know what was going on with them. My team were fantastic in anticipating how the perpetrators could further abuse our survivors in a lockdown situation i.e., isolating them further, and ensuring that they could not seek help.  We then established a “military-style” operation using a logistics model to make contact and ensure safety.  For obvious reasons, I cannot disclose how we achieved this, but we managed to contact all our survivors and provide help and support, when necessary, for them to flee.

 

The regulations around the lockdown restrictions were ambiguous, and I heard that survivors/victims were too scared to leave their homes to access help.  Whilst reports on the national news talked about domestic abuse as the “hidden pandemic”, and helplines reporting a 400% increase in calls to helplines, my service was not seeing that increase and I wondered why.  I spoke to my colleagues in Police and Health who also said that they had seen a decrease in the number of people approaching their services.  A national survey carried out by Women’s Aid in April 2020 highlighted that Covid-19 had seriously affected women experiencing domestic abuse with 67.4% of survivors, who are currently experiencing domestic abuse, stating that it had got worse since the pandemic.  I needed to ensure that the message got out there that help was still available, and that you could leave a domestic abuse situation. Communication was essential to ensure that those who were experiencing domestic abuse were made aware that help was accessible.  Once again, we were innovative in our thinking, as we asked colleagues to do something different from their day-job and help with distributing posters and leaflets across the Borough emphasizing the message that help was available. We diverted our existing resources to reach survivors in as many ways as possible.  We updated our website encouraging people to use the “Silent Solution” if they needed to call the Police in an emergency.  

 

Reports of domestic abuse are rising nationally.  On average, three women a week are murdered, the highest level for five years. Before the pandemic, there has been a 63% increase in domestic abuse offences in London between 2011 and 2018, according to the figures provided by the police. Please note that it is recognised that the figures are likely to be much higher, as most cases are not reported to the police.

 

As we moved into a prolonged period of restrictions on daily life, I ensured that the victims of domestic abuse get the support they needed.  Adapting our practice and developing innovative ways of engaging with clients were essential in assessing risk for both the existing and new clients. 

 

I knew there were increased pressures on families because of disrupted routines and behaviours, overcrowding, isolation from family support networks, and financial pressures. Tensions in family relationships resulted in an escalation in domestic violence. I put in place innovative arrangements for ‘virtual’ home visits, supervision, and team meetings. Research evidence has highlighted opportunities for different and more effective engagement with vulnerable children and families because of these adaptive changes.  I don’t think there will be a return to the “old normal”.  I found myself engaging with survivors in ways that I would never have thought possible or indeed safe.  I have certainly learned a lot and have continued to be overawed by how we adapt and make changes to circumstances.

 

As each day goes by the “hidden” Domestic Abuse pandemic, increasing mental health concerns are revealed by the survivors.  The lack of contact with extended family members during lockdown means the loss of a key protective factor in some cases. In others, family dynamics change when a new partner joins the household to avoid lockdown contact restrictions. These changes highlight pressures and tensions because of disrupted routines and overcrowding. We have yet to understand the full extent of the damage caused by both the pandemic and lockdown.

 

Silent Solution

If you, or someone else, is in immediate danger please call 999 and ask for the police. Silent calls will work if you are not safe to speak – use the Silent Solution system and call 999 and then press 55 when prompted. If you can’t use a voice phone, you can register with the police text service – text REGISTER to 999. You will get a text which tells you what to do next. Do this when it is safe so you can text when you are in danger. 

Remember, Government rules about household isolation as a result of coronavirus do not apply to you if you are experiencing abuse at home. You can reach out for support.

 

What is Ask for ANI?

Ask for ANI (Action Needed Immediately) is a codeword scheme developed by the Home Office to provide a discreet way for victims of domestic abuse to signal that they need emergency help from the safety of their local pharmacy.

How does the scheme work?

Victims of domestic abuse will be able to use the codeword ANI in participating pharmacies (including all Boots stores and participating independent pharmacies) to let staff know that they require an emergency police response or help to contact a helpline or specialist support service.

Participating pharmacies will display posters in their window and around the pharmacy to let customers know that they can approach their staff to seek help. Any information shared will be treated confidentially.

When a victim uses the codeword or asks for help, the member of staff will offer to accompany the individual to the consultation room. They will then check whether the victim wants the police to be called. If so, the staff member will offer the use of a phone to dial 999 or make the call on the victim’s behalf.

 

If you are facing domestic abuse of any kind, you may call or contact Camden Safety Net using the below details –

Phone: 020 7974 2526

Email: camdensafetynet@camden.gov.uk

 

Contact other domestic violence support organisations.