Since the UK entered lockdown on 23 March, we have spent more time at home than ever before. Although the COVID-19 restrictions have severely limited when we are able to leave our homes and where we are able to go, the government has allowed for an important exemption to the rules for those fleeing domestic abuse.
Restrictions of any type, including if your household is isolating as a result of coronavirus exposure, do not apply to victims of domestic abuse. Survivors can use this exemption to take steps such as going to their local police station to report the domestic abuse, or moving to a safer location, like a Refuge. This is a significant exemption to the rules as domestic abuse is reported to have hugely increased during the coronavirus restrictions. According to the BBC, ‘more than 40,000 calls and contacts were made to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, almost 80% higher than usual, during the first three months of lockdown’. We have all felt increased anxieties and pressures during the pandemic, but there is never an excuse for abusive behaviour. There is still help available to you during the COVID-19 pandemic and if you or a loved one are experiencing abuse, there are a number of ways in which you can seek assistance.
Domestic abuse is more common than many people realise. Experts estimate 15% of men and 26% of women aged 16 to 59 had experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16. Domestic abuse is defined as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading or violent behaviour, including sexual violence, which in the majority of cases is perpetrated by a partner or ex-partner, but can also be from a family member or carer. Both men and women can experience domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse is appallingly prevalent, but there is a wide range of support available to survivors. Domestic abuse is a crime that impacts both men and women and should be reported to the police by contacting your local police station. If you are in immediate danger, you should ring 999. If it is not safe for you to speak, you can still get help from the police using the Silent Solution System. Call 999 and then press 55 to be transferred to a police team who are able to assist you without you having to speak. They may ask you to press buttons to answer questions. You can find more information about the Silent Solution System here.
In addition to working with the police, victims can seek support from a range of charities and groups. Women’s Aid has provided additional advice specifically designed for the COVID-19 pandemic, including a live chat service at chat.womensaid.org.uk. More information about the live chat service and other support services is available on the Women’s Aid website. Men’s Advice Line is offering three services specifically for men – an advice line, a live chat service and email support learn more here.
If the police are unable to offer you sufficient support and protection, you may be interested in obtaining a non-molestation order and/or an occupation order. These orders can impose a number of protective measures against perpetrators of domestic abuse, including to bar them from contacting you or your children, or to exclude them from occupying the former family home. The family courts have remained open and family solicitors are able to assist you in obtaining these emergency orders which are designed to protect victims of domestic abuse. The Ellisons Family Department can advise you if a non-molestation order and/or an occupation order would be suitable in your circumstances and ensure the terms of the order reflect your specific needs.
At Ellisons, we remain committed to helping you during these difficult times and are able to offer initial appointments by telephone or video. If you would like to talk to one of our family lawyers or hear more about the family law services we offer, please get in touch.