Domestic abuse campaigns from the Home Office, rail companies and Bedfordshire’s PCC
Charities have reported a surge in domestic abuse activity since the coronavirus lockdown measures came into force.
Between 26 March and 1 April, Women’s Aid experienced a 41% increase in users visiting their Live Chat site, compared to the previous week. The Women’s Aid COVID-19/Coronavirus advice page for survivors has had 27K page views since its launch.
In the last few days, various campaigns have been launched to support those in need and to encourage members of the public to show their solidarity and support for those who may be suffering from domestic abuse.
Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Kathryn Holloway announced on Thursday (9 April 2020) that she had invested £60,000 in a fund to provide emergency accommodation for those escaping domestic abuse in their homes during the current COVID-19 emergency.
Commissioner Holloway said that policing is well aware of how much domestic abuse soars when couples and families experience the additional stress of being forced to spend time in a more confined setting than normal.
“Although Christmas is a happy period for most of us, for police it represents a period when they experience a higher level of calls in relation to these crimes.
“The current situation in regard to the Coronavirus is clearly a much more extreme version of this, with families urged to stay indoors for weeks or even months at a time.”
The PCC set up the fund within the first week after learning of increased domestic violence in Wuhan province in China following enforced self-isolation at home during the pandemic there.
Bedfordshire Police is expecting a significant rise in domestic abuse cases while the restrictions are in place. It is drafting in additional Victim Engagement Officers to support those who are subject to abuse.
Train companies to offer free travel to those fleeing domestic abuse during coronavirus lockdown
Also on 9 April, it was announced that people fleeing domestic abuse anywhere in Britain during the coronavirus lockdown can apply for free train travel to refuge accommodation. This is through a partnership between train companies and Women’s Aid.
The ‘Rail to refuge’ scheme was first introduced by Southeastern in 2019. The initiative was proposed by one of the train operator’s station managers, Darren O’Brien, after he watched a Dispatches documentary about Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid.
People escaping domestic abuse are usually advised to seek refuge services at a considerable distance from their perpetrator. For many raising the cash to pay for a train ticket can be very difficult.
This is especially true for people experiencing economic abuse, who may have no access to cash.
The ‘Rail to refuge’ scheme aims to remove this barrier by offering free train tickets for women or men, and their children, to travel to a recognised refuge.
Nicki Norman, acting chief executive of Women’s Aid, said:
“Free train travel for women fleeing to refuge anywhere in the country could not come at a more important time. It could be lifesaving for countless women and children and we are delighted by the announcement today.
“During the pandemic, women and children trapped with a perpetrator are incredibly vulnerable as the lockdown has already shut down common routes to safety and support.
“When you pair this with the increased economic uncertainty being experienced by many, escaping abuse is more difficult than ever but we hope that this initiative can help those most in need.”
Once they have received an offer of a refuge place survivors can access the tickets through the member services of Women’s Aid Federation of England, Welsh Women’s Aid, Scottish Women’s Aid and Imkaan.
Members of these organisations can book the tickets via a bespoke booking system for the people they are referring to, or receiving in, their refuge accommodation.
Already, these schemes have helped a number of people, and their children, escape domestic abuse and begin a new life away from their perpetrator.
Yesterday (11 April 2020) the Home Secretary launched a new public awareness raising campaign highlighting that if anyone is at risk of, or experiencing domestic abuse, help is still available.
The campaign #YouAreNotAlone aims to reassure those affected by domestic abuse that support services remain available during this difficult time.
It will encourage members of the general public to show their solidarity and support for those who may be suffering, by sharing government digital content or a photo of a heart on their palm and asking others to do the same.
Speaking at the Government’s daily coronavirus press conference on Saturday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said:
“We have created a new campaign and we have created symbol of hope – a handprint with a heart on – so that people can easily show that we will not tolerate abuse as a society, and that we stand in solidarity with victims of domestic abuse.
“I ask you and I would urge everyone to share it on social media or in the windows of your home, alongside a link to the support available, to demonstrate just how much this country cares.
“And to show victims of domestic abuse, that they are not on their own.”
Don’t suffer in silence
Bedfordshire Police assistant chief constable, Jackie Sebire, said:
“Our message to anyone in such a situation is clear – don’t suffer in silence, we are still here for you and will do everything we can to protect you, with the support of our partners and local agencies.
“If you are in an abusive relationship, or are concerned someone you know might be, please contact us.”
To make a report, call 101. Always call 999 in an emergency.