These are unprecedented times with the full effect of the virus on the economy and people’s health still to be fully understood. The immediate future appears to be that an increasing number of people will have to self-isolate. If the situation does not improve then the government has lockdown measures enforceable by fines and patrols by the police and army. An evitable consequence of forcing families to remain in their home amidst very trying social and economic conditions is that there will be a significant rise in domestic abuse. We know victims of domestic abuse who already suffer from social isolation can really have devastating impacts on the safety, health and wellbeing of sufferers.
With self-isolation and lockdown brings pressures and the temptation to ease pressures through drink and drugs. The lack of variety and mounting boredom will be a factor. The intense strain on individuals means that there is more likely to be arguments and irritation between families. When stress is high it is likely to cause more anger and frustration even in families without an abuse history. With isolation and lockdown, victims do not have access to their normal safe schools, workplaces, to visit family and neighbours which can be a key source of support and outlet.
The fear is with this increase in domestic abuse that the victims will have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Concern has already been expressed about vulnerable children being left without care and support that they have within the school structure but there is little attention paid to how domestic abuse victims are going to be able seek help, assistance and refuge.
The strain on the police will increase and their ability to respond will deteriorate. Health organisations are already fully stretched and the virus itself will make places such as domestic abuse refuges difficult and challenging places in themselves.
There is already evidence that many advice organisations are being forced to close or severely limit their functionality.
The family courts are already gearing up to receive applications for family law act injunctions by email with orders being distributed in the same way too.
The government must develop a strategy that coordinates advice and assistance for suffers of domestic abuse and ensures that those organisations who are on the front line have the necessary extra resource and funding that is going to be needed in these extremely challenging times.
A way forward certainly can use of the FLOWs project. FLOWS – Finding Legal Options for Women Survivors is delivered by the Family Team of RCJ Advice, in partnership with Rights of Women. Here advice and help can be obtained online which has a whole variety of security measures which makes it easier for the victim to seek advice and keep that advice confidential. It is user friendly for mobile phones. The advice can include assisting the victim in obtaining an injunction under the family law act. However, the funding for flows is soon to end and funding this impressive and successful project should be a priority.
David Emmerson, family partner at Anthony Gold Solicitors, accredited mediator, collaborative lawyer and Higher Rights advocate