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Tipping Point: Domestic Abuse in Lockdown and What Faith Groups Can do to Help

Over the last few months, you probably will have seen some of the many news articles regarding the lockdown period and its impact on domestic abuse incidents. Sadly, the anticipated rise in abuse and deaths has already been observed.

The researchers at the Counting Dead Women Project have reported to MPs that in the first three weeks of the lockdown, 14 women and 2 children were killed. This is the largest number of killings in a three-week period for 11 years, and is more than double the average rate.

These, of course, are just the incidents which have become known. Unfortunately, there will have been many incidents which haven’t been reported and thus no-one has been made aware of them. The people subject to these incidents are living in fear and dreading the next time that the relationship reaches a tipping point.

Abuse happens in cycles. Between each serious incident there may be a period of time when life is relatively normal, but the abuse and control will build until it once again reaches a tipping point, resulting in another serious incident.  In normal times these incidents may be weeks or even months apart. In the lockdown period this will have been rapidly accelerated and the risk and danger to victims will have increased significantly.

Abusers have triggers which will lead to a loss of sense of control, causing the tipping point to be reached. Such triggers may include alcohol, substance misuse, lack of money, children being at home and becoming bored or restless, and the enforced confinement to home.   Normally these would not all be present at one time, so to suddenly have this amount of pressure can cause an abuser to explode often and uncontrollably.

At the same time, there has been a significant impact on the ability for a victim to reach out for help. Finding the space and privacy to ring the police, or a helpline, has become impossible. Fear of being overheard is a real risk and many victims will be too afraid to seek aid. Being caught reaching out for help could lead to serious injury or death, and many victims are well aware of this.

I can only imagine how those living in such situations would feel. Every survivor will identify with the phrase ‘walking on eggshells’, and the fear of doing or saying something that will cause the abuser to lose their temper. When there is some respite such circumstances may be manageable, but when there is no let up and no way out then the psychological impact can be huge. This is likely to lead to mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety for months or years to come.

Faith groups have a role to play, both now, and when people are free to return to work, children return to school and people return to their places of worship. At this moment there are programmes that faith groups are running to deliver food parcels to people. Being aware of any vulnerable people and suspected abusive relationships may help to highlight people who need some extra support. Whilst simply turning up for a chat on the doorstep may raise suspicions, delivering a small food parcel may be more acceptable and provide an opportunity to check if the individual seems stressed or is showing obvious signs of physical abuse. If you gain access to the home, holes in doors or walls are often signs of abuse.

It is important to know what services are available in your area and to have information so that you can pass on ways to seek help. Please don’t give out leaflets or information sheets as they may be found and lead to a further escalation. An abuser who thinks that they may lose their partner will stop at nothing to prevent the victim from leaving. Be aware of children too. If you feel that there are any safeguarding concerns, then you are responsible for reporting this so that professionals can take any necessary steps to keep the children safe.

If you have counselling services available within your faith group, then be aware that there may be an increase in people needing support when they are up and running again. I would recommend that you get some resources for people who may need help, particularly training packs to use with your pastoral teams and handbooks for survivors. Restored have wonderful resources which you can access here.

The national helpline number for domestic abuse is 0808 2000 247 – an easy number to remember. You can find your local domestic abuse service and speak to them about what they do and can offer for people within your faith group who may need help. If you can’t find a local service, please contact Pathway Project and we will find your nearest service for you. We have a 24/7 helpline which anyone can ring for help – 01543 676800. We also have an online chat service through our website, and a presence on Facebook.

No-one could have foreseen this lockdown and there was no time to prepare adequately, but we can be ready for the aftereffects and we owe it to those victims who have lived through this to be ready to help now.