There has been a 25% rise in phone calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline in a five-day period in the coronavirus lockdown, according to the support charity Refuge.
The organisation reported the increase in calls during the week beginning 30 March, seven days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced significant restrictions on the movement of people in the UK.
Refuge also said visits to their website, nationaldahelpline.org.uk, in that same period had gone up by 150% compared with the last week in February.
The charity’s chief executive Sandra Horley has said self-isolation has the potential to “aggravate pre-existing abuse behaviours” by abusers.
“While in lockdown or self-isolation, women and children are likely to be spending concentrated periods of time with perpetrators, potentially escalating the threat of domestic abuse and further restricting their freedom.”
Ms Horley emphasised that domestic abuse is not always physical, but rather a “pattern of controlling, threatening and coercive behaviour, which can also be emotional, economic, psychological or sexual.
“Abuse is a choice a perpetrator makes, and isolation is already used by many perpetrators as a tool of control.”
Government guidelines say the public must remain at home as much as possible in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – people should shop for groceries as infrequently as possible and only leave their house for one form of exercise a day.
But there have been concerns that the measures leave domestic abuse victims vulnerable.
Sky News previously spoke to one victim who said being told to stay home with an abusive partner had made things “much more intense”.
“I feel like I’m in a big fog. It’s absolutely draining, emotionally and mentally.
“Usually it’s quite easy to get out and away from a situation but obviously at times like this you can’t get out and away. Routes of escape are very, very limited,” they told Sky’s Katerina Vittozzi.
Additional financial hardship due to job losses, looking after children full-time and many more hours at home were also adding to their strain.
“This immense pressure can become catastrophic. I can see how emotional and mental abuse could turn physical in some cases.
“I wake up dreading to wake up. And go to sleep dreading to go to sleep because I know I’ll have to wake up and do it all again,” they said.
The Home Secretary Priti Patel has said abuse victims can leave their homes in order to escape their perpetrators.
In a column released by the Mail on Sunday at the end of March, Ms Patel said she realised that homes were not a “safe haven” for everyone, and pledged that domestic abusers will be punished for their crimes.
But Labour’s shadow policing minister Louise Haigh has called for the government to implement a national strategy on domestic abuse and lockdown, as well as emergency funding.
“In the midst of COVID-19,” she said on Twitter, “we…absolutely should have a Domestic Abuse Register to enable the police to monitor offenders and provide support to victims”.
The Home Secretary has also been urged by more than 50 specialist black and ethnic minority organisations to provide additional funds for frontline services to help them cope with the added strain.
The signatories of a letter produced by the Step Up Migrant Women coalition warn that Ms Patel’s pledges do not go far enough.
The group also says those who are abused should be treated as victims first by prioritising their safety before their immigration status.
“At a time when safety and healthcare is what we all need, migrant women victims of domestic abuse are denied these fundamental lifelines,” the letter organised by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and Amnesty International UK said.
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The Step Up Migrant Women coalition reports that four in five migrant women are turned away from refuges and are often too scared to seek healthcare
The coalition also says migrant women are prevented from reporting domestic abuse to the police as perpetrators threaten them with deportation.
If you suspect you are being abused and need to speak to someone, there are people who can help you.
:: The National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247
:: Women’s Aid
:: Respect, the helpline for male domestic abuse victims:0808 8010327
:: Galop, the LGBT+ anti-violence charity:0800 999 5428