OPINION: We all have a role to play in tackling domestic abuse as we head towards Christmas

Norfolk charity Leeway say domestic abuse cases are likely to rise through winter as people are forc

Norfolk charity Leeway say domestic abuse cases are likely to rise through winter as people are forced to spend more time indoors. Picture: Posed by model - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Leeway’s chief executive Mandy Proctor looks at the impact Covid has had on those experiencing domestic abuse and looks ahead to the additional pressures that the festive period may bring

This year has been challenging for everyone and I’m sure many people will be hoping that there is better in store for 2021.

Coronavirus has caused great concern around the health of ourselves and those we love, as well as worries about job and financial security.

The pandemic has also highlighted the impact that domestic abuse has on the lives of so many people and the day-to-day realities that they face.

It has been exceptionally difficult for those experiencing domestic abuse, which has been reflected in the increasing number of people coming forward for support.

Home is not a safe place for people experiencing domestic abuse, so to suddenly be told that you have to stay inside with the person that you are most afraid of is a terrifying prospect.

A recent Panorama special on the BBC looked into domestic abuse and the impact that lockdown has had, finding that police took a call related to domestic abuse every 30 seconds, during the first seven weeks.

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That is a staggering figure in itself and it doesn’t consider the number of people that contacted specialist support organisations too.

In the first few months of lockdown, the demand for Leeway’s advice and support service went up by around 300%, with an increasing number of people contacting us via email for support.

It is positive that so many people have been able to access support, but there will be many others that have been unable to and are still experiencing domestic abuse.

For many it may not have been safe to pick up the phone and make contact, which highlights the importance of having other safe ways to access support.

In recent months, Leeway has launched a new Live Chat service, which has been kindly funded by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk.

We hope that this will provide another route for people experiencing domestic abuse to access support, as well as a contact method that is discreet and instant.

This is especially important as people are being encouraged to work from home again, limiting their ability to safely speak to someone on the phone.

Many areas of the country have seen stricter, localised, measures introduced and a second full lockdown isn’t out of the equation, if things don’t improve.

It is a concern that we could see another spike in domestic abuse cases as Christmas approaches and more places potentially face stricter lockdown measures.

Christmas is usually a time where we see incidences of domestic abuse increasing with all of the added pressures and tensions that the festive period brings.

For many, finances will already be stretched and there are worries about job security too, which increases an already typically tense period.

It will be made even harder by the fact that it seems like most of the uncertainty will continue into the New Year and the first few months of 2021.

One positive throughout the pandemic has been the increased awareness of domestic abuse though, led by coverage in the media and local campaigns to highlight this crucial issue.

At Leeway, we’ve seen the fantastic efforts of the local community doing whatever they can to help out, whether that’s donating food parcels for service users or sharing information highlighting how others can access support.

We all have a role to play in tackling domestic abuse, and simply texting a friend to see if they’re okay or sharing a Facebook post with details about accessing support can make a difference.

It is important that we continue to raise awareness over the coming months and that everyone does their bit to look out for family, friends and neighbours.

I hope that one of the lasting impacts of the coronavirus is that people are more aware of domestic abuse and we can have honest and open discussions about it. Our lives will eventually return to some sort of normality, but domestic abuse won’t suddenly go away and we must do all we can to tackle it together.