‘It’s much harder to get away’: How domestic abuse reports rose 300pc in lockdown
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A domestic abuse charity saw a 300pc rise in calls during lockdown, as police raised fears that victims were unable to get away from their abuser.
Norfolk charity Leeway said lockdown forced victims to spend longer than ever in the confines of an abusive relationship and, for many, cut off their support network.
Police said they had expected a rise in reports of sexual and domestic abuse, but figures show they actually fell between March 23 and June 15, compared to last year, from 3,179 to 3,113.
However, Leeway witnessed a four-fold surge in people contacting them, in April and May, compared to 2019. Calls and emails to them were up from 251 to 1004.
Head of safeguarding at Norfolk Police, Andy Coller, said: “We have seen a significant reduction in the reporting of sexual abuse and have been concerned about victims not being able to report because of their circumstances in lockdown.
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“These figures have no doubt been impacted by the unique conditions created by the pandemic, including social restrictions entrapping victims with their abusers.
“Every effort has been made during lockdown and as social restrictions ease to encourage victims and survivors to report their abuse to the police and seek specialist support.”
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One domestic abuse survivor, from Norwich, said the manipulation and abuse victims face at the hands of perpetrators can make a person reluctant to seek help.
“Years went by before I realised there was a problem,” she said.
“The issue for us was when we went out; he’d tell me that I was attracting male attention.
“He’d become violent when we got home, saying I planned to cheat on him.
“If I went out with my girls, I’d have to have one of his friends sitting opposite to keep tabs on me - and if he received negative reports, things would turn nasty.
“In that scenario, I can imagine on one level some victims may think the problem sort of ‘goes away’ in lockdown because you haven’t got that outside stimulus to cause arguments.
“But if someone does become abusive when you’re stuck at home, and for some victims that will happen everyday, it’s so much harder to get away to get help.
“It’s even harder if the abuser is monitoring your phone.
“And without contact with the outside world, there’s every potential the abuser can make you feel more reliant on them, and even less likely to call the police.”
She added: “One bit of advice I would give to victims is that when you go out, even if it’s just to the shops, wear four pairs of tops, jumpers or leggings. Then take three sets off and give them to a confidant.
“It’s a way of moving out in secret, and one day you’ll be able to just walk out and leave.”
National abuse charity Refuge said it had seen the same spike in demand as Leeway during the pandemic.
According to research carried out by the Counting Dead Women Project, 26 women and girls are believed to have been killed by male partners or relatives during the lockdown in the UK.
Chief executive at Leeway Mandy Proctor stressed there were many covert ways for victims to seek support if they did not want to contact police directly.She said: “Home is not a safe place for those experiencing domestic abuse and many will not seek help for fear of alerting their abuser.
“It is encouraging that many people have come forward to access support, but we also know it takes an average of 35 separate incidences of abuse before someone will get in touch with the police or a support organisation.”
A Norfolk police spokesman said: “We are aware of the pressures people are under and would urge themselves, family, friends, colleagues or neighbours to report incidents of abuse.”
If you are experiencing sexual or domestic abuse, you can get in touch with Leeway by calling 0300 561 0077 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also discreetly alert Norfolk police through a “silent” 999 call, explained in more detail through this link.