We are in week 13 of the official lockdown phase and the rules are slowly being loosened. Whether that’s a good thing remains to be seen. While our headspace was very much taken up by anything Corona related, the pandemic has also drawn new and absolute necessary attention towards domestic violence and abuse.
As survivors have been locked up with their abusers, calls to domestic abuse helplines have increased by 25% right from the beginning of lockdown. Visits to the UK-wide National Domestic Abuse helpline website for information were 156% higher than during the last week in February, according to a study by online research company SEMrush. Searches for "what is domestic abuse?" rose by 46% in the same period, and there was a 64% rise in searches for the phrases "domestic violence shelter" and "domestic abuse shelter”. Within this pandemic, this is a whole different pandemic of it’s own - equally global, at that. And one that Nandini Archer points out has been a decade (if not more) in the making - more on that here.
What tends to be often overlooked is that domestic violence is not just about the perpetrator and the person experiencing the abuse. It involves all of us. Gone are the days when you ignore screams from your neighbour’s house because “it’s none of your business”. So what can you do instead?
1. Be aware of the subtle signs
Survivors of abuse and violence have pointed out the subtle ways abuse starts. Being micromanaged, being cut off from friends and family and facing mental and verbal abuse. Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge agrees (BBC): “Domestic abuse isn't always physical - it's a pattern of controlling, threatening and coercive behaviour, which can also be emotional, economic, psychological or sexual”. Don’t wait for it to get physical. If you find yourself or someone around you being humiliated, negated, controlled, shamed or neglected, take action. Reach out to the people you trust, call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247 or send them a message. And make sure to keep your phone charged and an emergency bag at all times. As alone as you might feel, you are not alone.
2. Take care of your loved ones Stay mindful and present with your friends, family, co-workers, and people you interact with frequently. Watch out for signs like social withdrawal and change in behaviour, aside from more obvious indications like inexplicable bruises. If you suspect domestic abuse, inform yourself here on how to support a survivor, then reach out to the person and offer your help if you can.
3. Make it visible Domestic abuse survivor Rachel Williams points out: “You can't stop the perpetrator unless he's visible”. So let’s all work together to make these threats and the abusers visible. Remember: if you see or hear an assault, or you are worried your friend might be in an emergency situation call the police on 999, it is your place to do so.
Here are a few more fun things you can do to support domestic violence helplines and charities:
4. Exercise your way to Women’s Aid
Similar to Olivia Strong’s Run for Heros challenge, Emma Sayle, Resham Kotecha and Emma Kenny have initiated ‘Hiit Against Hit’. You complete a workout and post a selfie on your socials, nominating five people to take on the challenge and donate £5 (or more) towards the £50,000 fundraising goal.
5. Read a brilliant book
Scottish artist Katie Paterson is making available 1000 signed and numbered digital copies of her book ‘A Place that Exists Only in Moonlight’. For each copy bought, Paterson has asked for a minimum donation of £5 to go towards Scottish Women’s Aid to support women and children who are experiencing domestic abuse. Check out her Just Giving page for more details.
6. Start your own fundraiser TikTok dance challenges, sourdough bread making challenges (I mean, if you’re at it, might as well put those skills to a cause), yoga challenges, or even Netflix challenges the ideas are many. Your support is needed, so stay at home, have some fun and let’s raise some funds. Find more ideas here, or here. Lastly, I’d say start a conversation, lead with empathy
We all have a role to play and something you can always do is talk to the men in your life, your boyfriend, your siblings, younger brothers, sons, teach them how to respect women and people different from them. Teach them it’s okay to feel vulnerable, to cry. As actress and activist Jameela Jamil puts it, “We need to teach children about rejection, so that we can change the way we see rejection as a society. We need to destigmatise it, so that it doesn’t feel like the ground is swallowing you up when someone says no, however nicely. This would lessen their need to lash out.”
Always believe people if they tell you they are experiencing abuse and tell them they deserve to be loved and that they are worthy and enough.
As a society, we need to also work on shift focus on managing the abuser and not the survivor. Like instead of removing the survivor from their own homes, how about removing the abuser? How about giving power to the survivors instead of taking more power away from them? But that’s a whole other conversation.
For more resources on supporting victims of abuse during Coronavirus go here.