In Britain’s first week of lockdown, nine women were killed by their partners, following a global rise in domestic violence during the quarantine.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged governments to make preventing violence against women and girls (VAWG) a key part of their Covid-19 response. For those experiencing domestic abuse, sexual violence, forced marriage, “honour based” violence, child sexual abuse, or female genital mutilation (FGM), home is not always a safe place. During lockdown, women and children spend concentrated periods with perpetrators, unable to access support services safely.
VAWG service organisations have demanded that the government act now. The largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, reported a 700% increase in helpline calls on one day. Other organisations have identified:
- more opportunities for abusers to control, exploit or sabotage their partner’s income, by undermining their ability to work from home or not sharing childcare;
- abusers insisting on contact arrangements contrary to guidance and refusing to return children afterwards;
- exacerbated stress and anxiety among abuse survivors;
- migrant women afraid to risk detention/deportation by reporting violence to authorities.
VAWG services have already suffered years of cuts. Recently published research shows that victims face a “dangerous postcode lottery” in accessing support.
Three hundred more Independent Domestic Violence Advisors are needed to support everyone at high risk of serious harm or murder. Nine police force areas had fewer than 50% of the advisors required. One in five police force areas have no specialist support for young people experiencing domestic abuse.
Domestic violence workers and campaigners are calling for an immediate cash injection of £48.2m. The government’s paltry response of £2m for online support and helplines contrasts with billions to safeguard businesses.
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has requested funds for frontline domestic abuse services, and proposed turning underused hotels and university halls into emergency accommodation.
Labour activists and VAWG organisations have proposed government and local authority action to protect those most vulnerable:
- Assisting women to safely leave their homes and get secure accommodation.
- Ending “hostile environment” policies and “no recourse to public funds” conditions. so that migrant women experiencing VAWG can access healthcare and other statutory support.
- Designating VAWG professionals as key workers and re-deploying specialist workers who lost their jobs due to service closures.
- investing in technology and remote working to ensure every survivor can access phone or online support;
- Increasing messaging that all forms of VAWG are crimes and that additional pressures on families and individuals are no excuse;
- providing guidance about the steps adult and child survivors, their family and friends, and professionals can take for safety and support.
In the 1970s my family was trapped in a house experiencing daily domestic abuse. Alternative housing/refuges were not available, social workers couldn’t support us. Police took no action despite almost daily calls.
As a 14-year-old Young Socialists member I began to understand how our perpetrator’s actions were influenced by his poverty, isolation, military service and alcohol; Labour activists should educate our members about how the capitalist system creates the context for domestic violence.
I still bodily recall the fear of waiting for him to come home which is why I’m passionate about developing policies to reduce violence against women.
These will not eliminate domestic violence, but can help to build the class consciousness, solidarity and collective organisation that is vital to achieve that.
by Alison McGarry, Chair of Islington North CLP & London Labour’s Regional Women’s Officer