There has been a rise in domestic abuse incidents directly related to the coronavirus outbreak, according to a police leader.
Beverley Hughes, Greater Manchester’s deputy mayor for policing and crime, said there had been reports of abuse linked to the lockdown, and said authorities were preparing for serious incidents.
What do the restrictions involve?
People in the UK will only be allowed to leave their home for the following purposes:
- Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
- One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
- Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
- Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home
Police will have the powers to enforce the rules, including through fines and dispersing gatherings. To ensure compliance with the instruction to stay at home, the government will:
- Close all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship
- Stop all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with
- Stop all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals
Parks will remain open for exercise, but gatherings will be dispersed.
After a meeting of the region’s Covid-19 emergency committee, Lady Hughes said: “I think we are beginning to see a rise in domestic abuse incidents. We anticipated this might happen in the very stressful circumstances for many families.”
Charities and police forces across the country have been warning of a potential rise in cases of domestic violence. In China there was a threefold increase in cases reported to police stations in February compared with the previous year.
The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, told the Commons justice committee this week that there may be more cases of domestic abuse, online crime and fraud during the lockdown.
Hughes later said the overall level of domestic abuse cases was as expected, but officers had begun to classify incidents believed to have a connection to the virus.
She said families were being asked to stay at home and many had significantly less money as a result of the restrictions.
Hughes said: “The potential for tension to arise in the home as a result of what we are asking people to cope with, in order to suppress the virus, is going to increase and therefore we would be right to think this might display itself in an increase in the number of domestic incidents we are called to.
“We are preparing for that. Some of those most serious incidents will be challenging to deal with, particularly if the victim needs to be moved to a refuge, but the police specialise in these kind of cases and the local partners, local authorities, they’re working together really closely to prepare for that.”
Avon and Somerset police reported a 20.9% increase in domestic abuse incidents in the last two weeks, from 718 to 868. Police in Cumbria have asked postal workers and delivery drivers to look out for signs of abuse.
DCI Dan St Quintin, of Cumbria police, said: “In the coming weeks and months we ask for everyone to look out for each other as much as possible. We would also like to extend this plea to those such as postal workers, delivery drivers, food delivery companies and carers who will still be visiting houses, to keep an eye out for any signs of abuse and to report any concerns to us.”
Quintin said the Bright Sky app, which can be disguised for people worried about partners checking their phones, provided support and information for victims.
The National Centre for Domestic Violence said it fully supported the plea and warned of “huge dangers lurking for victims”..
Its chief executive, Mark Groves, said: “While the whole country grapples with the consequences of Covid-19, there are huge dangers lurking for victims of domestic abuse and violence. We fully support Cumbria police’s plea to key workers to help the police investigate suspicions or concerns surrounding victims or perpetrators.”
The Thames Valley chief constable, John Campbell, said his force expected to see a rise in the number of domestic abuse calls He said domestic violence and fraud would become a priority for his force as “criminals decide to change their behaviours’ to take advantage of coronavirus”.
“We are seeing and monitoring very closely the issues around domestic abuse, we anticipate that it might increase and we will deal with that robustly in a way that you would expect us to,” Campbell said.
Shanika Varga, a solicitor at Stowe Family Law, who specialises in domestic abuse cases, said: “Being stuck in a house together for two weeks or longer means the risk of a situation becoming violent is much higher. Lots of people – whether they realise it or not – are in abusive relationships, and abusers will typically manipulate any situation to take advantage of their perceived position of power.”
Varga urged victims to start thinking of a contingency plan for escaping their abusers. “Knowing your options and making sure people are informed and fully prepared to take action if need be is vital. Don’t forget that help is out there,” she said.