Domestic Violence and Abuse in the COVID-19 Lockdown

We know that calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline have risen by 25% since mid-March as we entered the Coronavirus lockdown. The charity Refuge says visits to its website have gone up by 150% compared with a month earlier.

In light of this, Julie Sale, CICS Director, asked CICS Tutor and Domestic Violence specialist Rima Hawkins three key questions on the subject of Domestic Violence and Abuse.

What actually counts as domestic violence and abuse? 

Domestic violence or abuse can be defined as a one off incident or pattern of incidents consisting of behaviours which makes the partner or anyone else in the family feel afraid, scared or even fear for their life.

The person may feel their safety is compromised in some way, feel uncomfortable and find that they are doing things against their own will to satisfy someone else's commands.

Such behaviours are more common than we think. Although the majority of domestic abuse is perpetuated by men on women, it is important to say that men suffer at the hands of their female partners. Sometimes abuse and violence can come from a family member or carer.

Domestic violence and abuse can take place in various ways:

  • The most common one we relate to is physical or sexual abuse, where partners are beaten and/or forced to have sex within an established relationship or marriage.
  • Controlling behaviour (a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with threat of physical or sexual violence).
  • Psychological and/or emotional abuse -the partner is left feeling so devastated or distressed emotionally that they are unable to function.
  • Financial or economic abuse where the partner feels they have no control over their finances or even their earnings.
  • Harassment and stalking by exes or family members in a way that is threatening and intrusive.
  • Online or digital abuse where some people find that their personal data, including photos, are being used to degrade them or sometimes to blackmail.
  • Family violence such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation and so called “honour crimes” that are perpetrated primarily by family members, often with multiple perpetrators

What should someone do if they find themselves in this situation during the lockdown?

Lockdown absolutely has the potential to aggravate pre-existing abuse behaviours by abusers.

Some couples and partners are unaware of their behaviours and have managed well with creating distance bybeing busy at work or children's routines, but in close proximity the couple may be challenged by their own behaviours, which may turn abusive or violent. Some partners may be surprised by this change in the relationship dynamic, when they thought they had a reasonable relationship. They may want to seek counselling for help. The COSRT website is the best place to find a couple therapist and most of us are now offering online sessions.

In situations where partners are susceptible to having arguments, the lockdown may escalate the arguments to abusive behaviours out of frustration. If the partners can have a sensible discussion, when they have cooled off, this can be a way of managing the situation. They can agree to have and use a safeword to stop the behaviour escalating by creating distance and space for safety. They can also see a counsellor who will be able to help with such issues.

Abuse is a choice a perpetrator makes and isolation is already used by many perpetrators as a tool of control, which means the partner may well be in an extremely unsafe situation at home during this lockdown. The victim of abuse has a few choices. They can ring the 24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247 and/or 999 and follow the Silent Solution guidance for Police intervention.

Whatever the decision, if the victim leaves the house they have to ensure they are not forced to go back.

People who are being abused but have not yet thought about reporting or escaping should keep an overnight bag with money and passport ready for just in case situations.

Why should counsellors train in this theme of work? 

  • Domestic or sexual violence or abuse are issues in intimate and non intimate relationships. Clients normally look for counselling for help in the first instance if they are not reporting to the police. All counsellors should have some awareness as to how to work with this issue in counselling.
  • Clients come for therapy sometimes not knowing themselves that they are in an abusive relationship. This may be discovered after several sessions when the therapeutic relationship is well under way and the counsellor needs to be able to support the client in the best way possible to ensure their safety.
  • Sometimes, clients are aware of their abusive relationships but come to see a counsellor for other couples issues as they may be ashamed or afraid to say anything about the conflicts straight away. They sometimes wait for the therapeutic relationship and trust to build before they disclose.
  • Other clients come for guidance and seek help for safety and usually give a gruesome account of their experiences.
  • Counsellors must be able to identify the signs and symptoms of violence, they need to make an assessment and keep the client safe, decide on the level of interventions and make safety plans. They should also be able to make the disclosure and referrals in the most appropriate way without compromising the client's safety. Counsellors must also consider self care.

Where to get help

If you believe you arebeing abused, or worried you may commit domestic abuse, please use the following services which can help you.

If you suspect that your neighbours or those in your community are victims of domestic abuse, we encourage you to report it to the police. Call 999.

If you are in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police - the police will continue to respond to emergency calls during the pandemic.

If you are in danger and unable to talk on the phone, call 999 and then press 55. This will transfer your call to the relevant police force who will assist you without you having to speak.

If you are in danger and can’t safely contact the police ask a neighbour, friend or family member to contact the police for you.

  • National Domestic Abuse Helpline - The National Domestic Abuse Helpline website provides guidance and support for potential victims, aswell as those who are worried about friends and loved ones. They can also be called, for free and in confidence, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247. The website also has a form through which women can book a safe time for call from the team.
  • Women’s Aid - Women’s Aid has provided additional advice specifically designed for thecurrent coronavirus outbreak, including a live chat service.
  • Men’s Advice Line - The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and those supporting them. It can be contacted on 0808 801 0327.
  • Galop - for members of the LGBT+ community. If you are a member ofthe LGBT+ community, Galop runs a specialist helpline on 0800 999 5428 or email
  • Economic abuse - If you are concerned about how coronavirus may affect your finances and leave you vulnerable to economic abuse, please see the advice provided by HM Treasury on what support is on offer. The charity Surviving Economic Abuse has also provided additional guidance and support.
  • Hestia - Hestia provides a free-to-download mobile app, Bright Sky, which provides support and information to anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or those concerned about someonethey know.
  • Chayn - Chayn provides online help and resources in a number of languages, ranging from identifying manipulative situations to how friends can support those being abused.
  • To access specialist trained couples therapists go to COSRT.

Support for Professionals

SafeLives is providing guidance and support to professionals and those working in the domestic abuse sector, as well as additional advice for those at risk.

Support if you are worried about hurting someone

If you are worried about hurting the ones you love while staying at home, call the Respect Phoneline for support and help to manage your behaviour, 08088024040.

More information

For more advice and guidance on domestic abuse, please see Domestic abuse: how to get help.

Blog Post written by:
Rima Hawkins
Tutor Cultural Diversity and Intimate Partner Violence