Domestic abuse in COVID-19

About Domestic abuse in Covid-19 supporting staff and students working group

The LSBU Working Group on Domestic Abuse in Covid-19 is a response to the concerns about the serious impacts of Covid-19 on the lives of women and children for whom home is not a place of safety. At the heart of the group sits a clear and strong commitment to supporting students (and colleagues) living with domestic abuse.

Background and context

Home is not always a safe place to be. Domestic abuse is controlling and/or threating behaviour from a family member, or a current or former partner, that makes the person feel uncomfortable or unsafe. It is not just physical violence. Domestic abuse also includes undermining or degrading behaviours, such as, name calling, and repeated and unwarranted requests to know where the person is, who they are with, and what they are doing. It is still possible to experience domestic abuse even if physically separated from a partner. Domestic abuse can happen digitally via mobile phones or social networking sites.

Since the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 it was reported in the Guardian that more than 25 organisations helping domestic abuse survivors/victims reported an increase in their caseload. For example, Refuge, a women’s frontline charity supporting women and children in domestic abuse had a surge of calls during the first national lockdown and reported a 77% increase in June 2020.

The challenge

Based on a 2010 survey carried out by NUS, 1 in 7 female students experienced serious physical or/and sexual violence, with over a third perpetrated by someone known intimately. Although data on the impact of COVID -19 related domestic abuse on students is yet to emerge, based on the sharp spike in reported incidents in the general population a corresponding increase among the student population is likely.

With very little evidence on the impact of lock down on domestic abuse survivors/victims, based on our collective expertise in this field, it seems plausible that the closure of universities may mean a temporary escape from an abusive relationship due to moving back to the parental home. For others, it could be the opposite: returning to a parental home that was abusive, one which had previously been escaped from.  However, a change of location may not provide respite, as it is important to recognise many abusers still exert coercive control remotely, for example through mobile technology and social media.   Restriction during lockdown has various implications: for students who have moved away, access to established network(s) of local domestic abuse support services may be disrupted.

The project

The working group actively supports all LSBU services to improve and strengthen provisions made available to students and staff experiencing domestic abuse. This has included, clear signposting and communication to staff and students, drafting a policy with human resources on domestic abuse, and working with the student wellbeing team to develop mandatory staff training on domestic abuse and how best to support students and colleagues.