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 was formed in 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.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, it was reported in March 2020 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 the National Union of Students (NUS), 1 in 7 female students experienced serious physical or/and sexual violence, with over a third of these incidents perpetrated by someone known to them intimately. Although data on the impact of COVID-19 related domestic abuse on students had yet to emerge, based on the sharp spike in reported incidents in the general population, a corresponding increase among the student population was considered to be likely.

With very little evidence on the impact of the lockdown on domestic abuse survivors/victims, based on our collective expertise in this field, it seemed plausible that the closure of universities might mean, for some, 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 telephone technology and social media.   Restrictions during the lockdown has various other implications: for students who have moved away, access to established network(s) of local domestic abuse support services might be disrupted.

The project

The working group actively supported 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 members and students, drafting a policy on domestic abuse with the human resources team, and working with the student wellbeing team to develop mandatory staff training course on domestic abuse and how best to support students and colleagues.