COVID-19: New EVAW Briefing urges Government to act now to prevent 'secondary' abuse disaster

Isolation, closure of schools and diversion of policing and health resources “a potential disaster” for women and girls – women are needed at the planning table now

READ: EVAW Briefing on COVID-19 and the Duty to Prevent VAWG

A Coalition of leading women’s organisations today (8 April) published a new Briefing setting out how the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to lead to increased levels of violence against women and girls in the UK, and what Government, business and members of the public should do to try and prevent this.

The 29pp Briefing from the End Violence Against Women Coalition includes predictions on the likelihood of increased domestic abuse, sexual violence, assaults on girls, online abuse and the invisibility of many women and girls during the crisis.

It calls for:

(1) abuse experts to feed into COBRA planning immediately;

(2) emergency funding for the charities which protect and support victims;

(3) public awareness campaigns aimed at potential perpetrators and at neighbours/family/friends rather than solely aimed at victims;

(4) abolition of the “no recourse” rules which stop migrant women accessing refuges.

End Violence Against Women Coalition Director Sarah Green said:

“We must not get to the end of this public health emergency and look back on it as a period when a ‘secondary’ predictable disaster was allowed to happen.”

The Briefing is published following a letter to the Prime Minister from 20 women’s charities also asking him to ensure the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Victims Commissioner attend COBRA meetings and to make an announcement of emergency funding for refuges and helplines now.

Sarah Green continued:

“This pandemic means that more women and children are trapped in homes where control and violence may be escalating and where abusers have a sense of being able to get away with their behaviour with fewer onlookers. Sexual violence against partners and sexual abuse of children in the home may similarly increase.

“Any sense of lawlessness and police and other statutory services being diverted elsewhere, can drive perpetrators of sexual violence and exploitation to be more confident to offend, both in families and in the broader community. There is a serious risk of increased child sexual abuse online, child sexual exploitation of young people who are not in school and unsupervised, and sexual violence against girls by their peers (on and offline), during this crisis.”

Schools, GPs and support services – The Briefing says that the closure of schools for months is “a disaster” in terms of shutting down daily contact for children who really need it, while GPs switching to telephone based services probably makes detection and disclosure of abuse by that route less likely. While specialist women’s refuges and counselling centres are making herculean efforts to stay open and move some support to phone and online, this life-saving sector is small and under-funded and needs emergency help now.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition Briefing includes Recommendations to Business and to the Public as well as to Government. It appeals to the tech sector in particular to do everything in its power to disrupt and prevent online abuse, and urges any company whioch could support their local refuges and counselling centres to reach out. There is advice to the public in general and to mutual aid groups.

Sarah Green concluded:

“Some police forces are already reporting an increase in domestic violence calls and say they are worried about an increase in online child abuse. We need elected people and everyone involved in the planning response to get advice from abuse experts now and act to prevent further assaults.

“It is clear that the pandemic will exacerbate current inequalities. It is those who are poorer and living in overcrowded housing for example, disabled people whose entitlements have been cut back by the emergency legislation, BME communities who experience health inequalities and racialised policing, and migrant women who will suffer the most. This is also predictable which means we must act now to proactively locate and plan to protect those at risk. First immediate steps should include abolishing no recourse to public funds, ensuring funding gets to BME support services, and releasing female offenders from prisons.”

Read the full Briefing on the EVAW Coalition website.

The National Domestic Violence Helpline is run by Refuge here.

Imkaan has information for BME women and availability of support services and specialist help.

Our member Women’s Aid England has livechat on weekdays and lots of other support

Rights Of Women have produced advice and have legal advice helplines running through the period.

Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline remains open and includes webchat.

Respect is running a campaign targeting potential perpetrators.

Southall Black Sisters are leading the campaign to get hotels to lend their rooms to women who need them during the crisis.

Surviving Economic Abuse have produced some excellent resources for recognising controlling behaviour around finances, debt and much more.

ENDS

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