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This briefing has been prepared in response to the potential increase in domestic abuse incidents as a result of the lockdown caused by COVID19. It is aimed at professionals working to prevent and support people experiencing domestic abuse. We would like you to promote the key messages to your frontline staff and to promote via social media.

KEY MESSAGES

  • Domestic abuse services are still in operation
  • Police response is business as usual
  • Businesses can support employees who are experiencing domestic abuse by referring them to appropriate services and maintaining contact
  • Victims are not alone and help is available

Definition of domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is defined across Government as any incident of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of their gender or sexuality. 

Prevalence of domestic abuse

The Crime Survey in 2019 estimated that 2.4 million adults in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in the preceding year (5.7% of the adult population)[1]. This equates to around 160,000 adults across the West Midlands region, each year. Violence with Injury (with a domestic abuse marker) comprises 36% of West Midlands Police violence with injury incidents.[2]  These statistics are only the tip of the iceberg as the majority of domestic abuse incidents go unreported. Behind every statistic is a person and often a family which suffers.

The impact of COVID 19

The challenge of dealing with the COVID 19 pandemic brings with it extreme measures including lockdown, social distancing, infection control and transmission reduction which  requires us to stay in for long periods and reduces  our contact with others, even though where we live may not be a safe place.  The consequences of COVID-19 infection control measures, whilst challenging for all of us, can pose extra difficulties and risk for those who are living with domestic abuse. Staying indoors is even harder for people whose home is not the haven it should be. Enforced isolation may increase abusive behaviour. It reduces victim’s ability to access help and support. Isolation may be used as a tool of coercive and controlling behaviour by perpetrators, as they attempt to shut down victim’s routes to safety and support.

Initially reports of domestic abuse and the calls to helplines of support providers were lower than normal and this under reporting highlights the difficulty some people may have in reporting incidents and getting help; due to the lockdown situation. However, recently reports have been increasing. Now more than ever it is vital that we all must play out part in keeping victims safe.  Services in the West Midlands are still operating, although using different methods of delivery; remote working has replaced face-to-face contact, advocacy and therapeutic support is now offered via telephone/online, MARAC is running remotely, importantly refuges and housing outreach are still open to support victims in crisis. To further manage the risk spreading CODIV-19, some providers are looking into securing alternative self-contained properties as many of the properties used are in form of shared accommodation.

Guidance for Professionals

It is important that we all play our part in keeping victims safe and are able to promote ways to report incidents, such as using apps and the silent solution. When you are having contact with the public, check how thing are going at home, any problems, concerns.

  • Set up a system to review cases that you have where domestic abuse is known to be an issue
  • Include links to useful resources on your website, social media and other forms of communication 
  • Take extra care when speaking to individuals by phone, text or video chat. Assume that their calls and communications are being monitored by a perpetrator living in the home until you have checked that they are able to talk openly. Remember that if the perpetrator is checking their phone, a survivor may be abused if they erase there call logs, text messages, or browser history

Responding to a disclosure

  • Safety must always be paramount , in cases of immediate risk always risk 999
  • Encourage them to contact specialist support, reassuring them it is a free and confidential service.
  • Help them to think about things they can do to protect themselves, using a safety plan such as women’s aid
  • Record what has been said and refer to your organisation’s domestic abuse and safeguarding procedures
  • Agree how you will or another person can continue to contact them safely
  • When making contact by phone, start conversations by using a generic reason, to reduce the likelihood of raising suspicion. If you do get to the speak with the person you are concerned about, check if it is safe for them to talk openly

A multi-agency West Midlands wide campaign will be launched promoting these methods, information resources and these will be promoted through social media, supermarkets, pharmacies and businesses still operating using the #noexcuseforabuse

If you are a professional working on the front line domestic abuse services are open and it is important to encourage people experiencing domestic abuse to call them and for you to make referrals as you usually would. Refuges are also operating within the COVID 19 guidance and local authorities have a duty to assist individuals and families who are made homeless due to domestic abuse.  

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Resources for Employers

Business have a role in keeping their employees safe.  This can be harder when employees are working remotely. The role of the line manager, if domestic abuse is suspected is to offer support by signposting to domestic abuse support services.  It is important for line managers to have regular contact with employees, including via video conferencing, at least once a week. Businesses need to have a clear domestic abuse policy in place and promote this within their organisations.

This toolkit published by Public Health England (PHE) and Business in the Community provides support to to help employers support workers affected by domestic abuse.  Now more than ever with remote working line managers can give additional support to employees on domestic abuse.

Three key actions for employers to address domestic abuse

  • Acknowledge.Use this toolkit to help understand the issues, and acknowledge every employer’s responsibility to address domestic abuse. Enable colleagues to openly discuss this topic, and provide a supportive workplace.
  • Respond. Review your policies and processes to ensure you are providing a supportive workplace and can respond to disclosure. Make sure the policies and processes are implemented correctly.
  • Refer. Provide access to organisations who can help employees affected by the issue.

Safe Lives have produced COVID 19 guidance for employers to help support employees who may be experiencing domestic abuse.

The TUC has also published a helpful resource for Trade union representatives.

West Midlands Combined Authority have developed guidance for employees called Thrive at Work

Key Messages for Professionals to Promote

The government have confirmed that people who are experiencing domestic abuse can leave home to seek help, including refuges, despite rules to stop coronavirus spreading.

People experiencing domestic abuse should if

at immediate risk dial 999.

What Can Victims Do?[1]

Victims of domestic abuse can take the following steps to safeguard themselves and others:

  • Keep a mobile phone close and maintain virtual communications with trusted contacts. Develop a way of raising concerns if you do not contact them for periods of time- use coded messages or safe words, leave curtains or blinds open or use any other agreed method to allow them to raise the alarm if you can’t.
  • If at risk, call 999. Use the Silent Solution system if fearful of being overheard or seen: call 999 then 55 to have the operator transfer the call to emergency services without having to speak.
  • Conceal a bag packed with essentials including clothes, money, charger, ID documents/ passport ready to leave quickly, ensure you also have a bag ready for any children too.
  • Have taxi numbers in contacts
  • Identify someone who is a ‘safe space contact’ where you can go if there was anything to happen and/or be aware of where police, local services and refuges are.
  • Identify areas of the house where there are no weapons and there are ways to escape if an argument occurs.
  • Keep weapons such as knives locked away and as inaccessible as possible
  • Do not wear scarves or long jewellery which can be used for strangulation 

Asset-Based Approaches – “Make Every “Contact” Count”: it is imperative within the wider context of reduced face to face contact and social isolation that we all play our part in enabling early intervention to prevent and stop the abuse.  Victims will feel particularly alone and suffering in silence therefore robust interagency approaches to provide the best ppossible care and support across health and social care remains essential. The need for professional and community level vigilance is ever important as normal routes out are reduced. Trust instincts: call the 24-hour free local domestic abuse helpline 0808 800 0340 or 999. Do not talk to the perpetrator as this could escalate the abuse and put people in further danger

Support and Advice for Perpetrators

Those who abuse also need help to control their behaviour and understand why it is happening. Friends, family, professionals should support facing up to how behaviour and violence affects others. The abuse will have serious effects on all involved and those witnessing it, including children. There are helplines offering information and advice to people who are abusive towards their partners and want help to stop 0845 122 8609 and more info can be found at Respect.

Resources for Multi-agency teams

The Government have issued guidance on isolation for domestic abuse safe accommodation settings which can be found here.

Refuges do not need to close unless directed to by Public Health England. If people seeking refuge  or children in the refuge show symptoms whilst in a refuge, they should remain in their room and follow the self-isolation guidance for households can be found here.

Responding to the challenges of COVID -19 Guidance for multi-agency forums

This guidance is to help multi-agency forums flex and respond to the accelerating COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The potential threat to the health and safety of frontline staff and service users poses a real and immediate challenge for safeguarding families at risk.

West Midlands Violence and Abuse Standards

These standards are intended to identify and promote evidence-based, safe

and effective practice in working with adult and child victims of domestic

abuse, and to ensure perpetrators are held to account increasingly effectively.

The Domestic Abuse and Housing Alliance (DAHA) have produced guidance and resources for housing providers  on responding to domestic abuse during the current crisis.

IRIS – Resources have been made available through Clinical Commissioning Groups to train GP’s so that they can recognise domestic abuse.  Women can gain access to services through their general practice.  This is currently being offered remotely via telephone consultation. Pregnant women who experience domestic abuse can be referred to services via their midwives in the usual way.

Updated guidance from HM’s Courts and Tribunal Service on applying for a domestic abuse injunction as an unrepresented applicant during the coronavirus outbreak.

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