username

password

Family Law Week Email SubscriptionPrettyprotected.co.uk1 Garden CourtAlpha Biolabs

Home > Articles

COVID 19 Lockdown and Domestic Abuse

June Venters QC of Venters Solicitors describes the resources available to assist victims of domestic abuse during the ‘stay at home’ restrictions.

June Venters QC of Venters Solicitors .


What does this mean?

"There has been a rise in domestic abuse incidents during the Coronavirus outbreak," a Police leader has warned.

By contrast, Italy has found that following their lockdown commencing 9th March 2020 calls to their help centre from victims of domestic, sexual and psychological violence and stalking show a decrease of 55 per cent compared to the same period last year. 

In any other situation such a drastic decrease in numbers would be considered an accomplishment. However, these numbers indicate an alarming situation in Italy.

Victims of domestic abuse usually call if their abuser is not nearby.  Being in "Lockdown" with an abuser for 24 hours, seven days a week not only means there is a higher risk of violent episodes but also for many victims a deterrent to seeking help. 

For this reason, it is essential for those of us specializing in the field of domestic abuse to reach out to victims to help and support them during this very challenging time.

Baroness Beverley Hughes, Greater Manchester's Deputy Mayor for policing and crime, is quoted as having said that authorities were preparing for serious incidents after the Government announced a three-week lockdown.
This should come as no surprise.  The reality of lockdown is that families will experience significantly less money or no income at all; children confined to the home, needing to be taught and entertained; and adults unable to attend work places and unable to meet with friends and colleagues.  In stable committed relationships, this will cause pressures rarely before experienced.  However, where relationships are already at breaking point, the potential for tension to arise in the home inevitably will almost certainly increase.

Lockdown will only add to the other pressures within the family that existed prior to this global crisis.  It has all the hallmarks of a breeding ground for domestic abuse.
Being in lockdown with an abusive partner must be a horrifying experience.

The most important message for anyone in this situation is for them to know they need not be alone and that help and support are to hand.

This article looks at what help and support victims of domestic abuse can access during lockdown in a safe and controlled manner.


What can I do to protect myself during Lockdown?

The expressions "self-isolation" and/or "lockdown" do not mean that you may not remain in contact with the outside world. All they mean is that you must remain in your home unless you have a "reasonable excuse" for leaving it.

On 26th March 2020 The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England Regulations 2020) came into force. These Regulations specify 13 situations which amount to a "reasonable excuse" for leaving home.  The most relevant as far as domestic abuse victims are concerned are the following:-

h)  To fulfill a legal obligation, including attending Court or satisfying bail conditions or to participate in legal proceedings

i) To access critical public services, including (4) services provided to victims (such as victims of crime)

m) To avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm

Where leaving the home is currently is not an option a person fearful of domestic abuse should consider the following:-


1. Support from family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues.

a) Maintain contact through technology on a regular basis and certainly daily.

b) Consider introducing a code word or phrase to let someone know it is not safe to talk or to ask someone to telephone the Police on your behalf.

c) Consider asking a trusted person to contact you at varying times throughout the day or week in order to check on you and to ensure you and/or your children remain safe.


2. The Police

The overriding advice to victims is to keep their mobile phone to hand and to call the Police if they are in immediate danger by dialing 999.

Women's Aid have requested that victims familiarize themselves with the "Silent Solution system". This is a system useful when a victim needs the assistance of the Police but they are unable to speak on the telephone to request such assistance.

When you call 999
BT operators answer all 999 calls from a call centre. They will ask which service is needed.  If caller cannot speak but anything suspicious is heard throughout the process, BT operators will connect the caller to a Police call handler.

If you call 999 from a mobile phone
A caller should only speak to the operator if it will not put them in danger. If the caller can't speak, the caller may be asked to cough or tap the keys on their phone in response to questions.

If making a sound could put the caller or someone else in danger and the BT operator cannot decide whether an emergency service is needed, the call will be transferred to the "Silent Solution system."

The Silent Solution system
The Police use this to filter out large numbers of accidental or hoax 999 calls. It also exists to help people who are unable to speak but who genuinely need Police assistance.

The caller will hear an automated Police message, which lasts for 20 seconds and begins with "you are through to the Police".  It will ask the caller to press 55 to be put through to Police call management. The BT operator will remain on the line and listen.  If the caller presses 55, the operator will be notified and will transfer the call to the Police.   If 55 is not pressed, the call will be terminated. Pressing 55 does not allow Police to track the location of the call.

What happens when you press 55

When transferred to the local Police force the Police call handler will attempt to communicate with the caller by asking simple Yes or No questions.  If the caller is not able to speak, she or her should listen carefully to the questions and instructions from the call handler so that they can assess the call and arrange help if needed.

If you call 999 from landline
Because it is less likely that 999 calls are made by accident from landlines, the "Silent Solution system" is not used.

If, you call from a landline and any of the following applies:

- The caller doesn't say there is an emergency

- The caller doesn't answer questions

- Only background noise can be heard

AND If the BT operator cannot decide whether an emergency service is needed, then the caller will be connected to a Police call handler as doubt exists.  If the caller replaces the handset, the landline may remain connected for 45 seconds in case she or he picks it up again. 

If the caller picks it up again during this 45 seconds and the BT Operator is concerned for their safety, the call will be connected to the Police.

Whilst 999 calls made from landlines can be traced and enable call handlers to help provide a response, this will only happen if it is suspected the caller is in need of an emergency service.

If the caller is unable to speak and because the "Silent Solution system" is not available to land lines, it is probably better to call the police from a mobile.


3. Women's Aid

Women's Aid is a national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. Its website contains valuable information and can be accessed on line https://www.womensaid.org.uk.

During lockdown, Women's Aid is encouraging victims and survivors to access online forums and help lines during this time. Women's Aid especially recommends this for those who are currently isolated.  It is recommending in particular the following help and support:-

Silent Solutions (as outlined above)

Support Line at https://www.supportline.org.uk
Support Line offers confidential emotional support to children, young adults and adults by telephone, email and post.  It works with callers to "develop healthy, positive coping strategies, and inner feelings of strength and increased self-esteem to encourage healing, recovery and moving forward with life".

The Survivors' Forum through Women's Aid, which is an online resource for survivors of domestic abuse.  The Survivors' Forum can be accessed 24/7. This is a place where survivors can support each other and share their experiences.

Woman's Live Aid Chat
is currently available Monday to Friday 10.00 – 12.00 p.m.

Women's Aid Email Service is still operating and can also provide support.

Information about national and local support services can be found at https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support

Helplines can be found at www.gov.uk/reports-domestic-abuse
And these include the following:-

• Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge
0808 200 0247
www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

• Galop (for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people)
0800 999 5428
www.galop.org.uk

• Men's Advice Line
0808 801 9999
www.rapecrisis.org.uk

• Scotland's Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline
0800 027 1234
www.sdafmh.org.uk

4. Useful apps to download

Bright Sky

This is a free to download mobile app providing support and information for anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or for those concerned about someone they know. It is available on android devices from the Google Play Store and on iOS phones from the Apple App Store.

The app features:

• The 'Find Help' tool – a UK wide directory of specialist domestic abuse support services, whereby users can contact their nearest service by phone from the app searching by area name, postcode or their current location.

• A Secure 'My Journal' lower key tool where incidents of abuse can be logged in text, audio, video or photo form without any of the content being saved on the device itself.

• Questionnaires to assess the safety of a relationship, plus a section on dispelling myths around domestic and sexual abuse.

• Information for anyone wishing to learn more about domestic abuse including the different types of support available

• Links to further resources and information on topics around domestic abuse.

Hollie Guard App
This is free to download on any Android phone or IPhone. The app turns the phone into a personal safety device that can be triggered if the user is ever in any danger.  All that is needed to do is shake the phone or tap the screen and it generates an alert, which automatically sends the user's location and audio/video evidence to the user's emergency contacts.


How can I stop my abuser from finding out about me trying to get help?

This is described by Women's' Aid as "cover your tracks online".

As a rule, internet browsers will save certain information as one surfs the net. This means that anyone going onto a computer, laptop, phone and/or Ipad is able to search the internet history for sites visited.

Private Browsing
All leading web browsers have a "private browsing mode" that, once enabled, stores nothing about the user's activity within that browsing window.  This means there will be no trace of activity on the computer and to activate this the following should be done:-

• Internet Explorer: go to Safety – Tools – "InPrivate".

• "Firefox": click the menu button with three horizontal lines – "new private window"

• Chrome: click the menu button with three horizontal lines and select "new incognito window".

Similar options can be found in Opera and Safari. Further information as to what one needs to do can be found on Women's Aid website.

Delete mobile phone calls, text messages and emails
Other safety precautions a person should take to prevent a user from knowing what that person is doing in trying to access help and/or information are to delete phone calls made on one's mobile phone, emails and text and WhatsApp messages.  However, it should be remembered that deleted emails ordinarily go into a delete folder and so they need to be delete from that folder as well.  Nevertheless, emails, text messages and WhatsApp messages can be useful as evidence in the future, either in court proceedings or dealings with the police, and so it is sensible to ask the recipient of any message sent to them to both save and print it (if they are able to do so) .


How can the Law help me during Lockdown?


As well as contacting the police, it is possible to apply to the courts for an injunction under Part IV The Family Law Act 1996:

i) A non-molestation order

ii) An occupation order

A non-molestation order is to prevent a partner or ex-partner from using or threatening violence against the applicant or their child, or intimidating, harassing, or pestering them, in order to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of the applicant and their children.

An occupation order regulates who can live in the family home and can also restrict an abuser from entering the surrounding area.  If a person does not feel safe in continuing to live with their partner, or if they have left home because of violence and want to return and exclude their abuser, they might want to apply for an occupation order.


What happens if the abuser breaks the Order?

If the abuser breaks the terms of the injunction protecting a person, and that person is at all fearful for their safety or that of others, that person should call the Police. 

It is a criminal offence to breach a non-molestation order
.


What is the difference between calling the police or obtaining an injunction against an abuser?


If the police arrest the abuser, they will need to interview him or her and then decide, in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, whether to charge them.  This could take weeks or even months.  In the meantime, usually the abuser will be released from the police station, on bail.  Although the police may impose bail conditions on the abuser, for example not to contact the complainant whilst on bail, any conditions the police impose will usually be only after the abuser's legal representative at the police station has made representations on the abuser's behalf.  The complainant will have no say in what happens and will not be able to make representations to the police about what they believe they need to be kept safe from their abuser.

Only after the abuser has been charged could the court impose a restraining order on him.

By contrast, a non-molestation order can be obtained without notice to the abuser and if it is breached the abuser can be arrested by the police and brought before the courts immediately.  It is often a quicker and more effective means of ensuring safety. Any final hearing of the application for a non-molestation order or occupation order will almost always be heard sooner than any criminal trial were the police to charge the abuser.

Even if the abuser has been arrested, their victim can still obtain a non-molestation order.


How to get Legal Advice?


Although a person can apply for an injunction without assistance, it is usually better to do this with the advice and representation from a solicitor who is experienced and preferably accredited by a professional body, such as either the Law Society or Resolution, in the field of domestic abuse cases who will immediately understand all the relevant issues. The applicant may be eligible for Legal Aid, but only solicitors who are authorised to offer Legal Aid could provide that service.


Can I take my abuser to court during Lockdown?


The most recent guidance was provided by Mr. Justice MacDonald on 23rd March 2020.

" The COVID19 Pandemic necessitates, that, for the time being, the default position should be that all Family Court hearings should be undertaken by way of a remote hearing using telephone conferences or an electronic communications platform".

The courts are still available to hear urgent applications in relation to children, non-molestation and occupation orders.

If it is necessary to speak to your solicitor or during lockdown, plan ahead how best you can do this.  Examples of ways to do this might be:

i. When you are out of the family home on one of the permitted occasions listed in Section 6 of the The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England Regulations 2020) detailed below:

Restrictions on movement
6
.—(1) During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.

(2) For the purposes of paragraph (1), a reasonable excuse includes the need—

(a) to obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies for those in the same household (including any pets or animals in the household) or for vulnerable persons and supplies for the essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household, or the household of a vulnerable person, or to obtain money, including from any business listed in Part 3 of Schedule 2;

(b) to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household;

(c) to seek medical assistance, including to access any of the services referred to in paragraph 37 or 38 of Schedule 2;

(d) to provide care or assistance, including relevant personal care within the meaning of paragraph 7(3B) of Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006(1), to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance;

(e) to donate blood;

(f) to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;

(g) to attend a funeral of—

(i)  a member of the person's household,

(ii)a close family member, or

(iii) if no-one within sub-paragraphs (i) or (ii) are attending, a friend;

(h) to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings;

(i) to access critical public services, including—

(i) childcare or educational facilities (where these are still available to a child in relation to whom that person is the parent, or has parental responsibility for, or care of the child);

(ii) social services;

(iii) services provided by the Department of Work and Pensions;

(iv) services provided to victims (such as victims of crime);

(j) in relation to children who do not live in the same household as their parents, or one of their parents, to continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children, and for the purposes of this paragraph, "parent" includes a person who is not a parent of the child, but who has parental responsibility for, or who has care of, the child;

(k) in the case of a minister of religion or worship leader, to go to their place of worship;

(l) to move house where reasonably necessary;

(m)to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.

(ii) Ask a trusted family member, friend, neighbour or work colleague to contact a solicitor when an initial assessment can be made as to what help you may need and how best this can be provided to you.