Coronavirus: Domestic abuse website visits up 10-fold, charity says

By Talia Slack & Abby Newbery
BBC South

Media caption,
There are concerns over a potential rise in lockdown abuse

The charity which runs the national domestic abuse helpline has had a 10-fold increase in visits to its website in the past two weeks.

Refuge said numbers have "spiked again significantly" since it started recording rises during lockdown.

The charity said the lockdown itself does not cause domestic abuse but "can aggravate pre-existing behaviours in an abusive partner".

Police figures suggest a wide regional variation in calls about abuse.

Fears that social conditions created by the coronavirus lockdown could result in a spike in domestic abuse led the government to boost funding for services by £76m.

Image caption,
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline can be contacted online as well as by phone

Refuge said that over the past three consecutive weeks it recorded a 66% increase in calls to its helpline and recorded a 957% increase in web traffic over the past two weeks.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said the lives of women suffering with domestic abuse depend on the helpline and website, which allows them to request a safe time to be contacted.

"The sheer numbers of women seeking specialist support show just how vital Refuge's services are," she added.

Data from 41 UK police forces, released to the BBC under freedom of information laws, shows 19 recorded more calls about domestic abuse in March 2020 compared with the same month last year, while 22 recorded a fall.

The figure only includes the first full week of the lockdown, announced on 23 March.

Suffolk Police received 1,114 calls in March 2020, 58% up on the 703 in the same month last year.

However the force told the BBC the rise was due to a recent change in the way it records domestic abuse.

In a statement, Suffolk Police said: "Previously we would record an 'obvious' domestic incident as a domestic but where, for example, an assault was reported and it was not an obvious domestic related incident, it may have been closed without the domestic tag being added.

"The modification we made in January now sees those less obvious reports also being tagged as domestic incidents."

Domestic violence calls to 999 and 111. Police forces with the largest percentage rise in calls in March 2020 compared to March 2019.  Note: Data was provided by 41 out of 45 police forces approached.

Domestic abuse consultant Clare Walker said the disparity was caused partly by some police forces failing to recognise coercive control as a form of abuse.

Coercive control, which was made a criminal offence in 2015, can involve the abuser using non-violent methods such as intimidation and humiliation to deprive their victim of independence and to regulate their everyday behaviour.

Ms Walker said: "The police record domestic abuse wrongly - I know they do from reading their logs… name calling and the like are not logged as domestic abuse."

Domestic violence calls to 999 and 111. Police forces with the largest percentage fall in calls in March 2020 compared to March 2019.  Note: Data was provided by 41 out of 45 police forces approached.

Nottinghamshire Police saw the largest proportional year-on-year drop of with 1,824 calls in March 2019 and 1,161 in the corresponding month in 2020, a fall of 36%.

Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, who is the National Police Chiefs Council lead for domestic abuse, said forces across the country were "doing a lot of proactive, innovative work".

"A lot of other crime has fallen dramatically, while domestic abuse has stayed at a level that we would expect," she said.

"It is difficult, at this stage, to fully assess whether these demand surges to helplines are driven by the prevalence of domestic abuse in communities, or by increased awareness and communication, or other factors.

"It could, at least partially, be the fact that helplines provide a much broader range of services than policing, which is focused on protection and prosecution."

For information and support on domestic abuse, contact:

  • Police: 999 press 55 when prompted if you can't speak
  • Refuge UK wide 24-hour helpline: 0808 2000 247
  • Welsh Women's Aid Live Fear Free 24-hour helpline: 0808 80 10 800
  • Scotland National Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriages 24-hour helpline: 0800 027 1234
  • Northern Ireland Domestic Abuse 24-hour helpline: 0808 802 1414
  • Mankind helpline for men suffering domestic abuse: 01823 334244

Online webchats and text services are also available.

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