South Yorkshire services tell domestic abuse victims 'you are not alone' during lockdown

Domestic violence can become more intense during the coronavirus lockdown but South Yorkshire services are keen to say that help is still at hand.

Friday, 3rd April 2020, 1:19 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd April 2020, 1:20 pm

Sam Goulding, regional manager of specialist charity IDAS, says her staff have been finding new ways to keep in touch with people and offer support and advice, now that they are working from home.

She says: “We’ve now started to see an increase in victims contacting us, wanting support to leave.

“People were planning to leave prior to lockdown and had everything in place have been unable to move forward with it.”

Domestic abuse is growing in intensity during the lockdown, say experts

She says clients living with an abuser no longer have the relief of going out to work themselves or their abuser being out of the home during working hours.

Although refuge spaces are always hard to come by, there are still places for women who need to get away from home, says Sam, including from people who have been able to offer empty private accommodation.

Sam says: “There is still work being undertaken. We are are still supporting people to go to those refuges. There’s not enough refuge spaces is the issue.

“We are working with local housing officers to see what we can do in relation to emergency accommodation.”

An additional problem at the moment is the difficulty for women to get access to benefits to cover the cost of living in the emergency housing.

Anyone who needs help can go to the IDAS website, www.idas.org.uk, which has an online chat system and email contact.

Otherwise, use one of their phone helplines. Professionals can also refer people to the service.

Call 03000 110 110 (North Yorkshire and Barnsley) or 0808 808 2241 (Sheffield). The Sheffield helpline is open Mondays to Fridays 8am-7pm and Saturdays 9am-5pm.

Sam says extra resources have been put on the helpline and staff are also testing out various ways to keep in touch with clients using video calls and online groups and emotional support.

“Basically we’ve been getting, not an increase in incidents, but the level of violence of the incidents has increased,” she says.

Staff have been helping women to find ways to give themselves a little break from being in the presence of the abuser if they live together.

They also have their own supplies of safety equipment such as door and window alarms that they can deliver where it’s needed.

Before the crisis a group of women who got away from abuse were working with women to help them and Sam says IDAS is finding ways to continue that now.

“We had a coffee morning where we started to get a really good attendance with people supporting each other as peers. We’ve looked at how we could continue that in this situation.”

Sam says the lockdown is affecting her team.

“There are also implications for staff now, having to work in isolation, where before you could come off a tough call, or feeling frustrated that there are no refuge places and talk to peers about it.”

Extra support has been put in place for staff, says Sam.

“We’ve made sure everyone has the technology to do video calls with managers and support counsellors. We’ve tried to use the technology available to its best.”

Sheffield Council has stressed help is still available from the police and specialist services. South Yorkshire Police officers are fully equipped with personal protective equipment to attend properties even where someone is showing symptoms.

As well as the local numbers, the National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 200 0247.

In an emergency, call 999.

The latest Home Office data shows South Yorkshire Police recorded 14,164 domestic abuse-related incidents in 2018-19.

Superintendent Paul McCurry, who is leading the South Yorkshire Police response to Covid-19, has issued this message to victims of domestic abuse.

He says: “We know this is a time of worry for all of us, but this may be heightened for those who have suffered or are suffering domestic abuse in any of its forms.

“The isolation period, in most cases, will mean that you have little to no respite from your abuser and you may be concerned that your reporting mechanisms are now limited. I want to offer you some reassurance.

“I'm writing this to let you know we are here for you and will remain here for you throughout. We have the resources to support you and we will take your report seriously.

“One of your concerns may be the ways in which you will contact us should something occur. 999 is available for all emergencies and I want to remind you of our silent solutions.

“If you ring 999 and are not in a safe position to speak just press '55'. This will notify the operator to transfer your call to the relevant police force. Our staff will listen, and make an assessment of your situation based on what they can hear in the background so we can get the right response to you

“If you are concerned and would prefer not to speak to the police, you could use one of the many charities offering support, these include Women’s Aid who hold a web chat between 10am and noon (Monday to Friday); the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 200 0247, Mankind or Galop (specialising in LGBT+ who have a phone line available between 10am- 5pm) or Karma Nirvana, which has support lines available between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday on 0800 599 9247.

“If you do require our support, but are worried we will leave your abuser isolated with you after an incident, I want to tell you about domestic violence protection orders. These are orders we can secure through the court within 48 hours.

"The order, if granted, can have a number of provisions including preventing the abuser from returning to the property for 28 days. This should give you the necessary respite and allow you time to put longer-term plans in place. You might be reading lots about backlogs with the courts but DVPOs are handled differently and are still available to us.

“You may also be concerned about where your abuser would go if they were not allowed home during the Covid-19 isolation period. We will look for alternative accommodation for them, possibly with friends or family or emergency accommodation.

“I hope this information has provided you with a little peace. We are here for you and will remain here for you throughout.”

It’s not just adults who suffer.

Emily Hilton, senior policy and public affairs officer at the NSPCC, says: “Hundreds of thousands of children are currently living in homes where they experience domestic abuse.

“It is a major concern that whilst schools are closed to 90 per cent of pupils and other community-based services are suspended, many children and adults will be more isolated, exposed and distanced from vital support networks and at risk of abuse.

“The government has acknowledged that measures need to be taken to keep vulnerable children safe during this national emergency by keeping them in school. Yet it was disappointing that the Home Office failed to include children in their domestic abuse Covid-19 Guidance.

“As local areas adapt to the new challenges, they are facing there must be resource available to them to ensure that professionals feel well equipped to spot the signs of domestic abuse and swiftly take appropriate action.

“We can all play our part in this as well by checking in with families however we can and reaching out for support and advice from local authorities or the NSPCC Helpline if we have any concerns for a child’s wellbeing.”

The helpline number is 0808 800 5000.