There has perhaps never been a more dangerous or frightening time for victims of domestic abuse trapped in lockdown with an abusive partner. The Home Secretary has now clarified that victims of domestic abuse can leave home to escape their partners, or seek help, in an important exception to the Stay At Home Rules.
At the heart of domestic abuse cases, particularly those concerning controlling and coercive behaviour, lies the ability of the abuser to isolate their partner and prevent him or her from seeking help. The current regime of self-isolation including from friends or family outside the same household, whilst necessary to reduce the spread of coronavirus, will also impact on the opportunity for victims of domestic abuse to escape control and seek and obtain such help.
China saw a massive surge in cases of domestic violence during the peak of the coronavirus lockdown there, with the Twitter hashtag #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic trending in social media in China, and the police in this country have already reported a rise in domestic abuse since the coronavirus outbreak.
Civil legal remedies for domestic abuse include applications for non-molestation orders (breach of which is now a criminal offence) to protect against violence, intimidation and harassment including by electronic means, and occupation orders to oust an abusive partner from the family home. The Family Court (now operating largely remotely) is available to provide such remedies where necessary.
Domestic abuse victims are permitted to leave home to escape their partners or ask for help during the coronavirus lockdown, the home secretary has clarified. Priti Patel’s announcement comes after police reported there had already been a rise in abuse since the crisis began, while the national domestic violence helpline has received more calls. The government has brought in strict social distancing rules to curb the spread of the pandemic, with people instructed to remain in their homes except for exercise once a day and to shop for essential supplies. The home secretary acknowledged the restrictions were even more difficult for those whose “home is not the safe haven it should be”. “I am acutely aware that the necessary guidelines about social distancing and self-isolation may leave the victims of hidden crime, such as domestic abuse and child sexual abuse, feeling especially isolated, vulnerable and exposed,” Ms Patel wrote in her column in the Mail on Sunday. “But my message to every potential victim is simple: we have not forgotten you and we will not let you down. And my message to every perpetrator is equally as simple: you will not get away with your crimes.”