The Hidden Horror: The Women Scared For Their Life In Lockdown

Photographed by Flora Maclean.
Update (27th April): Calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline have risen by 49% and domestic abuse-related killings have doubled, weeks after the UK entered lockdown, a new report by MPs has revealed.
The number of calls to the helpline, run by Refuge, was 25% above average in the second week of lockdown and 49% higher than normal after three weeks.
A pioneering project called Counting Dead Women recorded at least 16 domestic abuse killings of women and children between 23rd March, when lockdown began, and 12th April. Researchers at the project said the figure is the highest number of killings in a three-week period for 11 years, and is more than double the average rate.
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MPs have now demanded an urgent cross-government action plan to tackle the rising levels of domestic abuse under the lockdown. The home affairs select committee has called for emergency funding for support services for vulnerable children and those experiencing domestic abuse.
Yvette Cooper, the committee's chair, said: "Staying at home is an important part of the strategy to prevent coronavirus from spreading and save lives, but for some people home isn't safe. Urgent action is needed to protect victims and prevent perpetrators from exploiting the lockdown to increase abuse.
"There are already alarming signs of the rise in domestic abuse. Our cross-party committee is calling for an urgent action plan from government setting out practical measures to tackle domestic abuse as an integrated part of the fight against COVID-19."
The Metropolitan Police said they had made 4,093 arrests for domestic abuse offences – an average of 100 a day – since 9th March, when people were beginning to self-isolate.
The domestic abuse bill returns to the House of Commons for its second reading on Tuesday.
This story was originally published on 17th April 2020
"I fear that I could be attacked again now that my son is no longer in my home," says Alice*, a domestic abuse survivor from Kent.
"If I was attacked near my home or while out in the community, the lack of people on the road could mean no witnesses nor people coming to my aid as they did when I was attacked, for fear of catching COVID-19."
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In May 2017, Alice was stalked, followed and then attacked by a random man who threw hot oil in her face close to her son's school. Her attacker was arrested by the police but was not charged. At the time, she was living with her husband and their four children in their marital home but was forced to leave when her husband started to abuse her after the attack. "I lost my job, connections with friends and family and most painfully, my children. The father convinced them that I had gone mad and that I had left our family home to be with another man. He told them that I was mentally unstable.
"He didn’t even take steps to see if he could find out what was going on [with the random man] and instead went to great lengths to isolate me from people using fear tactics to keep me indoors with him by saying things like, 'You shouldn’t go out too often, the person may still be out there'."
Alice now feels that her life is in danger during the coronavirus lockdown and is fearful that she, and other victims, will be attacked in their homes again. "For many of us who are targets of abuse, going to work was a way to escape. Now under lockdown, we all feel helpless. Some are even at risk of name calling, being beaten or raped. It's a dire time." Alice has been receiving support from Woman's Trust, a mental health charity for women who have experienced domestic abuse.
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If I was attacked near my home or while out in the community, the lack of people on the road could mean no witnesses nor people coming to my aid as they did when I was attacked, for fear of catching COVID-19.

Alice*
Last week, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced a government pledge and campaign to provide an additional £2 million in funding to support domestic abuse helplines and online support services after domestic abuse charity Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day since the UK entered lockdown.
As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the nation, the general public has been forced to socially distance and stay at home. For most, that means working from home, Zoom calling friends and family and picking up new skills. But many women and young girls fear for their lives as they are forced to live with their abusers, or they are left home alone without any extra support.
Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of Refuge, said: "Isolation is often used as a tool to abuse – and while the current lockdown has the potential to exacerbate abuse – it is not the reason for it. Domestic abuse is a crime and is ultimately rooted in power and control. Violence is a choice a man makes. He alone is responsible for it.
"Since the UK lockdown measures were announced, Refuge has worked round the clock to ensure its life-saving services remain open and accessible to any woman who needs them."
Last year, an estimated 1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse with an estimated 2.4 million adults affected overall, according to the Office for National Statistics. For those who are at high risk of domestic violence, the government's instructions to self-isolate and quarantine at home have proved challenging. At least 16 suspected domestic abuse killings have been identified during lockdown so far, including nurse and mother of three Victoria Woodhall, 31, who was stabbed to death at her home in Barnsley. Her husband Craig Woodhall has been arrested.
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A recent survey by domestic abuse charity SafeLives found that many women already living with abuse are concerned about their safety in lockdown. Ninety-one percent of respondents are women, while the most affected group at 27% are aged between 25 and 34. Twenty four percent are aged between 34 and 44 and 17% are aged between 16 and 24.

Last year, an estimated 1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse with an estimated 2.4 million adults affected overall, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Responding to the survey, one woman wrote: "I'm currently in a controlling emotionally abusive relationship and fear it could escalate like it has in the past due to heightened stress surrounding the current virus situation." Another wrote: "We are trapped under lockdown and he can turn up at any time."
When asked what would make them feel safer, one respondent wrote: "Either him leaving or me leaving to live elsewhere." A second said she would feel safer if she could leave her house while a third said she wished she had "someone to talk to about it on a regular basis". Another said she had to sit in her car just to get away from her abuser.
"The lockdown measures are of course making life even more difficult and dangerous for adults and children living with an abuser, and it's not surprising that we're seeing an increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline and other support services," says Suzanne Jacob, CEO of SafeLives.
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I'm currently in a controlling emotionally abusive relationship and fear it could escalate like it has in the past due to heightened stress surrounding the current virus situation.

Anon
"Even in normal times, provision across the country is patchy and piecemeal. Now more than ever, we must act to ensure that people know they're not alone."
What is causing more concern is that much of the abuse is happening behind closed doors where women can't get help because they can't get to a phone or find the privacy to call anyone. The survey also revealed the concerns of frontline staff who were worried about not being able to provide support to service users. Twenty-two percent said they were not able to effectively support adult victims of abuse at the moment, while 42% said they were concerned about the safety of victims using phone and online services at home.
The emotional impact of being under lockdown can also have a detrimental effect on those experiencing abuse. Woman's Trust says lockdowns can trigger painful memories of past abuse and isolation, and send women into a spiral where they might use drugs and alcohol and self-harm to cope. The situation is exacerbated when these women can't get the help they need.
Lockdowns can also have economic consequences. Research by the Citizens Advice Bureau found that 47% of domestic abuse survivors have lost £7.1 billion over a decade as perpetrators intercept their post. Abusers hide bills, which can lead to interest building up and accruing penalties, or they take out credit using the survivor's identity.
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Survivor Shana, 35, and her two children experienced domestic abuse at the hands of her partner for five years. She told BBC Woman's Hour that her partner would intercept her post in order to control her: "He stole my post, went through my bank details, found out where I was going, community groups that I was involved with and he also stole my maternity notes so when I did have appointments, I missed them."
Shana now lives elsewhere but is frightened that he will one day find her as the courts and health service have mistakenly sent her post, which disclosed her current whereabouts, to her old address.

I feel vulnerable, I feel open. It's like I'm reliving all that again. He can still find me by going through my post.

Shana, 35
"For me, even now a year on, my fear is him coming back into our lives," Shana explains. "I feel vulnerable, I feel open. It’s like I’m reliving all that again. He can still find me by going through my post. Though my entire family went through rehabilitation from the abuse it doesn’t matter how much you’re rehabilitated, post is still an issue."
Sophie Walker, CEO of Young Women’s Trust told Refinery29: "The scale of violence against women and girls has long been a stain on our society. Despite the announcement by the home secretary last week, we are yet to see a response that goes far enough in recognising the dreadful experiences of too many women that are enduring this crisis under the same roof as their abuser.
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"After years of austerity budgets that have brought vital women's support services to their knees and forced the closure of thousands of refuges, £2 million is nowhere near enough to support what is now a nationwide emergency. We are calling for sufficient and sustained financial support to frontline services so they have the resources they need to help women experiencing domestic abuse through the lockdown and this period of economic uncertainty. And we need government to assess and measure their coronavirus response to ensure it works for women as well as for men so that women and girls have the financial stability, independence and assurances of safety they deserve."
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing abuse, you can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247, which is open 24/7, 365 days per year, or via the website. If you are in immediate danger, call the police on 999.
*Names have been changed to protect the victims' identities
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