Paula Rhone-Adrien, a renowned Family law Barrister with over 20 years of experience, urges UK hotels to house domestic violence victims during the COVID-19 lockdown
We are constantly being told that we are living in unprecedented times. If you had told me a month ago, that I would only be allowed to leave my home for up to one hour a day for what the executive deem as “essential exercise”, I wouldn’t even have deigned your ridiculous notion with a response, and yet here we are.
The pandemic that we know of as COVID-19 is creeping a devastating path through our society, leaving death, pain and devastation in its wake. We would have all heard about the dramatic impact that has been felt across society’s institutions: the financial world, the commercial market, government, and of course, the bedrock of our society: family life.
Due to social distancing and isolation, we find ourselves marooned with our families for what could be, 23 hours a day, at home. Clearly, this is not the norm. Imagine now, if you were frightened of your partner, parent or child’s temper. Imagine if you felt as if there was no escape. Perhaps you are a victim of your family member’s coercive control or their emotional manipulative abuse.
Perhaps your family member pushes you, smashes plates, or hits you whilst at the same time painting a picture of perfection to the outside world. If you can’t imagine that, then close your eyes for a moment and remind yourself of the last time were truly frightened. Where are you to go now? How are you to escape?
It has been reported around the world, since going into ‘lockdown’, countries are recording spikes in those seeking refuge from domestic abuse and that services have struggled to assist. In Hubei province, the heart of the initial coronavirus outbreak, domestic abuse reports to local police more than tripled in just one county alone. There was a rise of between at least 40% to 50% in domestic abuse complaints identified by Adriana Mello, a Rio de Janeiro judge in Brazil specialising in domestic violence.
The Catalan regional government reported that calls to its domestic abuse helpline had risen by 20% in just the first few days of the confinement period; whilst in Cyprus, calls to a similar hotline rose 30% in the week after 9th March, when the island had its first confirmed case of coronavirus. Interestingly, in Italy, activists said calls to helplines had dropped sharply, but instead they were receiving desperate text messages and emails.
“Higher rate of killing”
The latest raw statistics are just as disturbing from England. The National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by the charity Refuge, reported a 25% increase in calls in the most recent week of lockdown and over 100% in visits to their website. Karen Ingala Smith, the founder of a pioneering project Nia and the Counting Dead Women Project, which records the killing of women by men in the UK, said she had noted an increase in deaths in the past two weeks. Ms Smith, said initial analysis of her data suggested there had been “a higher rate of killings in the last few weeks”. Her figures showed at least eight women have been killed by men in the past two weeks, with a further four suspected cases. This is compared with 99 women who were killed by partners in the year to March 2019, which equates to nearly two a week.
Domestic abuse charities in this country are continuing the fight to ensure that victims (and their children) can receive the protection they so desperately need. In the Independent online (first published on 28th March 2020) Samuel Osborne reported how “…the Southall Black Sisters, a not-for-profit company campaigning on gender-related violence, and the cross-party organisation Compassion in Politics have written to hotel chains urging them to open their doors to abuse victims.” They were suggesting that this should be offered free of charge, which is sadly in my opinion, unrealistic. Even so, the proposal has been backed by the Domestic Abuse and Victims’ Commissioners, Labour MPs Jess Phillips and Carolyn Harris, and several charities, including Women’s Aid.
Counselling centres across France
At the time of writing, France had witnessed a 36% increase in the number of reported domestic violence cases to the police in Paris and a 32% rise throughout the rest of France, whilst sadly two women have been killed since the lockdown began. So the French government have reacted fast allocating 20,000 hotel nights for victims and put in place approximately 20 counselling centres in various stores across the country in order for victims to be able to seek out help while they leave their home to run errands. This is, for me, thinking outside of the box.
So often over my 20 odd year career I have been humbled by the victims I have helped to escape abusive partners and understood that it has taken sometimes years to find the strength to leave. However, when they do, it is often an immediate, impulsive, fleeting opportunity that has to be taken right then. If you decide to leave, you need to know there is going to be somewhere for you to go, that you will be safe and that you have an opportunity to take a breath and find peace before planning your next step.
Hearing news that refuges are turning victims away is not the message I want newspapers to spread. I want victims to know that there is somewhere safe available and that the government is making it possible for hoteliers and those with holiday homes to reopen their doors to those in need. Yes the government will need to provide a realistic financial package to make this workable, but we know that this is possible with a little thinking out of the box as evidenced in France. There is no strategy in place to safely exist lockdown, but victims need answers now so let’s make this possible.
Paula Rhone-Adrien Instagram: @familylawguruuk
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