The Student
Features
Covid-19 and the issue of domestic violence
by Emily Johnson, 28/05/20

Nearly two million people in the UK suffer from domestic abuse every year, yet this number has only made the headlines since the advanced coverage of domestic abuse during the Covid-19 lockdown. The chief executive of domestic abuse charity Nia has revealed that 16 women were killed in the first three weeks of the government’s lockdown. This is the highest number of femicides in eleven years, suggesting a calamitous impact on women during quarantine.

A helpline run by the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, reported a 700% increase in domestic abuse-related calls in a single day earlier on in lockdown. It is reported that control and justification for staying inside has had an immense impact on relationships.

While these statistics reveal that domestic violence has advanced during the coronavirus lockdown, de facto reporters are fixating on the recent data for the period of lockdown, rather than a consistent coverage of the issue. Domestic violence has been a grave and neglected problem for decades.

The magnitude of the problem is revealed from data prior to lockdown. According to the Office for National Statistics, it is estimated that 1.6 million women aged 16 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in 2019. A report by the BBC in September 2019 revealed that 173 people were killed due to domestic violence-related homicides in 2018. These statistics demonstrate the chronicity of the problem prior to lockdown.

Analysing Google Trends data for use of the keywords ‘domestic abuse’ and ‘domestic abuse helpline’ enables a rough comparison of the interest in domestic violence over the past five years. We can estimate the number of domestic abuse cases using ‘domestic abuse helpline’ as a proxy for cases and ‘domestic abuse’ as a proxy for interest.

Assuming the searches for ‘domestic abuse helpline’ are being searched by actual victims, the consistency of the ‘domestic abuse helpline’ trend reveals the long-standing nature of the problem. Although there has been an increase in the number of searches since lockdown, this increase is relatively small in comparison to the ‘domestic abuse’ trend. However, assuming the search for ‘domestic abuse’ is a product of general public interest rather than victim seeking behaviour, the spike in these searches implies a sudden surge in interest and concern around the topic.

It can therefore be argued that domestic abuse has always been an issue, but only recently have the public begun to identify the true scale of the problem. This data can be used as a platform for acknowledging that the recent data is not unprecedented, but rather in keeping with the results over the past five years.

Quarantine certainly forces victims to be in perpetual proximity to their abuser, and thus Covid-19 may have exacerbated triggers in some characteristics of an abuser. This will unsurprisingly cause an increase in the number of domestic violence cases; however, it is pertinent here to appreciate that these characteristics are not a product of lockdown but merely exaggerated by it.

As Katie Ray-Jones, the CEO of the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, has explained, domestic violence is “rooted in power and control” and therefore to hold lockdown accountable for domestic violence would be misleading. Further confirmation of this is the recurring expression of ‘coronavirus murderers’ which, whilst emotive, undermines the ongoing abuse victims have endured for years. Attributing the virus to the ‘unnatural’ behaviour is simply a dangerous denial of the true problem.

The Home Affairs Correspondent stated, “If we don’t act to tackle it now, we will feel the consequences rising for many years to come”; however, this suggests a level of ignorance towards the many years of suffering victims have endured. It is essential that reports acknowledged that this is, and has been, a longstanding issue deep rooted in our society rather than it being intrinsically linked to the pandemic. We all must acknowledge the severity of the subject outside of unprecedented circumstances, to prevent the subject being disregarded after lockdown. Despite the coronavirus, domestic abuse in the UK poses an endemic rather than ephemeral danger to woman’s safety in the home.

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