It is evident that the national lock down has impacted all in society, be it physically, emotionally or financially. Many people are concerned about elderly loved ones, or those at risk, who cannot dare to venture outside. However, sadly another set of victims of this pandemic are those affected by domestic violence, whose numbers are increasing daily.

In the UK, calls to the national abuse hotline went up by 65% last weekend, according to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales. And these numbers are likely to rise. Domestic violence reporting has also increased in the US, France and Australia.

Why is there an increase?

Self-isolation with or without children can leave many women effectively under lock down with their abusers, leaving them no escape route for support and safety, and nowhere to find help. Many abusers are using the “Stay at Home” rules enforced by the government as a way to control their partners, effectively making them prisoners in their own home.

This, combined with the very real economic pressures that families are facing, can often lead to terrifying situations within the home.

What can abused women do in these scenarios?

Refuges are still open and accepting calls from desperate women anxious to get help. Recent guidance repeated by Home Secretary Priti Patel confirmed that domestic abuse victims are allowed to leave home to seek help at refuges. Ms Patel confirmed that Government will protect victims and that it has given £1.6 billion to local councils to help those in need.

However, many services have stopped taking referrals due to the virus and staff absences are also affecting the ability to keep women safe. There are also numerous logistical issues involving self-isolating victims with symptoms in communal spaces.

The charity Refuge has issued some tips for those who are at risk including keeping your mobile phone charged, avoiding the kitchen or garage where there might be potential weapons. The Duchess of Cornwell too has urged women isolating at home with an abusive partner to seek help and advice from the National Domestic Abuse Helpline.

In reality, a call to the police can only help so far in these difficult times. The police will only prioritise “high risk” cases and are unwilling to make home visits unless absolutely urgent. This leaves many women in potentially dangerous situations without help.

Court applications

Legal remedies for domestic abuse can include applications for non-molestation orders (to prevent harassment, intimidation, violence or threats of violence) or occupation orders (to remove an abusive partner from the home). Pursuant to recent Family Court guidance (Remote Access Family Court 25.3.20), the default position is that court hearings will take place remotely. However, inevitably, there may be delays as a result of the lack of availability of judges or court staff.

At any substantive hearing, the Court can make orders against the Respondent or the parties can agree undertakings. An undertaking may be appropriate in order to try to separate the parties within the limits of their own home. But how can this be done effectively when the parties are sharing a small flat with limited space to keep to themselves?

Applications for occupation orders (i.e. one party to leave the property) are also fraught with difficulty at the present time, as the Court will grapple with ordering anyone to move homes.

In these difficult times, perhaps the best guidance for victims of domestic abuse is to remember that they are permitted to leave their homes at any time to escape dangerous situations