Domestic abuse surged in lockdown, Panorama investigation finds

The coronavirus crisis has dramatically compounded domestic violence against women, new research has revealed.

Two-thirds of women in abusive relationships have suffered more violence from their partners during the pandemic, according to an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama.

Three-quarters of victims also say the lockdown has made it harder for them to escape their abusers.

The joint investigation by Panorama and Women’s Aid is the first in-depth study into how the nationwide shutdown in response to Covid-19 has impacted victims of domestic abuse.

Using statistics obtained from UK police forces under freedom of information laws, the Panorama programme, to be screened on Monday evening, reveals that there was one domestic abuse call every 30 seconds in the first seven weeks of lockdown.

The recorded calls include reports of violent offences such as kidnap, arson, revenge porn and even poisoning.

On the programme, presented by Victoria Derbyshire, one woman, using the name Jess, explains how the pandemic had intensified the abuse she was enduring. On the night the lockdown was announced, she said, her husband told her what this meant for her.

She said: “I was at home with him, we were both listening to Boris Johnson and he looked over at me, he had his arms folded back and chest out, cos he knew that would intimidate me, and he looked at me and he said: ‘let the games begin’.”

“And he said: ‘If you think it was bad before with the rape, you’re in for a rough ride.’ So the rape started really, really, really bad, really bad. Curtains would get closed, TV would be up loud, front door would be locked, music would be turned up, so nobody could hear me screaming for someone, for anybody.”

Asked if she could recall how many times she was raped during lockdown, Jess said it was “a hundred easily, if not more”.

Women’s welfare groups warned that the lockdown would result in an increase in domestic abuse and violence. Nineteen days after lockdown began, the government announced it would give an additional £2m to domestic abuse helplines, and launched a social media campaign to encourage people to report domestic abuse.

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But Fiona Dwyer, CEO of the women’s aid charity Solace, told Panorama: “The timing was dreadful, it should not have taken 19 days to mobilise any sort of action. And what it highlights is that it wasn’t a priority for the government, it wasn’t thought about for the better part of three weeks … and then £2m is just really … it’s a poor effort.”

Victoria Atkins, the minister for safeguarding, told Panorama that she does not believe the government was too slow to act.

“When we were talking to charities in the very, very earliest days, we were very much responding,” she said. “We said to them: what do you need for us to help? So we very much focused on that practical help whilst also preparing for the charities [fund] that the chancellor announced and then the additional £2 million for helplines.”

  • In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines may be found via