Demand for domestic abuse services “will only increase” as England endures another coronavirus lockdown, according to the domestic abuse commissioner.
Nicole Jacobs made the warning as she called for proposed reforms to domestic abuse laws to include a legal requirement to fund support services, which she says have proven vital during the pandemic.
One in five offences – more than a quarter of a million – recorded by police during and immediately after the first national lockdown in England and Wales last year involved domestic abuse, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and there are fears of similar figures emerging amid the latest wave of restrictions.
Although awareness campaigns like #youarenotalone make it clear the stay at home rule does not apply to victims fleeing domestic abuse, Ms Jacobs warned the third national lockdown in England will make people feel like opportunities to seek help seem “extremely limited”.
While interactions with police, teachers and other professionals – which often leads to domestic abuse cases being identified – have been severely curtailed, charities have seen a “big increase” in calls from neighbours, friends and loved ones worrying about potential victims, Ms Jacobs said.
There have even been reports of perpetrators lying to employers about having Covid symptoms so they could stay at home with their victims, which Ms Jacobs said highlighted how difficult it may be for people to escape and how vital it is that services like refuges are available.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Ms Jacobs said: “Demands on these services will only increase. These are lean operations with everyone working at full speed.”
She called for the Domestic Abuse Bill to include a statutory duty to fund community services – which are said to provide support to around 70% of people experiencing domestic abuse.
Ms Jacobs, whose role was created by the Government last year, said: “Long-term funding has always been precarious. It is not sustainable and it varies from area to area.
“If we want to learn lessons from Covid, the obvious thing we could do is to make sure these services are included in the Bill.
“These services should be funded and should be available to anyone who needs them.”
Staff should also be prioritised for the vaccine so sickness is kept to a minimum and services can remain “as resilient as possible”, she added.
The Bill, as introduced by the Government, seeks to give better protection to those fleeing violence by placing a new legal duty on councils to provide secure homes for them and their children.
It also introduces the first legal Government definition of domestic abuse, including economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical behaviour.
Changes to the legislation made by MPs include recognition for children as victims of domestic abuse and an end to the so-called “rough sex defence”.
Ms Jacobs has supported calls from campaigners for several other proposed amendments to the Bill, including:
– Making non-fatal strangulation an offence in its own right.
– To also make it a crime to threaten to carry out revenge porn, in addition to existing offences once it has been carried out.
– To update coercive control laws to allow abusive behaviour, which has continued even after a relationship has ended, to also be prosecuted.
– To add specific protections for migrant women and anyone regardless of their immigration status.
– To provide further protection through the family courts like prohibiting unsupervised contact for a parent who is embroiled in ongoing criminal proceedings over domestic abuse.
– Making it easier to transfer a tenancy to a victim’s name if they had initially been living at an address with a perpetrator under a joint tenancy.
– Expanding the powers of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Office to oversee and uphold standards of inquiries into domestic homicides and suicides in a bid to prevent more deaths in future.