As the COVID-19 lockdown continues, Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales calls on the Government to support the charity sector to ensure victims have the help and support they need.
Imagine living your life in fear of your partner, treading on eggshells, not allowed money, unable to speak to your family. Or being a child, afraid of the hurt and abuse you are exposed to at the hands of someone who is meant to love and protect you.
Now consider what it would be like if you were trapped with your abuser, 24 hours a day due to measures meant to protect you against a new risk but which, at the same time, increase your exposure to these familiar horrors.
COVID-19 has created an unprecedented situation – as the media so frequently tell us. And while most news reports, inevitably, focus on death tolls, testing and protective equipment there needs to be acknowledgement of the thousands of people now facing a double danger – of deadly disease outside and deadly abuse at home.
It was predictable, indeed inevitable, that domestic abuse would increase with social distancing and lockdown. It has happened in kindred situations before both here and abroad. My weekly phone-ins with victims’ services and the Domestic Abuse Commissioners’ ring arounds already show a significant increase in calls for help.
This week the National Crime Agency published a report on the number of paedophiles known to be active in the UK. Previous research shows that child abuse of this type often occurs at home.
Today the Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres called on all governments to make their response to Domestic Abuse a priority.
And it is imperative that the Westminster Government tackles the consequences of its COVID-19 measures on those vulnerable at home as surely as it has for those who were vulnerable in business.
This week charities are working, helplines are alive, refuges available and victims are not alone.
That message needs to be promoted lest people trapped in their homes fear that Coronavirus has closed those services in parallel with shops.
But one, albeit welcome, newspaper column by the Home Secretary acknowledging the growth in domestic abuse, will not ensure that this message goes out nor, importantly, will it ensure that the message continues to be true.
Sexual and domestic abuse services are inadequately funded, their staff thinned out by infection and isolation like everyone else; home working requires unaffordable laptops and phones demand will rise, an epidemic within the pandemic. They must be resourced to cope.
The Government appears to be listening, but it needs urgently to act.
We need the Home Secretary standing at the podium in the daily news conference with the Chancellor, announcing a major rescue package for this charity sector.
As our communities rally to the support of those vulnerable to disease, we must also do our best to ensure that people being made unsafe by the direction to stay at home do not become victims as a result of it.