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BLOG: We who work with victims are going into this lockdown with our eyes wide open

As we enter lockdown conditions once more, the Victims’ Commissioner blogs on the lessons that must be learned from the Spring lockdown.

Today marks the beginning of lockdown No 2. It will be difficult, but many of us may be better positioned to deal with these strict conditions than we were eight months ago. However, for many, as we now know doubly clearly after the experience of lockdown No 1, staying at home is more than a temporary hardship – it can be downright dangerous.

When we first went into lockdown, those of us working in the victim sector correctly identified the dangers of being socially isolated and the added vulnerability of many people once they were cut off from normal social contact.

We feared those living under the shadow of domestic abuse, sharing a home with a violent and controlling partner, would not be able to get help. Those who were unable to speak out, children and the elderly, could also face abuse without the usual safeguards of neighbours, teachers and friends.

With communities living with the tension of lockdown and fear of the virus, reports of anti-social behaviour were going to rise. Cyber criminals seized the opportunity to prey on the vulnerable, knowing their isolation made them more susceptible.

Sadly, our predictions were right. It is to the government’s credit that they, too, recognised the risks – or “hidden harms” – of lockdown and gave additional funds to victim support services to enable them to cope. But this extra money was slow to come with the delays and frustrations endemic in Whitehall funding mechanisms and, crucially, it was cash that only covered a short period of time.

Wales embarked upon its “circuit breaker” lockdown nearly two weeks ago and, talking to Welsh colleagues, the pattern of events is depressingly predictable. There has been a sharp drop in contact from victims of domestic abuse, presumably they feel they can only suffer in silence until restrictions are lifted.

It is vital that we act quickly and send a clear message through the press and social media that the police and victim services are fully working. Lockdown will not stop them. We need to echo what the Prime Minister said, that victims and survivors of all crime can leave their homes and access support “to escape injury or harm”. Measures can and will be out in place to protect them if they seek help. Let me repeat that: victims are allowed to break lock down if they feel they are in danger.

These messages must be repeated time and again, locally and nationally. Professionals who deal with the public, including social workers, teachers, medical workers, must also pass this message on. And those who are working on track and trace must also be trained to recognise the signs and ask the right questions, so that they too can alert the authorities if they have concerns.

During the last lockdown period, swift action from the government helped to ensure vital funds were made available to victim services, particularly domestic abuse. And there was a significant growth in public awareness as a result of the You Are Not Alone campaign.

Together with Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, I am calling on the Ministry of Justice to provide a second round of extraordinary funding due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to support services through to the end of the financial year.

We who work with victims are going into this lockdown with our eyes wide open. Let’s make sure our messaging is equally clear. Charities are working, helplines are live, refuges available and victims are not alone.