Domestic Abuse and Covid-19 Isolation

June 19, 2020

An article by Carol Innes, Specialist Safeguarding Nurse – Domestic Abuse, and Penny Humble, Counsellor, Working Well

The need to isolate ourselves within our own households can be challenging for many of us and for many different reasons. For those in a domestic abuse situation it can be particularly difficult.
Being enclosed together for much of the time is enough to escalate tensions in any relationship and for one that may already be abusive this can become amplified. Escape options are also affected by the Covid-19 situation, but help is still available and it is important to get help if you need it.

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone of any gender and it isn’t just partners/spouses. It can also be from parents, siblings or children, or indeed anyone in your household.

“Domestic abuse, or domestic violence, is defined across Government as any incident of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of their gender or sexuality,” Home office 2013.

If you are being abused, remember it is not your fault, even if it may feel like it because sometimes abusers find ways of making their victims feel they are to blame.They may be very apologetic afterwards and swear it won’t happen again. They may promise you the world. But does it keep happening?

Domestic abuse is effective when someone is able to exercise control over another. Known as coercive control, which is a crime, behaviours are characterised by threats, intimidation, degradation and humiliation. The following include common examples of coercive controlling behaviours:

Physical violence includes hitting, punching, burning, etc. and can place the victim in immediate physical danger.

Emotional abuse can involve constant criticism which erodes confidence and independence and can be every bit as damaging. Although there may be no physical scars, the emotional scars can be equally life threatening and can include depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, PTSD and suicide.

Psychological abuse can include intimidation, harassment and stalking, isolation from friends and family, denying the abuse, threats to harm children or take them away.

Sexual abuse encompasses rape, forcing someone to partake in any kind of sexual activity they feel uncomfortable with and enforced pregnancy.

Financial abuse is where a person is deprived of money, restricted to an allowance or very closely monitored in such a way that the person becomes trapped/dependant on the abuser.

All of these forms of abuse are not ok. You don’t need to have a black eye or visible injury to seek help. Nobody deserves abuse of any kind and there is help available to protect you.


It’s important to think through what steps you can take to keep safe. How might you respond in different situations? How will you get help if you need it?

  • Try to keep your mobile phone on you at all times and make sure where possible that it’s charged
  • Can you talk to any family, friends and/or neighbours either on the phone or online?
  • Can you talk to them about what you are experiencing?
  • Can you have a code word with a trusted person that lets them know it is not safe to talk or to ask them to phone the police?
  • Could you agree a regular time and day for them to check-in?
  • Let them know if there are safe times to call you.
  • Get familiar with how to delete messages quickly. If the abuser is monitoring your phone – delete your messages or call records.

The current lockdown rules do allow you to go out in order to escape from an abusive situation at home. Doing so is classed as essential and therefore an allowable reason to leave your house. You don’t have to stay there!

You may find it useful to have an emergency bag packed, with some essentials for example house/car keys/ emergency contact details/ credit/debit cards/ medication / legal documents. Keep this in a safe place or perhaps ask a trusted friend to keep it for you in case you need it.

If you do decide to leave, it is best to plan this carefully as it can be a risky time. Support services can help you plan the safest way to leave.

The Police are a key service when in immediate danger. Do not be afraid to call 999 in an emergency.

Supporting Staff and Colleagues

Support for employees and colleagues is largely the same though worth considering these additional points.

Check in with colleagues more regularly than usual if possible.
If you’re able to check in remotely make sure they are alone and not on loud speaker.

Can you adapt the way in which you communicate with them? Maybe instant messaging on a work laptop is safer than video calling, for example?

Agree on a code word to use – they can use this to communicate that they are unsafe and/or in need of help.

Do they need a referral into GDASS and could you make that referral for them (with their consent unless you consider them to be high risk)?

Be aware that their productivity may be affected, they will not be able to work effectively if their partner is abusing them. This might show in their work, their ability to attend online meetings, the way in which they communicate with you, maybe the quality of work or their ability to support service users in the way they would do usually.
It’s important to be empathetic – if someone is struggling with their work, ask them why. Don’t presume you know the reason, they may not have disclosed DA to anybody before.

Ask them: Yes/No questions – Are you OK? Are you safe? Is your partner hurting you? Is your partner scaring you? Do you need help? Are the children OK? Record your concerns and conversations.

How to Get Help

If you are in immediate danger, call 999.

Silent solution: When you call 999, the operator will ask which emergency service is required. If you cannot say ‘police’ or ‘ambulance’, you will be transferred to the Silent Solution system. You will then hear an automated message which will ask you to press 55. If you press 55 your call will be transferred to your local police force.

Emergency Text Service: If you can’t call because you are deaf or can’t verbally communicate, you can register with the police text service. Text REGISTER to 999. You will get a text which tells you what to do next. Do this when it is safe so you can text when you are in danger.

Reporting a Crime: If you need to report a crime but you are not in immediate danger, you can call the police on 101 or report online.

Boots pharmacies have announced that victims can now come to the pharmacy and ask to use the consultation room, in which they will be supported and safe to contact any of the relevant services, such as those listed below.

Rail to Refuge is a scheme which enables those escaping from abusive domestic situations to travel by train for free to their place of safety. To access this service please follow this link to Women’s Aid and ask about Rail to Refuge.

The following websites offer information, support and advice for those who find themselves in a domestic abuse situation or who are looking to support someone else in this situation.


  • Hollie Gazzard App – turns your smartphone into a personal safety device.
  • Brightsky App – mobile app providing support and information to anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or those concerned about someone they know.

Children and Young People are also deeply affected by abuse and facing real challenges during the COVID 19 crisis. Support available for children and young people:

Help if you are the potential perpetrator

If you are worried about hurting someone yourself, call the Respect Phoneline, an anonymous and confidential source of support and help with managing your behaviour. Tel: 0808 802 4040

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