Date: Mon 30 Mar 2020

COVID 19 LOCKDOWN, DOMESTIC ABUSE

Q: What does this mean?

“There has been a rise in domestic abuse incidents during the Coronavirus outbreak”, a Police leader has warned.

By contrast, Italy has found, following their lockdown commencing 9th March 2020 calls to their help-centre from victims of domestic violence, sexual and psychological violence and stalking shows a marked decrease compared to the same period last year.

In the first two weeks of March the calls to an Italian help-centre have dropped by 55.1%: from approximately 1,104 calls.

In any other situation such a drastic decrease in numbers would be considered an accomplishment. However, these numbers indicate an alarming situation in Italy.
Victims of domestic abuse usually call if their abuser isn’t nearby. Being in “Lockdown” with an abuser for 24 hours, seven days a week not only means there is a higher risk of violent episodes but it also is a deterrent to many victims from seeking help.

For this reason, it is essential for those of us specializing in the field of domestic abuse to reach out to victims to help and support them during this very challenging time.
Baroness Beverley Hughes, Greater Manchester’s Deputy Mayor for policing and crime, is quoted as having said that authorities were preparing for serious incidents after the Government announced a three-week lock down.

This should come as no surprise. The reality of lockdown is that families will experience significantly less money or no income at all; children confined to the home, needing to be taught and entertained and adults unable to attend work places and unable to meet with friends and colleagues. In stable committed relationships, this will cause pressures never before experienced. However, where relationships are already at breaking point, the potential for tension to arise in the home inevitably will almost certainly increase.

Lockdown will only add to the other pressures within the family that existed prior to this global crisis. It has all the hallmarks of domestic abuse.
Being in lockdown with an abusive partner must be a horrifying experience.

The most important message for anyone in this situation is for them to know they need not be alone and that help and support is to hand.

This article looks at what help and support victims of domestic abuse can access during lockdown in a safe and controlled manner.

Q: What can I do to protect myself during Lockdown?

The expressions, “self-isolation” and or “lockdown” does not mean that you may not remain in contact with the outside world. All it means is you must remain in your home unless you have a “reasonable excuse” for leaving it.

On 26th March 2020 The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England Regulations 2020) came into force. These Regulations provide 13 situations, which amount to a “reasonable excuse” for leaving your home. The most relevant as far as domestic abuse victims are concerned are the following:-
h) To fulfill a legal obligation, including attending Court or satisfying bail conditions or to participate in legal proceedings
i) To access critical public services, including (4) services provided to victims (such as victims of crime)
m) To avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm

Where leaving the home is currently is not an option you should consider the following:-

1. Support from family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues.
a) Maintain contact through technology on a regular basis and certainly daily.
b) Consider introducing a code word or phrase to let someone know it is not safe to talk or to ask someone to telephone the Police on your behalf
c) You may also want to consider asking a trusted person to contact you at varying times throughout the day or week in order to check on you and to ensure you and/or your children remain safe.


2. The Police
The overriding advice to victims is to keep your mobile phone to hand and to call the Police if you are in immediate danger by dialing 999.

Women’s Aid have requested that victims familiarize themselves with the “Silent Solution system.” This is a system, for when a victim needs the assistance of the Police but they are unable to speak on the telephone to request such assistance.

When you call 999
BT operators answer all 999 calls from a call centre. They will ask which service you need. If you cannot speak but anything suspicious is heard throughout the process, BT operators will connect you to a Police call handler.

If you call 999 from a mobile phone
Only speak to the operator if it will not put you in danger. If you can’t speak, you may be asked to cough or tap the keys on your phone in response to questions.
If making a sound could put you or someone else in danger and the BT operator cannot decide whether an emergency service is needed, your call will be transferred to the “Silent Solution system.”

The Silent Solution system
The Police use this to filter out large numbers of accidental or hoax 999 calls. It also exists to help people who are unable to speak but who genuinely need Police assistance.
You will hear an automated Police message, which lasts for 20 seconds and begins with “you are through to the Police”. It will ask you to press 55 to be put through to Police call management. The BT operator will remain on the line and listen. If you PRESS 55, they will be notified and will transfer the call to the Police. If you don’t PRESS 55 the call will be terminated. Pressing 55 does not allow Police to track your location.

What happens when you press 55
When transferred to your local Police force the Police call handler will attempt to communicate with you by asking simple Yes or No questions. If you are not able to speak, listen carefully to the questions and instructions from the call handler so that they can assess your call and arrange help if needed.
If you call 999 from landline

Because it is less likely that 999 calls are made by accident from landlines, the “Silent Solution system” is not used.
If, you call from a landline and any of the following applies:
- You don’t say there is an emergency
- You don’t answer questions
- Only background noise can be heard

AND If the BT operator cannot decide whether an emergency service is needed, then you will be connected to a Police call handler as doubt exists. If you replace the handset, the landline may remain connected for 45 seconds in case you pick it up again.
If you pick it up again during this 45 seconds and the BT Operator is concerned for your safety the call will be connected to the Police.
Whilst 999 calls made from landlines can be traced and enable call handlers to help provide a response, this will only happen if it is suspected you are in need of an emergency service.

If you are unable to speak and because the “Silent Solution system” is not available to land lines it is probably better to call the police from your mobile.

3. Women’s Aid
Women’s Aid is a national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. Its website contains valuable information and can be accessed on line https://www.womensaid.org.uk.

During Lockdown, Women’s Aid is encouraging victims and survivors to access online forums and help lines during this time. Women’s Aid especially recommends this for those who are currently isolated. It is recommending in particular the following help and support:-

Silent Solutions (as outlined above)
Support Line at www.supportline.org.uk
Support Line offers confidential emotional support to children, young adults and adults by telephone, email and post. It works with callers to “develop healthy, positive coping strategies, and inner feelings of strength and increased self-esteem to encourage healing, recovery and moving forward with life”.

The Survivors’ Forum through Women’s Aid, which is an online resource for survivors of domestic abuse. The Survivors’ Forum can be accessed 24/7. This is a place where survivors can support each other and share their experiences.

Woman’s Live Aid Chat is currently available Monday to Friday 10.00 – 12.00 p.m.

Women’s Aid Email Service is still operating and can also provide support.
Information about national and local support services can be found at https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support

Helplines can be found at www.gov.uk/reports-domestic-abuse

And these include the following:-
• Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge
0808 200 0247
www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

• Galop (for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people)
0800 999 5428
www.galop.org.uk

• Men’s Advice Line
0808 801 9999
www.rapecrisis.org.uk

• Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline
0800 027 1234
www.sdafmh.org.uk

4. USEFUL APPS TO DOWNLOAD

1. Bright Sky

This is a free to download mobile App providing support and information for anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or for those concerned about someone they know. It is available on android devices from the Google Play Store and on iOS phones from the Apple App Store.


The App features:
• THE FIND HELP tool – a UK wide directory of specialist domestic abuse support services, whereby users can contact their nearest service by phone from the App searching by area name, postcode or their current location.

• A Secure MY JOURNAL lower key tool where incidents of abuse can be logged in text, audio, video or photo form without any of the content being saved on the device itself.

• Questionnaires to assess the safety of a relationship, plus a section on dispelling myths around domestic and sexual abuse.

• Information for anyone wishing to learn more about domestic abuse including the different types of support available

• Links to further resources and information on topics around domestic abuse.

2. Hollie Guard App

• This is free to download on any Android phone or IPhone. The App turns the phone into a personal safety device that can be triggered if the user is ever in any danger. All you need to do is shake your phone or tap the screen and you generate an alert, which automatically sends your location and audio/video evidence to your emergency contacts.

Q: How can I stop my abuser from finding out about me trying to get help?

This is described by Women’s’ Aid as “cover your tracks online”.

As a rule, internet browsers will save certain information as you surf the net, this means that anyone going onto your computer, laptop, phone and/or Ipad are able to search internet history that you have visited.

Private Browsing

All leading web browsers have a “private browsing mode” that, once enabled, stores nothing about your activity within that browsing window. This means there will be no trace of your activity on your computer and to activate this you should do the following:-

• Internet Explorer: go to Safety – Tools – “InPrivate”.
• “Firefox” click the menu button with three horizontal lines – “new private window”
• Chrome: click the menu button with three horizontal lines and select “new incognito window”

Similar options can be found in Opera and Safari. Further information as to what you need to do can be found on Women’s Aid website.
Delete mobile phone calls, text messages and emails

Other safety precautions you should take to prevent your a user from knowing what you are doing in trying to access help and or information is that you should delete phone calls you have made on your mobile phone and emails and text and WhatsApp messages. However, remember that when you delete emails ordinarily they will go into a delete folder and so you need to delete them from that folder as well. Remember, also, that emails and text messages and WhatsApp messages can be useful as evidence in the future should you need to go to court or inform the police and so it would be sensible to ask the recipient of any message you have sent to them to both save and print it (if they are able to do so)

Q: How can the Law help me during Lockdown?

As well as contacting the police, it is possible to apply to the Courts for an Injunction under Part IV The Family Law Act 1996:
i) A Non-Molestation Order
ii) An Occupation Order

A Non-Molestation Order is to prevent your partner or ex-partner from using or threatening violence against you or your child, or intimidating, harassing, or pestering you, in order to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of yourself and your children.

An Occupation Order regulates who can live in the family home and can also restrict your abuser from entering the surrounding area. If you do not feel safe in continuing to live with your partner, or if you have left home because of violence and want to return and exclude your abuser, you might want to apply for an Occupation Order.

Q: What happens if the abuser breaks the Order?

If your abuser breaks the terms of the Injunction, and you are at all fearful for your safety or that of others, you should call the Police.

It is a criminal offence to breach a Non-Molestation Order.

Q: What is the difference between calling the police or obtaining an injunction against my abuser?

If the police arrest your abuser, they will need to interview him or her and then decide, in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service whether to charge them. This could take weeks or even months. In the meantime, usually the abuser will be released from the police station, on bail. Although the police may impose bail conditions on your abuser, for example not to contact you whilst on bail, any conditions the police impose will usually be only after the abuser’s legal representative at the police station has made representations on your abuser’s behalf. You will have no say in what happens and will not be able to make representations to the police about what you believe you need to be kept safe from your abuser.

Only after the abuser has been charged could the court impose a restraining order on him.

By contrast, a non-molestation order can be obtained without notice to your abuser and if it is breached your abuser can be arrested by the police and brought before the courts immediately. It is often a quicker and more effective means of keeping you safe. Any final hearing of your application for a non-molestation order or occupation order will almost always be heard sooner than any criminal trial were the police to charge the abuser.

Even if your abuser has been arrested, you can still obtain a non-molestation order.

Q: How do I Get Legal Advice?

Although you can apply for an Injunction yourself, it is usually better to do this with the advice and representation from a solicitor who is experienced and preferably accredited by a professional body such as either the Law Society or Resolution in the field of domestic abuse cases who will immediately understand all the relevant issues. You may be eligible for Legal Aid, but only solicitors who are authorised to offer Legal Aid could provide that service to you.

Q: Can I take my abuser to Court during Lockdown?

The most recent guidance was provided by Mr. Justice MacDonald on 23rd March 2020.

“ The COVID19 Pandemic necessitates, that, for the time being, the default position should be that all Family Court hearings should be undertaken by way of a remote hearing using telephone conferences or an electronic communications platform”.

The Courts are still available to hear urgent applications in relation to children, Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders.
If you need to speak to your solicitor or during lockdown, plan ahead how best you can do this. Examples of ways to do this might be:
i. When you are out of the family home on one of the permitted occasions listed in Section 6 of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England Regulations 2020) detailed below:

Restrictions on movement
6.—(1) During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.
(2) For the purposes of paragraph (1), a reasonable excuse includes the need—
(a) to obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies for those in the same household (including any pets or animals in the household) or for vulnerable persons and supplies for the essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household, or the household of a vulnerable person, or to obtain money, including from any business listed in Part 3 of Schedule 2;
(b) to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household;
(c ) to seek medical assistance, including to access any of the services referred to in paragraph 37 or 38 of Schedule 2;
(d) to provide care or assistance, including relevant personal care within the meaning of paragraph 7(3B) of Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006(1), to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance;
(e) to donate blood;
(f) to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;
(g) to attend a funeral of—
(i) a member of the person’s household,
(ii)a close family member, or
(iii) if no-one within sub-paragraphs (i) or (ii) are attending, a friend;
(h) to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings;
(i) to access critical public services, including—
(i) childcare or educational facilities (where these are still available to a child in relation to whom that person is the parent, or has parental responsibility for, or care of the child);
(ii) social services;
(iii) services provided by the Department of Work and Pensions;
(iv) services provided to victims (such as victims of crime);
(j) in relation to children who do not live in the same household as their parents, or one of their parents, to continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children, and for the purposes of this paragraph, “parent” includes a person who is not a parent of the child, but who has parental responsibility for, or who has care of, the child;
(k) in the case of a minister of religion or worship leader, to go to their place of worship;
(l) to move house where reasonably necessary;
(m)to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.

(ii) Ask a trusted family member, friend, neighbour or work colleague to contact a solicitor when an initial assessment can be made as to what help you may need and how best this can be provided to you.

The Situation Summarised

In summary, if you are the victim of domestic abuse during this period of Lockdown, help is to hand.

Venters Solicitors is fully operational at this time and throughout Lockdown.

Office Hours Telephone 01737 229610 and 0207 277 0110
Out of Office Hours email: info@venters.co.uk

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