South east London has seen an increase in “high risk” domestic violence cases since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown, according to the capital’s leading charity supporting women and children who are victims of abuse at home.
Joanne Rollings, service manager at the Bexley branch of Solace Women’s Aid, said the unprecedented measures to combat the deadly virus presented “a very frightening time for victims of domestic abuse” and were “providing further tools” to perpetrators.
“It is meaning that victims are being exposed to this abusive behaviour for longer periods of time especially if both are at home all day,” she said.
She added that an eerie lull at the start of the lockdown period – where the Bexley borough branch experienced a dramatic drop in requests for help – has now been replaced by a sharp rise.
“In the first week of lockdown the calls and requests for support seemed to decline within Bexley,” she said.
“For myself and my team this was a worrying period, you could sense the feeling that those needing support may be having difficulty accessing it This has now changed and we are seeing an increase in calls to our service, along with those requiring support finding other ways to make contact with us.”
She added the charity was now seeing greater rates of “high risk” cases being referred to them from police. But controlling tactics used by perpetrators, which make it even more difficult for victims to call for help, emphasised the importance of friends and neighbours reporting instances of abuse, Rollings said.
“We need to ensure that neighbours, friends and family are listening out for anything and reporting to the police,” she said.
The charity, which operates across London but works with Bexley Council to provide services in the borough, has been plunged into “uncharted waters” by the financial consequences of the lockdown, its chief executive Fiona Dwyer said. She said she was “increasingly worried” about women not being able to reach out for help.
“We are really concerned about women living in isolation with their abusers and the challenges they face keeping themselves and their children safe,” she said.
She added the group anticipated an “enormous spike in demand” when the lockdown ends, which was extra concerning as the charity’s resources were already at “full stretch”.
“The situation is urgent. Women should not have to choose between coronavirus and abuse as a result of being in lockdown with their perpetrator,” she said.
The charity has launched an appeal to raise £150,000 to keep its services running: to donate, visit solacewomensaid.org.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse in Bexley borough call Solace on 020 3198 4659 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, or email bexley.community[at]solacewomensaid.org. Solace has a London-wide number too: 0808 802 5565. If you are concerned for a friend, contact Solace for advice or report it anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. In Greenwich, you can contact Greenwich Domestic Violence and Abuse Service. In Lewisham, you can call Athena. Men suffering abuse can contact ManKind.
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Lachlan Leeming is the Local Democracy Reporter for Bexley. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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