The co-founder of a Fife-based charity which aims to reduce and prevent domestic abuse in Scotland has warned that they and other services could be “utterly swamped” by abused women seeking help when the coronavirus lockdown ends.
Janet Henderson, who helps run Lochgelly-based Saje Scotland, said she feared potentially hundreds of women – and some men – who were already suffering in silence behind closed doors before the Covid-19 outbreak could be experiencing even greater danger from abusive partners whilst locked-down at home.
She urged anyone being abused not to wait until after lockdown but to get help now either by phoning the police, Women’s Aid or the National Abuse Helpline.
She emphasised, however, that safety had to be a priority and it was important that when an abuse victim made contact with the outside world, they did so without their controlling partner being aware of the call – otherwise the situation could become “very very serious”.
“I don’t think there’s necessarily a rise in domestic abuse going on because of the lock down,” she said.
“A lot of this abuse will have been going on at some level pre-this happening. It’ll have been so hidden because women or men are not reporting it because of the age old reasons of shame, blame, they don’t know what to do – all these sort of things.
“But I think because people are more aware and it’s getting talked about more, the numbers coming forward will escalate because they have been locked down at home.
“I think it’s going to be after Covid, after lock down is over, that I think we and other abuse agencies are going to be utterly swamped. I think it’s going to explode. Abused people suffering in silence will say ‘I just can’t do this anymore’.”
Janet contacted The Courier as she confirmed that Saje Scotland had moved its Freedom Programme and Toolkit for Life strategy meetings online to continue support for abuse survivors already free from abusive relationships.
Aided by Foundation Scotland donating three laptops from their Response Fund to enable staff to work securely from home, Janet said 20 women were taking part in the secure sessions so far with “great feedback” and she wanted to get word out that it was Saje’s aim to expand online capacity to at least 60.
Saje Scotland, which has had contact with 18,000 abused women since its launch in 2014, aims to motivate survivors of domestic violence to live independently without fear of abuse, neglect and harm.
It is an opportunity for women from all backgrounds to meet and work together through a programme designed to help them make positive choices about their life, to take back control and to increase both their and their children’s safety.
However, Saje Scotland also faces a funding challenge.
With at least £150,000 required each year to provide the service, Janet said there was a danger their funding could run out around the same time that she expected extra demand for services to peak. She is currently exploring options with different agencies.