Women’s rights campaigners across the north-east and Tayside are preparing themselves for an expected increase in domestic abuse calls as fears are raised about coronavirus restrictions.
Scottish Women’s Aid said the nation “must not lose sight” of the specific challenges for children and women experiencing domestic abuse in the midst of the pandemic.
The organisation has stressed that local groups are being supported to continue to provide services to the best of their ability, including providing their service over the phone, online, by text or by email.
It comes as the First Minister announced on Tuesday that £1.5 million will be given to Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland to ensure access to these services during the pandemic.
She said: “The key message is people who are suffering domestic abuse do not have wait to seek help.”
Meanwhile, Police Scotland has said it is taking “proactive” steps to deal with domestic abuse and is engaging with ministers, charities and voluntary organisations to monitor the impacts.
Aileen Forbes, manager of Grampian Women’s Aid, said they are “fully prepared” for an increase in calls during the lockdown.
She said: “We have not noticed an increase in calls as yet but we think it is a bit to soon to gauge that right now.
“But we are expecting it, taking the lead from other countries ahead of us, who are reporting quite substantial increases in numbers. We’re fully prepared for that to change.
“At the moment families are at home. It’s not just children off school but husbands and partners at home which will present barriers and challenges for women to be able to report incidents.
“If a woman feels it is too difficult to contact us she could ask a friend to do so. We worry about children and young people at home in a pressure cooker situation and not being at school.”
We are expecting it, taking the lead from other countries ahead of us, who are reporting quite substantial increases in numbers.”
The organisation, like many others during the outbreak, is having to adapt to new ways of working to deliver its services.
This includes moving to mainly provide support online and by text message. However, referrals for refuge continue where the organisation can provide it.
It currently supports around 750 women and 130 children a year across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.
Women seeking support can do so by phone, text, email or online: https://t.co/NpmZrNSNuC
Scotland’s Domestic Abuse & Forced Marriage Helpline is available 24/7. Call 0800 027 1234, email email@example.com, web chat: https://t.co/CdwdlzIpUd
— Grampian Women's Aid (@GWomensAid) March 23, 2020
Aileen said: “We’re not taking any face-to-face appointments where possible but if we have to then we do but we’re taking government advice.
“Our support is online and by text message. We’re still taking referrals for all services and taking referrals for refuge.
“It really is if we have it we will provide it. If we don’t have refuge provision then we will assist women through local authorities.
“We’re very concerned for what the future holds but very much aware that we can provide help and support.”
Anne Robertson-Brown, executive director of Angus Women’s Aid, said there are already signs that women are struggling to get in touch with the support they need due to being at home in coercive relationships.
She said: “Women are finding it far more difficult to call and that includes women who may be receiving support already.
Some contact details if it is out with our office hours. We are still open and the office is staffed Monday to Friday to take any calls and provide phone, text and email support. #stillgoingstrong 💪 https://t.co/qnzx38kjqU
— Angus Women's Aid (@aware30) March 31, 2020
“It is too early in lockdown to say what this will look like. We are concerned about what may be happening. Children are also forced to live in these situations.”
But the Angus group, which is based in Arbroath, is continuing to provide services to women across the region, mainly by telephone and remotely.
Ms Robertson-Brown said: “We’ve got to look at the safety of staff. The key message is we’re still here and services are still running.”
First Minister: ‘Close eye’ on domestic abuse
Speaking during Tuesday’s Scottish coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon said there was a need to keep a “very close eye” on domestic abuse.
When asked if police should be pro-active in visiting homes of those they have been to in the last 18 months, she said: “The police have already said this is something they’re very conscious of and will be very vigilant around.
“I don’t think it takes too long for any of us to think about this and understand the increased risks and vulnerabilities that many women and children are in as people are living more of their lives behind closed doors.
“We will continue to look at the resources and funding that frontline organisations have and if we think there’s a case for increasing that, we will not hesitate to do that.
“I want to stress again today to anybody watching here today who feels they need advice and support don’t think because of this emergency situation that support is not there, it is there.”
Police Scotland: Domestic abuse a priority
Detective Chief Superintendent Samantha McCluskey, of Police Scotland’s Specialist Crime Division, said tackling domestic abuse remains a “priority” for officers, adding this “does not change” despite the “unprecedented and dynamic set of circumstances” the country is faced with.
She said: “While it may be too early to assess the impact of coronavirus on incidents of domestic abuse, I can reassure the public that officers are continuing to work hard to prevent harm by identifying people who may be at risk.
“Proactive assessment work is ongoing which includes engagement with Scottish Government and our partners in the third sector and we continue to monitor the potential impact on victims and families.
“Domestic abuse is not acceptable and is everyone’s business. If you, or anyone you know, is being abused or at risk of abuse, we need to know now – your information could be absolutely crucial at this particular time.
“Please contact Police Scotland on 101 or 999 in an emergency, or if you need support please contact Scotland’s domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline on 0800 027 1234 where support is available 24/7.
“Where a report of domestic abuse is received, we will continue to respond appropriately and help victims gain access to the support they need.”
If you, or anyone you know, is being abused or at risk of abuse, we need to know now – your information could be absolutely crucial at this particular time.
The Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, has confirmed that domestic abuse cases will continue to be prosecuted vigorously and fairly during the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “With the public following government advice to stay at home in order to restrict the spread of coronavirus, we know that those experiencing domestic abuse may be more at risk.
“I want to reassure victims that public safety remains the priority for law enforcement during this period.
“It is vital that victims have the confidence in the justice system to come forward and report these crimes and also that they seek support from the many organisations which continue to provide essential services to victims.”
Advice for women suffering domestic abuse
Scottish Women’s Aid said it is “too early” to say whether calls to their helpline had increased in wake of the outbreak, but stressed there had been a steady pattern of an increase prior to the crisis.
In a statement, the organisation said: “For some Women’s Aid groups, this pandemic means moving to new ways of working – including providing their service over the phone, online, by text or by email.
“Women seeking support during this time should still reach out to their local
Women’s Aid group, contact details for all of them are available on our website.
“Our staff can still help with the same safety planning, emotional support and referrals for other services that they would do in person, and some groups are still running inperson appointments.
“Individual groups’ responses are under constant review, and each group will make decisions about the provision of their service based on information as it becomes available.”
Specially trained staff are available to offer support and information for anyone experiencing domestic abuse, those concerned about someone else and professionals with questions.