IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Fears of domestic abuse surge

Refuges deal with more cases than ever before as virus lockdowns trap victims

18 December, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

The Town Hall’s community safety chief, Labour councillor Sue Lukes

DOMESTIC violence experts say they are braced for an expected surge in service referrals due to the impact of the new lockdown rules combined with the Christmas period.

Solace Women’s Aid said December is typically their quietest month of the year when women are often at home with their children and less able to reach out for help.

Gabrielle Trimblett from Islington Solace told of how the service had been put under its greatest ever pressure as Covid measures tightened earlier this year and warned of a need for more places of refuge.

She told the Tribune that the service has helped over 600 women in the borough this year but said “that’s still only a tiny fraction of the women in Islington that do need our support.”

Ms Trimblett said during lockdown some victims had escaped using secret phones provided by the service.

In one case, a phone was provided at the chemist where a survivor went to pick up a prescription.

“There was no other safe way to do it,” she said. “That’s one example of many creative ways in which we can ensure that we’re able to safely make contact.”

As soon as the first lockdown was announced in March, there were concerns for those struggling to get away from abuse at home. Solace put up posters in supermarkets and chemists to reach women and survivors.

A Greater London Assembly report showed that August was the worst month ever in the city with 14,691 reported cases – although this includes any underreporting during the earlier lockdown.

The same concerns arose around the closure of schools. They can be a venue where children might raise problems at home, or teachers can pick up on signs of problems at home. Islington’s children’s services teams adapted, and continued to visit homes but saw a similar uptick in cases during the summer.

The council’s community safety chief Labour councillor Sue Lukes said: “The knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic – in particular job losses, lockdown and the closure of schools earlier in the year – will have intensified stresses and strains within many Islington families, affecting people’s mental and emotional health, as well as their ability to put food on the table.

“Unfortunately we have seen an increase in more serious referrals for physical abuse, domestic violence, and mental ill-health in both children and adults”.

She added: “This is a critical time, and we are doing everything we can to support survivors and their families – the work Solace does is integral to that.”

The council said it is giving £2million of additional funding into tackling violence against women and girls over the next three years.

In June the government gave £8.1million to refuges for extra spaces, which helped Solace Women’s Aid provide 70 spaces across the capital. However those places were filled in under two weeks, according to Amy Glover, head of community services at the charity, who said refuges are “always over capacity.”

She said the same issue applies with counselling services and that “therapeutic services are always over capacity”, but added: “We want people to know that we support anyone.”

“It’s not a case of ringing us when you want to leave.We will give anyone advice if they need someone to talk to.”

• Anyone who needs support or advice can call 0808 802 5565. In an emergency they can call 999, and stay silent and press 55 if they fear they are being overheard by an abuser.

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