The Domestic Violence Death Toll ‘Doubles’ During Coronavirus Lockdown

Campaigners say services need more support.

Domestic violence in lockdown

by Rhiannon Evans |
Updated on

A domestic violence campaigner has urged the government to increase the funding available to specialist services that protect women, as it’s reported the amount of abuse killings has doubled during lockdown.

Karen Ingala Smith – founder of project, Counting Dead Women, which produces an annual femicide report – has identified at least 16 killings of women and children by men between 23 March and 12 April. In the same period over the last 10 years, there have been, on average, five deaths.

Speaking at a home affairs select committee this week, where the figures were discussed, Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, said, ‘We usually say there are two [deaths] a week, that looks to me like five a week, that’s the size of this crisis.’

But Ingala Smith - who is Chief Executive of domestic violence charity, nia – cautioned against framing the figures as a rise in domestic abuse. ‘What I’m really concerned about is this idea that there’s an increase in domestic violence and abuse because I don’t think that’s the right framing,’ she said. ‘We haven’t suddenly got more violent men in the world than we had a month ago. So there has to be a different explanation.

‘I think we’re getting a clearer picture on the normal level of violence and control and abuse, but because people are being cooped up together, or we’re giving men excuses, or because women have got less access to support or routes to escape, we might be seeing an increase in incidents and certainly my figures suggest we’re seeing an increase in deaths. Although, whether that is directly applicable to coronavirus or not, we don’t know. There are the same number of abusive men in the world. But the way we’re living together has changed.’

Before coronavirus we couldn’t keep up with demand and we’re increasingly pushed to reach higher and higher targets.

The difficulty, as always, is that much of the problem goes on behind closed doors and is never reported. And Ingala Smith says even the numbers of deaths caused by domestic violence aren’t cut-and-dried. ‘Some deaths are disguised and hidden; they might be disguised as falls, drug overdoses, accidents where they weren’t, suicides as well – there is always a margin. With deaths you have a corpse and that’s some level of accuracy, but it’s not always 100pc accurate.'

After the National Domestic Abuse helpline saw a 25 per cent increase in calls and online requests, the Home Office last week announced they would give domestic abuse services an extra £2million.

But Ingala Smith says services need more support: ‘We need to make sure there’s enough money available to meet the level of need that is out there, because before coronavirus we couldn’t keep up with demand and we’re increasingly pushed to reach higher and higher targets, with fewer and fewer resources.'

‘What that means is women get less support, or support not for as long as they need it. Or a particular section are targeted for support and others are ignored. So a lot of support that’s available now is for women who’ve been identified as higher risk, but actually risk is fluid and [if] somebody isn’t [considered] at higher risk today, that doesn’t mean they don’t need support and actually if they got support now, before things deteriorated more, they’d have more chance of rebuilding their lives and leaving an abusive man.’

If you need help you can contact Women’s Aid, which also has an online chat service that runs from 10-12, Monday to Friday. You can call the National Domestic Abuse hotline on 0808 2000 247. Refuge charity have online services and a helpline.

READ MORE: From Childbirth To The Economy, Women's Rights Are Endangered By The Coronavirus Crisis

READ MORE: There Has Been A 25% Increase In Domestic Abuse Calls Since The Lockdown

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