Hidden from view – the secrets of lockdown

When the government ordered a national lockdown on 23 March, for many of us it meant having to adjust to a different way of living. But for those stuck in an abusive relationship, staying at home would mean more isolation, misery and violence.

In the first three weeks of lockdown, 11 women, two children and one man were killed by their abuser. According to research carried out by Women’s Aid, two-thirds of women in an abusive relationship said the violence had got worse during lockdown. And three-quarters said lockdown had made it harder for them to escape.

For many women, being able to go to work offers respite from the daily routine of abuse. The order to stay at home meant there were no safe places to go. Victims were trapped and abuse was less visible.

A surge in new cases

The situation in Bolton mirrored what was going on in other towns across the country. Bolton at Home’s Domestic Abuse and Violence (DAV) Service had a rush of enquiries from victims needing help. From April to June 2020, our team took on an extra 126 cases – an increase of 94% for the same period in 2019.

Karen Allsop, our Head of Support and Safeguarding, says: “During lockdown we had a lot of victims. Some were previously supported by us but some were contacting us for the first time. Many said their partners became much more controlling and manipulative. Also, with limited opportunities to get out of the home, some of the usual avenues for seeking help – such as speaking to a neighbour in the street – were no longer there. We also found that an increase in the use of drugs and alcohol was a key factor in sparking violent behaviour.”

Local charity, Urban Outreach, has been working with victims of domestic abuse for 30 years. Its Chief Executive, Dave Bagley, says: “Back in the 90s, a significant part of our work involved giving support to street prostitutes. We found that the majority of these women were also victims of domestic abuse.”

The charity opened a support centre for women involved in the criminal justice system – most of whom were victims of abuse, and was part of a movement that led to the de-criminalisation of prostitution.

“Over the years, we’ve grown our range of services and helped hundreds of families”

“Over the years, we’ve grown our range of services and helped hundreds of families,” says Dave. “We give one-to-one support to help victims build confidence, resilience and hope for a better future.”

Urban Outreach works to tackle poverty in all its forms- helping struggling adults, families, homeless people, ex-offenders and also children who go missing from home.

The charity has played a vital role in the humanitarian response to COVID-19, led by Bolton Council and supported by Bolton at Home, Bolton CVS and other members of the Bolton Family.

At the peak of the Coronavirus crisis to date, we helped Urban Outreach deliver much-needed food supplies to around 2,000 homes a week. Dave says that during lockdown the team has seen a rise in the number of victims fleeing their homes. “We’ve delivered food to many families in desperate need because they’d escaped an abusive situation. The pandemic has undoubtedly created an environment where it’s easier to carry out controlling, violent behaviour.”

Getting help from Bolton at Home

Our DAV Service is a key provider of support for victims of abuse. “The service is quite specialised,” says Karen. “Our team has worked in this field for a number of years, and we give intensive support that aims to offer the best outcome for each person.

“The first step is to ensure what we call ‘target hardening’ – this means making sure the home is safe for the victim and their family, and often involves working with the police. If a victim wants to leave the home, or it isn’t safe for them to stay, we’ll work with organisational partners to find suitable secure accommodation. From there, we give ongoing support to help victims re-build their confidence and move on with their lives.”

At any one time, the service supports around 90 families. Success rates are high with the majority of victims going on to lead an independent lifestyle, free from their abuser. “Part of our success is about working closely with a range of partners such as the police, social services, Fortalice, Endeavour and the criminal justice system and other housing providers,” adds Karen. “We’re also part of MARAC (Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference), which involves collaborating with other partner and specialist organisations when supporting people who are at high risk of serious harm.”

Eyes Wide Open

To encourage friends, neighbours or even strangers to come forward and report abuse when they see it, we recently launched our Eyes Wide Open campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

Karen says: “Often those outside of the abuse are either reluctant to come forward or don’t know how to spot the signs. Indeed, victims themselves don’t always recognise that they’re being abused. We launched the campaign to raise awareness of what to look for. And we encourage anyone to contact us - anonymously if they prefer – if they think someone could be a victim of domestic abuse. We’ll either give them advice or investigate the situation ourselves.”

Eyes Wide Open – spotting the signs of domestic abuse

  • injuries, with the excuse of ‘accidents’
  • frequently miss work, school, or social occasions, without explanation
  • dress in clothing designed to hide bruises or scars (e.g. wearing long sleeves in the summer or sunglasses indoors)
  • individual appears anxious or worried

How to get help

If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, or you’re worried about someone else, you can contact us in confidence by calling:

01204 329636 or 01204 327997 during office hours

The National Domestic Abuse Helpline:

Will remain open 24/7 on 0808 2000 247 or visit their website: www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

Endeavour (local service):

Endeavour gives to support women, children and pets experiencing abuse. Get in touch if you think they could help: 01204 394842 endeavourproject.org.uk or email: info@endeavourproject.org.uk

If you have a story to share, please email news@boltonathome.org.uk