Why domestic abuse charities in Greater Manchester and the NSPCC are worried about social distancing

Date published: 14 April 2020

Domestic violence charities in Greater Manchester have expressed fears that people living in abusive households might not be reaching out for help as they’re stuck indoors – as the coronavirus pandemic makes home life more stressful.

Several services in the region said that they are still offering support for people who need it – but said they expect a reduction in calls as people spend more time at home with abusive partners or relatives.

Data from Italy already shows that fewer people have sought help while stuck indoors as the country is in lockdown: and services in Greater Manchester fear the same could happen here.

Elaine de Fries, from Manchester Women’s Aid, said: “Obviously, ours is a confidential service and one of the things we encourage is that the perpetrator isn’t present – we say ring when they’re at work, when you’re alone. If you are both self-isolating in the same residence, that won’t be possible.”

She said that rates of domestic violence had already been rising in the UK before the coronavirus crisis; 2019 recorded the highest number of domestic violence killings in five years. 

And organisations fear that many of the factors that perpetrators often capitalise on – such as victims being away from support networks – could be exacerbated by weeks of self-isolation.

As a local independent provider of domestic abuse services for female victims, male perpetrators and children and young people who are affected by experiences in the family home, Rochdale Connections Trust (RCT) had faced a greater demand on all services before the outbreak of Covid-19.

This is due to an increase of incidents of domestic violence and abuse being reported across the country and Rochdale’s figures continue to exceed the national average year on year.

Jenny Miller, DVA (domestic violence and abuse) Lead at RCT said: “We face a situation now where we know many women are trapped with perpetrators in households in our community and there is little we can do other than to try to provide practical strategies to men we are engaged with to prevent incidents of abuse from occurring.

“However, for those women whose partners are not engaged with a service like ours, where they can continue to access their domestic abuse worker by telephone, we are extremely concerned for their safety.”

Ruth Wilson, of Rochdale Victim Support, said: “Domestic abuse continues to have a devastating effect on victims, their children, their families and the wider community.  We know domestic abuse has a real significant impact on victims’ emotional wellbeing, as well as affecting other relationships and their ability to live their life as they’d want to. 

“Everyone deserves to live a life free from fear, abuse and violence. We are currently living in unprecedented times, with victims feeling even more isolated and frightened than usual whilst social distancing or having to self-isolate, with their abusive partners or family members.”

“As a team we are still working to provide victims with support despite the pandemic.”

In addition, the therapeutic services offered by the RCT charity to children and young people are also on hold for the foreseeable future.

Holly Stevenson, Counselling Coordinator at RCT, said: “The effects of domestic abuse on children can be devastating to their emotional development and well-being; and we are now in a situation where those who are at greatest risk of potential physical harm are in homes with perpetrators, with no access to places of safety and respite such as school and services such as Rochdale Connections Trust.”

Ruth Wilson added: “With many children not in school and parents following government guidance to stay home, they may feel they have no escape from the abuse; but services are there for them. We are here to support families in these difficult times.

“If it’s safe to do so, and you are experiencing abuse, talk to someone you trust about what is happening to you. Don’t underestimate how important it is to have someone to talk to, and of someone else knowing what is going on at home.

“If you are not sure who to trust, then there are helplines and live chat services available for support or just a listening ear.

“In this unprecedented situation you may feel more at risk, or not able to reach out for help. The police have confirmed that any restrictions that are in place must come second to keeping yourself, and your children, safe. If you need to leave the home do so and if you are directly at risk and need to ring 999, you should.

The NSPCC has also expressed concern that children may be at risk.

Helen Westerman, Head of Safeguarding in Communities at the NSPCC, said: “Social distancing can make spotting the signs of domestic abuse more difficult, but there are still ways that you can support your community. By noting the following signs, you may even provide a lifeline to help a vulnerable child escape abuse.

“During the lockdown, from your home or on a walk, you may see or hear a dangerous situation. This might include hearing aggressive shouting, hitting, or things being broken. You may even hear a child or adult crying.

“Alternatively, you might see very young children left alone or outdoors by themselves, who may be visibly upset or withdrawn. Sometimes, children might look dirty or have not had their clothes changed.

“Maybe you aren’t a neighbour, but know a family that could be in a vulnerable situation. You might be a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or sibling. In this case, it’s crucial to maintain contact with them, especially if they’re a child or young person.

“Use video calls to maintain face-to-face contact, and give children and young people the opportunity to talk about what's going on for them. By continuing to have a relationship with a child who may be vulnerable at home, you increase the chance of being able to spot any possible signs of abuse.

“These signs don't necessarily mean that a child is being abused, there could be other things happening in their life which are affecting their behaviour, but by contacting us we can help you to receive support and assess the situation.”

Data from Italy – which imposed stringent self-isolation measures on its citizens in a bid to tackle the virus – suggests that the number of people accessing domestic violence services has dropped.

Italy’s national women’s aid charity D.i.Re told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that several of their regional services had recorded a drop-off in phone calls.

“This is due to the obvious difficulty of women to call, because many believe that the anti-violence centres are “closed” while – although they’re not open to the public – they are all active via telephone and can arrange emergency interventions,” the organisation said.

One of their key messages at the moment is to remind people who experience domestic violence and abuse that, while many organisations are shutting up shop, their services are still available.

And that’s the same message that organisations in Greater Manchester are keen to get across – although they say the way they work is changing.

Whilst the lockdown has been operational, RCT has had to close its office and instead provide remote support via the phone and social media posts in an effort to keep people safe.

However, they are still receiving daily referrals from social services following police call outs.

Jenny from RCT said: “We continue to offer a telephone support service to women but understand that victims cannot talk to us and tell us what is really happening if the perpetrator is at home with them.”

Elaine de Fries from Manchester Women’s Aid said that while they’re having to shut down their drop-in spaces, refuges are still open and they’re not reducing their staff – and will be increasing the one-to-one availability of employees so if people can safely phone, they will be able to.

And she reiterated that her staff still have expert knowledge – particularly of the legal options that are available to women who are seeking help from them. 

WHAG and Rochdale Women’s Welfare were also contacted for comment.


Manchester Women’s Aid: 0161 660 7999

Rochdale Connections Trust: 01706 345111 or fill in the online form: www.r-c-t.co.uk/contact-us.html

You can contact Victim Support via:

Victim Support 24-hour support line:  08 08 16 89 111

Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247

NSPCC: If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact the NSPCC helpline to speak to one a counsellor.

Call 0808 800 5000, email help@nspcc.org.uk or fill in the online form: forms.nspcc.org.uk/content/nspcc---report-abuse-form/

Mari Eccles, Local Democracy Reporting Service

Additional reporting, Michelle Kight, Rochdale Online News

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