How Did Lockdown Affect Organisations Supporting Victims of Domestic Abuse?

A new report has made recommendations on how the Scottish Government can better support organisations working with victims of domestic violence.

The research, conducted by Professor Sarah Pedersen of Robert Gordon’s University and colleagues, Dr Natascha Mueller-Hirth and Leia Miller has looked at how the Covid19 pandemic impacted the provision of services in Orkney, Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen.

The recommendations include:

  • the need for emergency planning
  • to continue the flexibility of service provision and training
  • to continue with Violence Against Women Partnership (VAWP) holding meetings online
  • that the Scottish Government needs to consider how to avoid or to mitigate the impact of a full closure of courts
  • the need to support women in rural locations to stay digitally connected in order to access the right support
  • that the Scottish Government addresses the insecure and partial provision of funding for all parts of the gender based violence sector

The longer term effects of the March 2020 lockdown are still being researched by many organisations. For those who were locked in homes with perpetrators of abuse it increased their anxiety and fear of leaving by breaking lockdown. This led to Police Scotland putting out a statement that leaving lockdown for reasons of personal safety because of an abusive partner was legitimate.

Service providers like Orkney Women’s Aid and similar organisations saw an increase in demand. This led to the introduction of waiting lists which happened in Orkney for the first time ever as staff working from home were dealing with the new restrictions and a rise in people contacting them. In some cases those seeking refuge were turned away.

The lockdown also produced an increase in the reporting of historic abuse cases as memories of past trauma re-emerged.

There was a high demand for supported accommodation which in the early months of the first lockdown had a knock on effect of not being able to service those properties as the providers would wish to. For instance the closure of the launderette in Orkney meant that bedding had to be double bagged and left till it could be dealt with. New bedding had to be bought to replace the shortage.

As we know only too well in Orkney there are places where mobile phone coverage is weak/non existent and broadband speed poor. The organisations providing support had to move online and some were not prepared for this. Staff reported issues with home working – lack of laptops, confidentiality etc. But what has surprised the researchers was that the use of telephone communication proved to be popular with many accessing the services. The anonymity of being able to consult with someone over the phone also allowed those who live in harder to reach areas, like the outer isles, to better access support. The use of Zoom whilst fine for some was overwhelming to others, the researchers found. It was being flexible and adapting to the different needs of each person accessing support that was important.

Professor Pedersen and her team also looked at the impact on staff who were working from home and often having to cope with homeschooling and childcare. This was not unique to this sector but it was an added strain on staff who were having to adapt to a different way of working. The strain on managers was considerable as recruitment was a problem and they were having to cover areas outwith their own. Local staff were being expected to take calls and counsel nationally. Supporting colleagues, which would usually be done face-to-face, was difficult to fit in because everyone was working so hard due to the increase in cases.

For victims of domestic abuse, lockdown produced a mixture of reactions. For some there were high levels of anxiety due to the fear of breaking lockdown. Some perpetrators even used lockdown as an extra tool of abuse by threatening to report a victim if they tried to leave the home. For others being able to go out a walk knowing there weren’t men hanging around outside pubs, there was a new sense of confidence.

The closure of Scottish Courts is still having an impact. For some victims the delay in proceedings has resulted in increased stress and the need for prolonged support. The research highlighted the ongoing issues arising from the closure and stressed that the Scottish Government needs to mitigate for any future closure.

All the organisations that took part in the research very much valued the funding they received which enabled them to be flexible and to buy technology to support the change of use. But they all also were very concerned over future funding which is seen as insecure and which does not support innovation.

More research needs to be conducted into how children were affected. Telephone counselling did not work with children and some organisations used other methods such as walking and Minecraft.

All MSPs for the area the study covered have been sent a copy of Professor Pedersen’s report. Click on this link to access the information and to watch the recent webinar Supporting victims of domestic violence during COVID-19: the impact of the pandemic on service providers in North-East Scotland and Orkney. [Webinar]

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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