“Abusers are using COVID to enhance abuse”: Domestic abuse helpline workers’ perspectives on the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on those living with domestic abuse

Zara Brodie*, Roxanne D. Hawkins, Chloe Maclean, Jack McKinlay

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Mobility restrictions enforced by the UK Government in March 2020 as a response to COVID-19 resulted in those vulnerable to domestic abuse being confined in isolation with their abusers, deprived of safe spaces and many of their usual sources of support. Domestic abuse helplines therefore became an increasingly vital avenue for victim support, seeing a substantial increase in service demand during lockdown periods.
Purpose: This project examined the nature and frequency of calls received by domestic abuse helplines since the first COVID-19 lockdown period.
Design and Sample: Through semi-structured interviews with 11 domestic abuse helpline workers across UK services dedicated to a diverse range of populations. Results: Key themes identified through thematic analysis were: (1) Abusers weaponising government guidelines to justify and intensify abuse, and restrictions acting as both a barrier and facilitator to leaving an abusive relationship; (2) A loss of previously accessed support, with users uncertain about what help was available and issues around engaging with new forms of support; and (3) Isolation from social support networks, with callers reporting a loss of respite, lack of emotional and practical support, removal of third-party abuse monitoring opportunities, and subsequent mental health implications.
Conclusions: These findings will act as a crucial guide for policy decision-making regarding support needs emerging from the pandemic and beyond, highlighting the importance of multi-agency partnerships and clear referral pathways to share the increasing financial burden of domestic abuse amongst services. The longer-term integration of more diverse options for remote support to reduce the risk of detection will be paramount as we emerge from the pandemic, but these should serve to offer a wider range of support routes for abuse victims rather than a replacement for face-to-face provision.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Early online date21 Dec 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Dec 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • COVID-19
  • domestic abuse
  • gender-based violence
  • family violence
  • lockdown
  • support

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