There was a rise in domestic violence in the UK from 2020 to 2021, and this is a very concerning matter. The statutory change added greater clarity to the common law position and aligned with a shift in public perception, but the problem of domestic violence demands swift action to ensure the safety of victims. Stay at home orders and, more directly, national lockdowns are thought to have been the catalyst for the soaring abuse cases.
COVID lockdowns caused a spike
Lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic forced people into their homes through much of 2020 and 2021. This left victims unable to escape their abuser. There was a 60% increase in the average monthly number of calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline from April 2020 to February 2021. It was also reported that the severity of that abuse increased.
The problem wasn’t just that victims were forced to spend more time with their abusers. The economic and social pressure that came with being isolated at home was a catalyst for any conflict within families. With less social interaction, there were fewer opportunities for victims to talk about their experiences or for others to spot signs of abuse. Domestic abuse channels had to adapt quickly to online-based communications. It was a hidden threat that came with the imposition of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.
What was done in response?
In response to this problem, we saw the creation of The Domestic Abuse Act 2021. This gave us a statutory definition of ‘domestic abuse’, and it went beyond the most commonly-known issue of physical violence to include:
- Emotional abuse
- Economic abuse
- Controlling or coercive behaviour
These changes made statute many years of case law and guidance. But the risk of it falling upon deaf ears continues.
Challenges to overcome
Many continue to only recognise physical abuse, but the experience of victims of coercion and restrictions must not be written off. It can destroy confidence and self-esteem, and it can affect anyone. Though the increase through 2020-2021 primarily involved female victims, there was an increase in male victims as well.
For sufferers of domestic abuse, the law can offer some protection. There are enhanced civil orders like the Non-Molestation order that can compel a perpetrator to not come within a certain distance of their victim or risk arrest. For victims with property interests, there could be the option of an Occupation Order to remove their abuser from the home.
If you feel you are a victim but you and the perpetrator share children, you may qualify for legal aid. There are also special legal orders aimed at protecting victims with children, like a Child Arrangements Order.
There can be evidentiary difficulties, particularly with non-physical forms of abuse. This and a few other things make up the barriers that show there is still a way to go with domestic violence laws, but progress has been made. With national lockdowns and restrictions seemingly behind us, there is more opportunity for victims to reach out for help.
If you are suffering from domestic abuse and need help getting legal protection in London, contact trusted family law specialists today.