Shivam Kaushik (Student)
The government has implemented measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 since March 2020. Since then, there have been lockdowns, closures of non-essential businesses and a very strong message from government to remain at home unless absolutely essential. The advertisement for this is “Stay Home, Stay Safe, Save Lives” and this message is broadcast everywhere on government pages, posters and on several official media platforms. During such time, having a safe place to call home is critical especially when being at home is more important and one is home more now than ever.
Support services are struggling to provide help and resources to those struggling in their households. The restrictions on leaving home result in further barriers in seeking help and reporting any abuse. Gender based violence (“GBV”)has increased. The UN defines gender based violence as as harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender. There has been a sharp rise in the prevalence of such abuse in recent times and has been compounded further by lockdown measures. GBV mainly relates to interpersonal violence, domestic abuse, sexual violence and other forms of abuse. In the UK, 1 in 4 women experience domestic abuse and 1 in 5 will experience sexual assault in her lifetime. GBV does not because of lockdown, nor does it stem from the stress, hardship and economic difficulties which arise from the existence of a pandemic, however, the pandemic and lockdown measures have increased the risk factors for GBV such as substance abuse, being unable to support one’s family, crowding and female isolation.
Services supporting victims of gender-based violence are reporting an unprecedented increase in demand for support and assistance. Domestic abuse charity, Refuge, have reported a 700% increase in contact compared to pre-lockdown levels. Similarly, the Respect phone line has reported a rise of 125% in web traffic and a 16.6% increase in number of calls received. Even during stable periods, GBV is under-reported in the UK. The Home Office found that 83% of victims do not report their experiences to the police. The reporting of such experiences will be further decreased during the pandemic.
These are very concerning statistics that highlight the scale and urgency of these issues and their impact on the most vulnerable members of society. The added difficulty in reporting abuse and seeking assistance during lockdown is leading to many abusers escaping accountability and punishment. More importantly, it has further eroded the ability for victims and survivors to seek immediate protection for themselves and their children. Access to justice is one of the biggest issues faced by victims of GBV and the government measures have only compounded such difficulties. The continuation of such measures will only worsen the impact the pandemic has had on GBV victims and survivors. The government measures as a result of the pandemic have raised the question whether staying home is truly saving lives and at what cost?
If you have experienced any of these issues and require more advice at Staffordshire Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice. Students are supervised by a qualified solicitor, if you wish to book an appointment with us, then please either call us on 01782 294800 or email us at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk.