The coronavirus lockdown has seen a rise in calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline, according to support charity Refuge.
The charity, which provides specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic violence, said calls have increased by 25 per cent since the lockdown was imposed.
Here’s why the coronavirus lockdown may have led to more calls related to domestic violence - and what legally counts as abuse under the most recent guidelines.
Why are domestic abuse calls rising?
Refuge reported an increase in calls during a five-period from the week beginning 30 March, just seven days after the Prime Minister introduced the tough restrictions on movement.
People across the UK have been urged to remain in their homes, unless it is for essential or urgent medical reasons.
The charity also said that visits to its website had also surged by 150 per cent in the same period.
Domestic abuse campaigners warned that the lockdown restrictions could heighten domestic tensions and restrict the ability to leave a potentially abusive situation.
Pressure on other services and awareness campaigns could have also led to the increase, according to the charity.
Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, warned that self-isolation has the potential to “aggravate pre-existing abuse behaviours”, and that spending concentrated periods of time together could potentially escalate the threat of abuse.
Morley also emphasised that domestic abuse is not necessarily always physical, but can be emotional and psychological too, including threatening and coercive behaviour.
What counts as domestic abuse?
Last year, a new law came into force that now makes psychological abuse within a relationship illegal.
The Domestic Abuse Bill now outlaws a number of things that were not previously covered by existing legislation, recognising that abuse can take several forms, including coercive control.
Coercive control is the psychological abuse of a partner, which can be committed through threats and restrictions, as well as physical violence, and carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The bill was amended to include such behaviour that could not easily be prosecuted using the existing criminal law.
The laws are now in force in England and Wales.
When could your partner’s behaviour be breaking the law?
The legislative changes now make the following 11 acts towards a partner illegal:
1. Sharing sexually explicit images of you – either online or not
New laws surrounding ‘revenge porn’ make it illegal for someone to share intimate photographs of you with anyone, whether that is on or offline.
2. Restricting your access to money
Even if they are the breadwinner, the law says one partner cannot stop the other from accessing money and should not give them “punitive allowances”.
3. Repeatedly putting you down
Constant insults from a partner might not be typically thought of as domestic abuse, but under the new law, persistent name-calling, mocking and other forms of insulting behaviour are now illegal.
4. Stopping you from seeing friends or family
If your partner continually isolates you from the people you love – whether this is in the form of monitoring or blocking your calls or emails, telling you where you can or cannot go, or preventing you from seeing your friends or relatives – it is against the law.
5. Scaring you
Your partner might not physically assault you, but if they are doing enough to frighten you, they are committing an offence.
Women’s Aid says this can include, but is not limited to:
- Making angry gestures
- Using physical size to intimidate
- Shouting you down
- Destroying your possessions
- Breaking things
- Punching walls
- Wielding a knife or a gun
- Threatening to kill or harm you, your children or family pets
- Threats of suicide
6. Threatening to reveal private things about you
Whether your partner is saying they will tell people details about your health or sexual orientation, repeated threats to reveal personal and private information is a form of abuse.
7. Putting tracking devices on your phone
The Crown Prosecution Service says it is illegal under the new legislation to “monitor a person using online communication tools or spyware”.
If your partner is reading your Facebook messages without permission, or insisting they track your devices, it is against the law.
8. Being extremely jealous
If your partner persistently accuses you of cheating, simply for looking at another person, then this could constitute grounds for prosecution.
Humberside Police say “extreme jealousy, including possessiveness and ridiculous accusations of cheating” all come under the new legislation.
9. Forcing you to obey their rules
A relationship should be a partnership, with neither partner having control over the other.
If you are forced to abide by rules set by your partner, it could mean they are committing a crime.
The Crown Prosecution Service says these include rules which “humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim”, while Women’s Aid says examples include your partner telling you that you have no choice in decisions.
10. Controlling what you wear
Your partner taking control over any part of your life is highlighted in the new legislation, including restricting who you see and where you go.
Controlling what you wear or how you look could also now be grounds for prosecution under the changes.
11. Making you do things you don’t want to
Your partner forcing you to commit crimes, neglecting or abusing your children, or forcing you not to reveal anything about your relationship to the authorities all count as abuse.
Forcing you to have sex when you don’t want to, look at pornographic material, or have sex with others also falls under this bracket.