Publication - Research and analysis

Coronavirus (COVID-19): domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls during Phase 3 of Scotland's route map (11 August – 11 October)

Published: 5 Nov 2020

This report presents qualitative evidence on the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on people experiencing domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women/girls.

20 page PDF

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20 page PDF

522.6 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls during Phase 3 of Scotland's route map (11 August – 11 October)
3. Summary of main findings

20 page PDF

522.6 kB

3. Summary of main findings

While there are some anomalies in the trends identified (particularly in the experience of minority groups), there are several consistent trends reported by services that relate to victims' and children's experience.

The key points emerging from the research are as follows:

Referral rates:

  • Referral rates during Phase 3 were varied across Scotland. Some services reported no significant increases from previous Phases, and observed referrals to have returned to equivalent 'pre-COVID' periods. However, a number of services reported significantly increased referral rates.
  • For organisations that mainly support adults, very few reported any significant changes to their experience correlated to children returning to school in August, and many reported that their and their clients' experience has been consistent over the previous 12 weeks.

Mental health impact:

  • Many organisations reported that the ongoing Coronavirus restrictions and clients' recognition that restrictions were likely to remain for a long-term period had negatively affected victims' and children's mental ill health.
  • A number of organisations highlighted the absence or restricted provision of some mainstream services were a challenge for victims of domestic abuse and/or other forms of VAWG, particularly in relation to mental health and addiction support, and access to primary and sexual health services.

Accessing support:

  • The general absence of face-to-face service provision continued to have an impact on some victim/survivors and practitioners. Some service managers feel victim/survivors' needs are not as effectively met via remote support and some victims communicated feeling less supported and more isolated due to the lack of face-to-face engagement.
  • Compared with the period of lockdown and earlier Phases, there were fewer reports of victim/survivors requesting support to access food, toiletries, clothing or other basic needs during Phase 3.

Risk and safety planning:

  • Accessing safe and appropriate housing continued to be a challenge for victims in some areas.
  • Services observed that local lockdowns were increasing risk for victims, and reported recent escalation of abuse for some victims.

Criminal Justice:

  • Consistent with the period of lockdown and earlier phases, organisations continued to report that victims felt the criminal justice response was not effective in addressing the risk posed by perpetrators.
  • Domestic abuse support and advocacy organisations continued to report that court delays and rescheduling were having a significant impact on victims' stress and anxiety levels, and risk.
  • Court attendance was identified as an increasing challenge during Phase 3. Court advocacy organisations reported difficulties related to queues outside of courts, late adjournments, communications on outcomes and the attendance of supporters at court.

Perpetrator behaviour:

  • In general perpetrator behaviours and tactics had not changed significantly throughout the period of lockdown and subsequent Phases, however they have increased in frequency and/or intensity due to the Coronavirus restrictions providing more opportunities for abuse and control to go "unobserved".
  • Services supporting men observed a significant increase in perpetrators accessing their services presenting as victims. In some instances, the perpetrators' reasons for seeking access to the service were related to being denied child contact by their ex-partner.


  • In the period directly after children returned to school, specialist domestic abuse recovery services for children experienced significant challenges in providing support to children due to the Coronavirus restrictions, including challenges negotiating access to school buildings or arranging face-to-face meetings with children.
  • A number of specialist children's organisations communicated significant concerns for the 'generation' of children who had experienced domestic abuse but were currently missing out on recovery work.

Child contact:

  • Consistent with lockdown and previous Phases, many organisations continued to receive reports from victims regarding perpetrators extending their abuse during or via child contact.

Honour based violence and extended family abuse:

  • Specialist BME organisations observed decreased referrals for BME women living in situation of enforced servitude and extended family abuse. These numbers have decreased significantly throughout the period of lockdown and subsequent Phases, suggesting women were unable to make contact due to stricter controls on their freedoms.

Women in prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation (CSE):

  • Organisations that support women involved in prostitution/commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) reported the sex industry had almost entirely re-opened by Phase 3 of Scotland's Route Map, with outreach workers observing on-street prostitution numbers steadily increasing to reach pre-COVID levels.
  • There continued to be a small number of online posts making reference to Coronavirus and women's challenging financial situation as the justification for engaging in online work, although this was lower than the period of lockdown and earlier Phases.

Experience of domestic abuse/VAWG services:

  • Staff experience across domestic abuse and other VAWG organisations varied significantly. Some organisations reported that staff were now accustomed to this way of working and working from home protocols had been effectively established, while others reported increased stress, anxiety and dissatisfaction with the absence of face-to-face engagement with clients.