10. Perpetrator tactics
In general, perpetrator tactics have remained fairly consistent throughout lockdown and Phases 1 to 3. Perpetrators continued to employ creative ways to coercively control their victims, including use of the Health Protection legislation and threats of infection to control their victims. There were reports from domestic abuse support organisations of perpetrators sabotaging victims' ability to work from home; using the risk of infection to justify their lack of affection/contact with their partner as a form of emotional abuse; and coercing their way back into victims' homes, using COVID-19-related arguments to justify access. Some services observed increases in online stalking and harassment behaviours. Services perceive this is due to an increase in time spent online in general and because, for some, this was the only means they had to control their partner/ex-partner. Services further reported perpetrators using the varying restrictions associated with Phases 1 to 3 to coercively control victims, including by purposefully confusing victims/children about the restrictions as a means of monitoring and isolating them.
Consistent with the period of lockdown, there were consistent reports that perpetrators' alcohol use had escalated, exacerbating the frequency and severity of abuse. There were also continued reports of victims being coerced to return to abusive partners, particularly where women were seeking additional support with childcare or were severely isolated.
During phases 2 and 3, there was some evidence of an increase in perpetrators presenting as victims and/or using services to further extend their abuse and manipulation. One service that supports male and LGBTI+ victims observed an increase in the number of referrals but a decrease in the number of cases accepted. The service manager observed this was likely due to an increase in the number of perpetrators presenting as victims, who were therefore not accepted into the service after post-referral screening and risk assessment. In some cases, new clients quickly asked for evidence letters to prove their victim status and this raised workers' concerns. In response, the service strengthened their assessment procedures and more time was spent screening, evidence-gathering and in liaison with colleagues about individual cases. Similarly, a national service for rehabilitation of male perpetrators observed no reported reduction in willingness of perpetrators to engage in programmes, however communicated concerns about an increased incidence of disguised compliance by perpetrators in programmes.
During Phase 3, some services began to anticipate that many of the risks and perpetrator tactics specific to lockdown (for example: enforced isolation; less contact with family/friends; coercive control of access to food, medicine and /or the internet/phone; economic abuse related to furlough/redundancy etc.) was likely to continue despite lockdown being eased, as the Health protection legislation has acted as a 'starting point' for many perpetrators. Some service managers observed that lockdown had provided perpetrators an increased opportunity to coercively control their partners and some victims reported that these behaviours were continuing despite the easing of lockdown allowing greater freedoms of association.
In terms of women in prostitution, support organisations observed an increase in coercive controlling and abusive behaviours among men purchasing sex and/or online images. Services reported increasing numbers of women becoming involved in online CSE and in women selling images, and an increasing level of competition to generate income. Some organisations received reports of punters coercing women into engaging in riskier practice, such as sending images privately or meeting in-person, sometimes in their own home. During Phase 3, some women who had sold images reported abusive behaviours, such as stalking/harassment; verbal abuse and communications offences, or punters selling on images without their consent.
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