Coronavirus (COVID-19): domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls during Phases 1, 2 and 3 of Scotland's route map (22 May to 11 August 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.

12. Child contact

The most consistent finding throughout the period of lockdown and Phases 1 to 3 related to abuse perpetrated via child contact.

As Scotland progressed from lockdown into Phases 1, 2 and 3, services reported victims were experiencing demands for increased levels of contact, with perpetrators citing the easing of restrictions as justification. Domestic abuse via child contact took a number of forms. There were consistent reports of perpetrators using telephone and video-call contact with children to monitor victims. A number of different organisations received reports from victims of perpetrators instructing children to show them round the house during video-contact, or of victims and children being coerced into leaving video-calls running for long periods, allowing perpetrators to monitor the household. Consistent with the period of lockdown, throughout phases 1 and 2 there were continued reports of perpetrators breaching Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 during contact with children. In some cases, children communicated that contact had taken place in numerous different households and/or they had contact with extended family or other associates, in breach of the Coronavirus restrictions. In some cases, perpetrators used children's potential exposure to the virus as justification for their non-return following planned contact.

Particularly in Phase 1, services reported the guidance on facilitating child contact in cases of domestic abuse was ambiguous and advocacy services struggled to provide accurate advice. During Phases 1 and 2, there were some limited reports of women experiencing challenges accessing justice for ongoing harassment and abuse related to child contact. Two organisations provided cases whereby women had reported incidents to the police and were advised child conflict was a civil matter and to consult a solicitor; conversely, their solicitors advised that there was no court business ongoing so the victims should contact the police for advice.[36] [37]

Child contact centres closed in Scotland at the start of lockdown in March. Social distancing restrictions also prohibited some third party contact and/or handover arrangements during lockdown and phases 1 and 2.[38] There were consistent reports from organisations across Scotland of women facilitating child contact outwith the conditions of agreements or court orders, in order to placate perpetrators and manage abuse. In some cases where there was an existing court order for supervised child contact, women had chosen to stop contact, due to child protection concerns, the lack of an appropriate third party, and/or to protect against transmission of the virus. Some court advocacy organisations reported women experienced high levels of anxiety relating to how this decision would be perceived by the court. During Phase 3, one service highlighted that some women, who had been shielding, were being asked to provide their personal medical information to family courts in child contact cases as evidence of their justification for limiting contact.

During phase 3, some services reported increased incidents of perpetrators attending victims' houses for handover and abuse being perpetrated "on the doorstep". One service reported some perpetrators had breached supervised contact orders to see their children following the announcement that social distancing measures were no longer necessary for under-12s. In Phase 3, the Marac coordinators' forum identified child contact as a 'lockdown specific issue', particularly the increased use of child contact and contact centre closures to extend abuse and/or have bail conditions changed or dropped.[39]



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