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.
1. Scottish Government (2020) 'Domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG) during COVID-19 lockdown for the period 30/3/20 - 22/05/20' available at: https://www.gov.scot/isbn/9781839608292
2. The Scottish Government published 'Coronavirus (COVID-19): Framework for Decision Making: Scotland's Route Map through and out of the crisis' on 21 May 2020 https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-framework-decision-making-scotlands-route-map-through-out-crisis/
3. The restrictions associated with Phase One can be accessed at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-framework-decision-making-scotlands-route-map-through-out-crisis-phase-1-update/pages/2/
5. 44 third sector and statutory organisation/services provided evidence via telephone interviews.
6. This is consistent with reported domestic crime statistics for Scotland.
7. Scottish Women's Aid advised that local centres were unable to participate in the research due to prioritising frontline work.
8. Some research suggests victims of domestic abuse do not always engage in specialist services. SafeLives Whole Lives Survivor Survey 2020, for example, found that "67% of victims had never accessed support from a specialist domestic abuse practitioner". Other research by SafeLives found that in England and Wales, 61% of victims of domestic abuse did not seek support during the Coronavirus lockdown (https://safelives.org.uk/sites/default/files/resources/Safe%20at%20Home%2020200615.pdf)
9. Data only provides outcomes for some victims and specifically only those that are engaged with services
10. A service that specialises in housing reported an approximate 75% decrease in victims seeking temporary accommodation due to fleeing abuse during this period.
11. Sometimes in-person meetings was the only option listed in their profiles/advertisement/website.
12. Staff report the opportunity for clients to find alternative, short-term accommodation (such as staying with friends/family) was limited, and therefore refuge was increasingly sought.
13. One service reported a significant increase in anonymous referrals from individuals who were concerned about a friend or family member, and another service has observed an increase in third party (friends and family) making referrals. The services believe this was an indication that some women were unable to safely access support themselves.
14. SafeLives 2020 'Scottish Marac COVID-19 survey results' p. 5; SafeLives conducted a survey with Maracs in Scotland between 21st April and 28th of May. Of note: "there were a few duplicated responses, where more than one person from the same Marac had responded to the survey, and some responses accounted for more than one Marac. The following statistics in this document are based on responses from 30 Maracs. Due to the small sample size please be aware that 1 Marac represents 3 percentage points (3%)." (SafeLives 2020 'Scottish Marac COVID-19 survey results').
16. "In the first three weeks of lockdown, referrals to domestic abuse services came from a narrower range of partners. After week 4, some services reported referrals from sources that did not usually refer to them." (Scottish Government (2020) 'Domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG) during COVID-19 lockdown for the period 30/3/20 - 22/05/20' available at: https://www.gov.scot/isbn/9781839608292)
17. One service reported support calls lasting an average of 1 hour 20 minutes with clients.
18. Some women involved in prostitution who have moved from face-to-face to online engagement reported the busyness of 'normal life' does not allow time for reflection, but being confined to the house and offering only online services had exacerbated existing trauma.
19. See https://victimsupport.scot/victims-fund/#:~:text=The%20Victims%E2%80%99%20Fund%2C%20which%20is%20administered%20by%20Victim,by%20a%20crime%20that%20has%20occurred%20within%20Scotland.
20. See https://www.encompassnetwork.info/
21. Sometimes in the form of 'evidence letters' from specialist domestic abuse services.
22. A service that specialises in housing reported an approximate 75% decrease in victims seeking temporary accommodation due to fleeing abuse during this period.
23. While this was a pre-existing challenge for some BME clients with insecure immigrations status and EEA nationals prior to the COVID-19 crisis, specialist BME services observed the challenge had been exacerbated due to the additional barriers to leaving during lockdown.
24. It should also be noted this is anecdotal evidence and there is no indication of the number of victims or proportion of court cases involved.
25. Police Scotland's Domestic Abuse Co-ordination Unit (DACU) and Criminal Justice Services Division (CJSD) provided guidance and training to support the revised Lord Advocate's Guidelines in terms of changes to Liberation On Undertaking (extension to 90 days), ensuring victim safety was prioritised and explored the impact of the inconsistent language ("substantial"/"significant") in the first two iterations of the Lord Advocate's Guidelines. The third version of the Lord Advocate's Guidelines provided language consistent with the Joint Protocol and rescinded 90 day timescales. The training and guidance had a positive impact on the police custody outcomes, increasing the number of perpetrators held for court and enhancing undertaking conditions.
26. As a result of concerns raised by internal and external partners a Short Life Working Group was established within Police Scotland to review a selection of custody decision disposals for domestic abuse perpetrators to identify opportunities for organisational learning and development in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This review was undertaken jointly by staff from Police Scotland's Domestic Abuse Co-ordination Unit (DACU) and Criminal Justice Services Division (CJSD) and opportunities to improve decision making, information-sharing and appropriate safety planning identified. New guidance for CJSD officers was circulated which was supported by training, jointly delivered by CJSD and DACU staff. This guidance aims to ensure a more consistent approach to dealing with domestic abuse perpetrators.
27. Prior to the Coronavirus crisis, Police Scotland established feedback pathways with some domestic abuse services, which helps to direct the concerns and issues raised by service users to the police. Police Scotland report that these pathways generally provide sufficiently detailed information that allows relevant understanding of the issues raised, capture of organisational learning and resolution by way of appropriate responses.
28. It should be noted that Police Scotland provided consistent communications on the 'business as usual' message across all media (online and offline). The Lord Advocate also consistently publicly affirmed from the start of lockdown that the Crown's commitment to tackling domestic abuse remains firm, especially during this unprecedented time, and domestic abuse cases will continue to be prosecuted vigorously and fairly.
29. COPFS issued guidance to prosecutors and Victim Information and Advice (VIA) staff since the start of lockdown on dealing with accelerated pleas, bail reviews and Non-harassment orders (NHOs). This guidance addresses the issues highlighted by advocacy and support services and reinforces the importance of; (a) keeping victims updated and seeking victims' views on bail reviews and NHOs and (b) engagement with support services to ensure they are aware in advance of court diets to enable safety planning and advocacy for victims. Further steps have also been taken by COPFS to improve partnership working with advocacy services, including improving the recording of information about advocacy services where the victim has such support, and providing identified PF contacts to advocacy services to improve resolution of local issues.
30. For example, some services reported significant issues advocating for special bail conditions to be altered. Some reported long delays (of up to 4 weeks) in response from courts.
31. By refusing to care for children during work hours or disconnecting the internet, for example.
32. For some women, the presence of the perpetrator meant they became ineligible for certain therapeutic/support programmes, entry into which relies on their separation from the perpetrator.
33. Cases are accepted into the service after a screening process.
34. Evidence letters are sometimes requested by victims as evidence of their experience of abuse, and used as proof for their need to access other mainstream services (such as housing or counselling) or are used in family court applications or other legal proceedings.
35. For example, contact with friends via social media or gaming platforms was not possible due to the lack of a smart device, Wifi or phone signal at the new accommodation.
36. One organisation provided specific details of a case where a child was not returned to the mother after contact as per the conditions of a court order: police advised it was a civil matter and a solicitor advised the police could forcibly return the child. Another organisation provided details of a case where a woman was experiencing repeated harassment and verbal abuse during and related to child contact and had received similar advice from police and a solicitor.
37. Police Scotland issued new guidance for Criminal Justice Services Division (CJSD) officers was circulated which was supported by training, jointly delivered by CJSD and DACU staff. This guidance aims to ensure a more consistent approach to dealing with domestic abuse perpetrators. This included guidance on child contact issued nationally to ensure the health and wellbeing of children is prioritised and police officers and staff are vigilant to behaviours perpetrated as part of domestic abuse.
38. Such as handovers that took place in school, or supervised contact at a relative's house.
39. SafeLives hosted the Scotland Marac Coordinators' Forum on 28th July, via Microsoft Teams. 8 Marac Coordinators, representing 18 of Scotland's 32 operational Maracs.
40. Sometimes in-person meetings was listed in their profiles/advertisement/website.
41. Such as showers, masks, hand sanitiser etc.
42. The Encompass Fund was cited regularly. Victim Support Scotland's 'Victims Fund' was cited by several service managers as being a valuable source of aid for women in prostitution.
43. See https://www.encompassnetwork.info/
44. Cased on the content of the posts, services perceived punters felt online engagement was diminishing the need to meet face-to-face, which was their preference.
45. Touring involves women travelling to a destination for sex work. A scoping exercise in Glasgow indicated a 67% increase in women touring over a two week period during Phase 3.
46. Due to court delays and rescheduling many court advocacy and criminal justice staff were unable to close cases but continued to accept new cases, therefore they were managing far higher caseloads than the period prior to lockdown.
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