4. Referral rates
Over the period of lockdown and Phases 1 to 3, referral rates varied quite significantly across different support and advocacy organisations, although there were some generalisable trends identified. The majority of frontline third sector organisations experienced similar trends in referrals, with referrals reducing significantly during the initial weeks of lockdown, then increasing in the latter weeks and during Phase 1, however not returning to 'pre-COVID-19' levels. A small number of services reported they did not observe any significant changes when phases 1, 2 and 3 were introduced and rates remained steady. One organisation reported their referral rates for support and outreach remained consistent with an equivalent period in 2019, however requests to enter refuge doubled during lockdown and the subsequent phases.
As Scotland moved into Phase 2, referral rates began to vary more widely across Scotland. Two domestic abuse organisations reported increases in third party referrals and some observed small increases in women asking for support to report domestic abuse to police. During this period, 10% of Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (Maracs) reported referrals were higher than usual; 23% reported an increase in the number of repeat referrals since the introduction of lockdown and 10% communicated that lockdown had led to an increase in the number of referrals for groups which can often be 'hidden', such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT+), Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) and victims with disabilities. A national sexual abuse support/advocacy organisation observed its highest helpline referrals to date. One organisation supporting women in prostitution observed a significant increase in self-referrals during this period.
During phase 2 (for the week 25 June to 1 July) there was a significant increase in the number of children (121, an increase of 40 from the previous week) registered on the Child Protection Register, of which 48% had domestic abuse reported as a significant factor in their registration. This compares with 94 registrations in the same week in 2019, 36% of which had domestic abuse recorded as a concern at the case conference where the child was registered.
A small number of organisations also observed an increase in referrals related to online/social media activity during Phase 2. The service observed an increase in referrals relating to women, particularly younger women, naming their abuser online and seeking support following the repercussions arising from this. It also received increased referrals from transgender victim/survivors, some of whom made reference to ongoing anti-trans campaigns online and how this impacted on their experience and barriers to reporting. One service also observed an increase in referrals seemingly related to the increased coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement and focus on housing refugees in hotels. The organisation observed a number of referrals relating to the intersection of other forms of structural violence (such as racial inequalities) with domestic and sexual abuse.
During this period, most organisations observed an increase in the range of referring organisations, with most reporting that referrals were being received from the 'usual range' of statutory and third sector partners as before lockdown.
As Scotland moved into Phase 3, the majority of organisations reported increases in referral rates, many to rates equivalent to comparable periods in 2019 or 'pre-lockdown'. A minority of services continue to report referrals lower than pre-COVID-19 or an equivalent period in 2019.
Maracs identified a decrease in referrals for most areas at the start of lockdown, and noted referrals increased throughout Phases 1 to 3. For most, referrals during Phase 3 were equal to or above 'pre-lockdown' levels. Some Maracs observed trends in the age of victims with more young and older victims being referred to Marac than usual. This was consistent with some local domestic abuse support services who have observed increases in referrals for older people.
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